Israel may be urging Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, to continue faltering peace talks despite refusing to renew a freeze on illegal settlement building, but in the tinderbox Ain al-Hilweh Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon life is defined by an issue neither side has ever publically expressed any willingness to compromise over: The right of Palestinian refugees to return home.
“No-one can negotiate on our right to return to Palestine. There is only one country called Palestine and we will never return there except by resistance to Israel,” says Abu Yousef, a fighter with the Palestinian faction Ansar Allah.
Absolute right or demographic danger
The right of return polarises the seemingly intractable conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis like no other issue.
For most Palestinians the right of return for the up to six million refugees who are ancestors of those who made the exodus from Palestine that followed the creation of Israel in 1948 is an absolute.
For Israeli officials – whose historians dispute the figure of six million and also the reason for the mass exodus – the issue is existential: The sheer number of Palestinian refugees who can claim a right to return to their pre-1948 homes are a demographic danger to the world’s only Jewish state. Continue reading