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Exploring one view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

My partner in this series of sociopolitical blog posts is Ra'fat Aldajani, a Palestinian-American who represents the majority Palestinian view. I sat with Ra'fat to probe his views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. -- Drew Christiansen

Christiansen: Tell me a little more about your family and Palestinian identity.

Aldajani: The Aldajani family is one of the oldest Jerusalem families, having resided continuously in Jerusalem for 1,300 years. Until 1948, the Aldajani family was custodian of the Tomb of David. My great-grandfather, Aref Pasha Aldajani, was mayor of Jerusalem during the First World War. In the war of 1948, my grandfather's house was on the front line, and my family fled for their lives to Jordan, prevented by Israel from ever returning to their home. They were never offered compensation for the confiscated property. When I visit Jerusalem, the feeling of standing outside our historic family home is one of profound loss.

How can your family's house be confiscated if you can prove ownership?

Israel passed its "Absentees' Property Law" in 1950, one of Israel's major legal instruments for confiscating Palestinian property until today. It classifies every citizen or people present in an "enemy" territory (i.e., any Arab country) as an "absentee," allowing Israel to confiscate the property left behind by the Palestinians who fled or were forcibly displaced.

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Didn't many Jews also lose their homes and properties in Arab countries?

There is no moral or legal justification for confiscating another's property, whether Palestinian or Israeli. International law clearly states that property left behind as a consequence of armed conflict, regardless of whether this conflict was offensive or defensive in nature, remains the property of the owner. Owners of confiscated property, whether Palestinian in Israel or Jewish in Arab countries, should be given the option of return of their property or fair compensation for it.

What does the average Palestinian feel the parameters of a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are?

Palestinians will always mourn lost cities that are now part of Israel, such as Jaffa, Haifa, Nazareth and Acre. But this yearning is balanced by a pragmatic acceptance that a Palestinian state will be established on the lands occupied by Israel in 1967, namely East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza. The international community, including the United States and the Palestinian Authority, recognize this.

A final agreement would necessarily have to include land swaps for Israel to absorb the main settlement blocs abutting the 1967 border; a special status for Jerusalem, including free and unimpeded access to Christian, Jewish and Muslim holy sites; and a solution to the Palestinian refugee problem. The point here is that these are issues for good-faith negotiation and not unilateral action. Israel's continuous building of settlements on the occupied territories remains the main obstacle to a solution.

What about Hamas?

Hamas is a fact of Palestinian political life and is free to exercise its opposition to Israel not through violence but politically, exactly like there are Israeli political parties and even Israeli ministers who oppose Palestinian statehood and don't recognize Palestinians as a people. Israeli attempts to bomb Hamas out of existence are futile, only strengthening Hamas in the long term and breeding the emergence of more extreme nihilistic groups.

One negotiates peace with his enemies and not his friends. Israel will sooner or later have to negotiate with Hamas as part of the resolution of the conflict, terrorist organization or not. Menachem Begin, one of Israel's most prominent prime ministers, headed the "terrorist" Stern Gang during the 1948 war. In the insightful Israeli documentary "The Gatekeepers," former Israeli Shin Bet (Israeli Internal Security) head Avraham Shapiro urges Israel to "talk to them, talk to them all."

Some Israelis cite their 2005 withdrawal from Gaza as proof that the Palestinians are not interested in peace.

Israel did withdraw completely from Gaza, but replaced its occupation with a total blockade and embargo. Israel determines who can enter and leave Gaza, rarely giving permission to do so, as well as deciding what foodstuffs, construction equipment, and household goods are allowed into Gaza.

At the time of Israel's 2005 withdrawal, Ariel Sharon refused to coordinate Israel's withdrawal with the Palestinian Authority, which was trying to prevent a Hamas takeover of Gaza. Even with Hamas in power, if there had been no embargo of Gaza, there would have been no rockets fired into Israel, as evidenced by Hamas' main condition for a current cease-fire with Israel, the lifting of the embargo in exchange for an end to rocket fire.

[Jesuit Fr. Drew Christiansen is former editor of America magazine and a professor of ethics at Georgetown University. Ra'fat Aldajani is a Palestinian-American writer and commentator.]

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