The Palestinian academic Sari Nusseibeh is the sort of pragmatist Jews feel they can do business with - if more Palestinians were prepared to follow him and 'renounce the right of return', peace in the Middle East might just become possible. But in this interview with Canadian Jewish News, Nusseibeh shows his less compromising side, assigning no blame for the Palestinian refugee plight to Arab countries, and calling the claims of Jewish refugees 'a ruse'.
C.J.N.: What is your view on the thorny question of the Palestinian refugees?
Sari Nusseibeh: For me, the question of the Palestinan refugees rests on five major principles. 1. Israel must officially recognise its responsibility for this human drama and ask for forgiveness from the Palestinian victims. 2. Financial compensation must be made to Palestinian refugees: an international fund must be created to indemnify these refugees, to which Israel must also contribute. 3. The Palestinians should choose between two rights: 'the right of return' to Israel and 'the right to build a new and independent Palestinian state. They can't have both. I suggest they choose the Palestinian state and give up their 'right of return.' They should accept this sacrifice in exchange for something much more important - their return to Jerusalem. 4. The Palestinian refugees ought to take part in the building of the new Palestinian state with the cooperation and encouragement of the Palestinian authorities. 5. Those Palestinians who still wish to live in Arab countries - Lebanon, Jordan - should be integrated socially and enjoy all citizens' rights (Palestinians are not allowed to exercise 28 professions in Lebanon). They may have dual nationality - for instance, be citizens of both Lebanon and Palestine. Palestinians expelled from their land in 1948 must not continue to live in wretched camps.
C.J.N.: In 1948, soon after the creation of Israel, 900, 000 Jews living in Arab countries were expelled from their homelands and strippedof their assets. Today they ask that their tragedy be recognised by the Arab countries and the international community. Is their plight acceptable to you?
Sari Nusseibeh: I don't like this question being included in the Arab-Israel dossier. I think it's more a ruse than a serious demand. (My emphasis - ed). However, I do think that any Jew forced to leave Arab countries after 1948 should also be compensated. I don't think these Jews plan on returning to live in the Arab countries one day. But they must be compensated for the properties and assets they lost. Justice must apply to all those who suffered human rights abuses, be they Jews or Palestinians. Nevertheless, this element must not be used to undermine the legitimate claims of the Palestinians. We must approach this question openly and transparently. This is not a game. These are inalienable rights which must be recovered as equitably as possible.