One of the most annoying quirks of our major media outlets involves their consistently misleading characterization of the current debate about demands for a Palestinian "right of return."
The latest Arab League peace proposal, recycled with much fanfare from a 2002 Saudi plan, includes a requirement that Israel should accept untold millions of Palestinians who would relocate into Israel itself, rather than making their homes in the newly created Palestinian State. Leading newspapers invariably describe this demand in terms that suggest that refugees would get "the right to return to their original homes inside Israel." (New York Times, front page, 3/31/07). Of course, this endlessly repeated phraseology sounds fair, compassionate, appropriate—conjuring up images of patient, oppressed, long-suffering innocents, finally able to return to their ancient roots and ancestral lands, shedding tears of joy as they renew and rebuild the "homes" they lost nearly sixty years ago.
Even worse, America's Journal of Record (and nearly all other publications and news sources) summarize Israel's objection to this "right" as a "fear that admitting large numbers of Palestinians would undermine the Jewish nature of the state."
Unfortunately, this ridiculously distorted description of Israel's point of view carries the connotation that the objection is purely racist: that the Israelis feel that the continued existence of their "Jewish State" is so precarious that they can't even consider admitting non-Jews (Actually, thousands of non-Jews arrive in Israel every month, prominently including workers from Thailand, the Philippines, Rumania and other nations).
Prime Minister Ehud Olmert recently re-enforced the impression of Israeli intransigence and anti-Palestinian racism with an unequivocal Passover-eve interview with the Jerusalem Post. "I'll never accept a solution that is based on their return to Israel, any number," he declared. "I will not agree to accept any kind of Israeli responsibility for the refugees."
Without doubt, overwhelming majorities of Israelis agree with the Prime Minister in rejecting the "right of return" concept, but his inability to express the proper basis for that rejection helps explain why his approval rating in polls has fallen lower than that of any prior leader in Israeli history.