Sari Nusseibeh and the Right of Return

- by Jaffer Ali

When one is a Palestinian growing up outside one’s ancestral home, there is often a contradiction between the Real Politik that one contemplates in the mind, and the dreams one feels in the heart. Today I write from the heart to address what some Palestinians seek to surrender, the inalienable Right of Return.

The Right of Return is an internationally recognized principle guaranteeing an indigenous population the right not to be relocated against their will. No nation, however powerful, has the right to ethnically cleanse a population. In short, might does not dictate right. Israel’s birth was not the virginal affair depicted in movies and books like Exodus. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians were uprooted...and dispossessed. Today, from that number, over 4 million Palestinians, many of them living in refugee camps, are asserting their right to return to their historic homeland.

The Israelis have not been able to crush the dream of returning from the hearts of Palestinians. But incomprehensibly, a small band of Palestinian intellectuals led by the quasi-official PLO spokesperson Sari Nusseibeh are trying to convince Palestinians all over the world that the Right of Return is nothing but a vain folly.

Without a doubt, we stand at a special moment. Men like Dr. Nusseibeh offer a solution without justice. All people should guard with jealous attention justice and suspect all who seek to diminish its precepts. Every solution that carries within its bosom great and unredressed injustice cannot stand.

Dr. Nusseibeh has chosen a course to undermine the Right of Return, all in the name of Real Politik. All he sees in over 50 years of struggle is failure. I see a beautiful spirit of a people that have never given up their dream to live in a land without regard to ethnicity or religion. I do not see failure, but an indomitable will and faith that even if success may not come today, it shall come tomorrow, and if not then, after thousands of tomorrows.

Dr. Nusseibeh presents a greater darkness than the one Palestinians have fought for over 50 years. It is the darkness of a soul that has lost its way. Couched in gentle rhetoric, he offers a world devoid of right and wrong. He offers a world where the cold edge of Real Politik replaces the "foolish" notion that decency will somehow triumph in the end.

It is this simple notion that has fueled the hearts and minds of millions of Palestinians over the decades. This simple notion was served to me with mother’s milk. Thousands of people have died rather than give up the innocent notion that justice matters.

Dr. Nusseibeh suggests that the time for pain must be over and the price of this must be to relinquish our hopes and dreams. Is it not the case that greater than the death of flesh is the death of dreams... the death of hope? Dreams and hopes are not the stuff of Real Politik, but they are what animate the human soul. These dreams are part of the Palestinian soul and cannot be waived with a casual hand.

The choices for Palestinians seem stark. They are offered the despair of occupation or the despair of unredressed injustice in Dr. Nusseibeh’s world. Palestinians must reject this cold world that prizes expediency over human rights.

Jaffer Ali is a Palestinian-American businessman who writes on business ethics, management theory and political topics.