The claim to a Palestinian refugee “right of return” has become a sticking point in the effort to relaunch Mideast peace talks. Israeli Prime Minister Sharon declared that Palestinians must discard this long-controversial demand, but new Palestinian Prime Minister Abbas on Tuesday refused to do so.
In its report on this important exchange, the Associated Press erroneously stated: “Israel has always objected to the right of return for about 4 million Arabs who fled the war that followed Israel’s creation in 1948, but never made renouncing the demand a condition for peace talks before.”
In fact, no party has ever claimed that 4 million Arabs fled Israel during its War of Independence. The actual number of Arab refugees in 1949 was, according to Israeli sources, 538,000. The UN puts the figure at 720,000, while Palestinians have claimed up to 850,000.
A later reference in the AP article quotes a more accurate figure of 700,000. But with its earlier, inflated reference to 4 million, AP misrepresents the historical significance of the refugee issue and its supposed moral claim – precisely the goal of today’s Palestinian negotiators.
As accurately reported by USA Today, the 4 million figure has been used by Palestinians and the UN to approximate the number of refugees and their descendants since 1949. This includes about 1.5 million Palestinians who have been absorbed into Jordanian society, and has only been used to calculate those who may now qualify for some form of UN aid.
Associated Press, supplying news to 15,000 media outlets, bears special responsibility to report accurately. In this case, the erroneous figure appeared in newspapers such as The Toronto Star and Chicago Tribune.
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HonestReporting encourages members to monitor their local media for the erroneous AP article, and to request a clear and immediate correction.
— IS THERE A “RIGHT OF RETURN”? —
The AP was accurate in one respect – Israel has always objected to the Palestinian claim to a refugee “right of return” to property in today’s Israel. On what basis has Israel objected?
1) Voluntary flight: As documented by Professor Efraim Karsh, the vast majority of refugees from the 1948 war were exhorted to do so by their Arab brethren, who urged them to make way for oncoming Arab armies intent on driving the Jews into the sea. Karsh estimates that only 5 to 10 percent were actively expelled by Israelis.
2) No legal basis: As documented by Professor Ruth Lapidoth, the claim to a Palestinian refugee “right of return” lacks basis under a) general international conventions, b) major UN resolutions, and c) relevant agreements between the two parties.
3) Regional precedent: At the time of the creation of the State of Israel, a similar number of Jews were expelled and dispossessed by Arab governments. The Arab states have never made any effort to compensate these Jews, who were absorbed by Israel. Despite having tremendous resources to do so, Arab states have refused to absorb the Palestinian refugees and have often worked to ensure they remain in poverty so as to use them as a political tool against Israel.
4) Effective destruction of Israel: Even diehard Israeli peaceniks such as writer Amos Oz acknowledge that “implementing the ‘right of return’ means eradicating Israel… It will make the Jewish people a minor ethnic group at the mercy of Muslims, a ‘protected minority,’ just as fundamentalist Islam would have it”; Oz’s colleague A.B. Yehoshua states that the end of the Palestinians’ tragedy will come when they cease focusing on returning to their homes in Israel proper and focus instead on returning to a Palestinian homeland.