be given even to the heroic remedy of transfer of populations... the
hardship of moving is great, but it is less than the constant suffering of
minorities and the constant recurrence of war.
– Former US president
Herbert Hoover, five-time Nobel Peace Prize nominee
With all the money that has
been invested in the problem of Palestinians, it would have been possible long
ago to resettle them and provide them with good lives in Arab
– Andrei Sakharov, 1975 Nobel Peace laureate
The collapse of
the Oslo process demonstrate[s] that certain long-held “truths” about the
conflict need to be turned on their head.... The US should launch an
international initiative that would provide economic support for refugees in
neighboring states... [and] incentive packages for patriation to non-neighboring
states, including in the West.
– Scott Lasensky, 1999, recipient of the
Yitzhak Rabin-Shimon Peres Peace Award, Tel Aviv University
As expected, US
presidential candidate Newt Gingrich’s characterization of Palestinians as an
“invented people” unleashed a maelstrom of responses – some commending his
daring, others condemning his temerity to challenge the precepts of conventional
However, if this pronouncement is not to remain just another
headline-grabbing campaign slogan – with a commensurately short “shelf-life” –
it must be accompanied by an actionable policy proposal that reflects its
political content. After all, what is the point in identifying the
Palestinians as a bogus national entity and then adopting a policy that relates
to them as a genuine one?
Some will consider this article
provocative – especially if they disagree with Hoover, Sakharov, Lasensky, and
deem an endeavor to “resettle and provide good lives” for embattled populations
more heinous than “constant suffering and... recurrence of war.”
raise numerous questions which, because of the constraints of space, will go
unanswered here, but which I hope to address in later pieces.
the view of the Palestinians as an invented people – particularly one invented
for the sole purpose of getting rid of the nation-state of the Jews – makes
advocating establishment of a Palestinian state “inappropriate.”
it also calls for the presentation of an alternative approach to address the
fact of their physical presence – if not as a coherent national entity, then as
a diffuse amalgam of individual human beings.
Moreover, since any such
policy prescription would constitute a dramatic departure from the “holy grail”
of conventional wisdom – the “twostates- for–two-people” principle – it would
require lengthy public debate to establish it as a legitimate alternative
This would include not only a comprehensive exposition of all
its elements, but also a thorough discussion of its ethical justification and
operational feasibility, the scope, size and substance of the public diplomacy
initiative required to accompany it, its economic costs and international
acceptability together with an assessment of its merits relative to other
This is clearly beyond the scope of a single opinion column.
The best that can be hoped for here is to spark a vibrant and sustained public
exchange over the proposal that will thrust it into the discourse as a viable –
and desirable – option.
To survive as the nation-state of
the Jews, Israel must address two requirements:
• The demographic imperative
The geographic imperative Second, in contending with these, Israel must contend
with two dangers:
• The long-standing danger inherent in “two-state” proposal
which – except under wildly unrealistic, and hence irresponsible, assumptions –
cannot adequately address the “geographic imperative.”
• The emerging and
arguably, more severe danger inherent in the “one-state” proposal which even
under the most benign assumptions cannot adequately address the “demographic
Only the obsessive or the obtuse would dispute that it is
highly implausible that the geographic imperative could be addressed if Israel
withdrew from large portions of Judea and Samaria; or that the demographic
imperative could be addressed if it incorporated large portions of the Arab
population resident there. And the highly implausible is a perilous basis
So, if the underlying sine qua non for any acceptable policy
proposal is the long-term preservation of Israel as the nation-state of the
Jewish people, it must address both the geographic and the demographic
imperatives – and the dangers that the two-state and the one-state approaches
Avoiding tunnel vision
To effectively address the Palestinians
issue it must be approached in a comprehensive, systemic
Maintaining near exclusive focus on the populations in “the
territories” ignores the huge “overhang” of the Palestinian “diaspora,” who
outnumber their brethren living in the areas deemed “occupied.”
conceptual road map for the fate of this “diaspora,” any agreement with the
“domestic” Palestinians will be futile.
On the one hand, if it disregards
their fate, such an agreement will be politically untenable; on the other, if it
provides for their large-scale resettlement within a putative micro-mini
Palestinian state, it will render that state physically
Composing a comprehensive alternative
The working assumption
must be that it is not plausible that a Palestinian state could “deliver the
goods” as a durable solution to the Israel-Palestinians conflict. Prudence
dictates it be removed from the agenda as a political goal.
if spurious Palestinian political demands for statehood are extracted from the
discourse, this will not obviate the harrowing humanitarian realities of the
Palestinians’ daily life. This is the issue that Israel and the international
community should focus on.
The conclusion, however, should not be that
the only alternative is a one-state-of-all-its-citizens option, which would
almost inevitably descend swiftly into a Muslim-majority autocracy – despite the
hopes of some well-meaning souls that this could be averted by introducing
regional elections and gerrymandering the boundaries of
How can all these elements be incorporated into a
coherent, non-coercive alternative that preserves Israel as the nation-state of
the Jews – and addresses the twin imperatives needed to sustain this status, the
fate of the “diasporic” Palestinian Arabs, and the fact that the contrived
Palestinian national identity was invented solely to undermine the notion of
To be comprehensive it must have three elements,
all firmly founded on the bedrock of liberal political doctrine.
involve the elimination of discriminatory practices vis-à-vis the Palestinians
as (a) refugees and as (b) residents in Arab countries. The third involves
facilitating free choice for Palestinian breadwinners to determine their future
and that of their families.
A brutally condensed tour de raison of the
elements of the proposal begins with the Palestinian “refugee” issue and the
body responsible for dealing with it, UNRWA (the UN Relief and Works
The pernicious, obstructive role UNRWA plays has often been
described, so it suffices to stress it is a highly anomalous organization that
perpetuates a culture of Palestinian dependency and the unrealistic narrative of
Every refugee on earth is under the auspices
of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) –
except for the Palestinians.
For them a separate institution exists –
While a more comprehensive analysis of this anomaly must also be
delayed for another occasion, it is can be condensed into an astounding fact: If
the universally accepted UNHCR criteria for refugees were applied to the
Palestinian case, the number of “refugees” would shrink from close to 5 million
to fewer than 200,000.
These figures starkly illustrate that the scale
and durability of the Palestinian refugee problem is fueled by the anomalous
parameters of it definition.
There is growing consensus – in Israel and
abroad – that without abolishing UNRWA and folding its operations into those of
UNHCR, no way out of the Palestinian-Israeli impasse is possible.
Folding UNRWA into the framework of UNHCR would of course have
significant ramifications for large Palestinian populations resident in the Arab
countries, who would no longer receive the anomalous handouts paid
This leads to the second element of the proposal: The grave ethnic
discrimination against the Palestinians resident in the Arab world where, as I
recently pointed out, severe restrictions are imposed on their freedom of
movement, employment and property ownership.
But most significant, they –
and they alone – are denied citizenship of the countries in which they have
lived for decades.
Palestinians overwhelmingly want to acquire
citizenship of the countries of their long-standing residence, opinion surveys
With the abolition of UNRWA and the accompanying reduction in
the number of people eligible for aid, a diplomatic drive must be mounted to
pressure Arab governments to end their discrimination against the Palestinians;
to stop perpetuating their stateless status and to allow them to acquire the
citizenship of countries where they have lived for decades.
This brings us to the third and final element of the proposal: Allowing
individual Palestinians under Israeli administration to exercise free will in
determining their destiny.
While the first two elements of the proposed
solution are directed toward addressing the plight of the Palestinians in the
Arab world, this measure is aimed at those in Israeli-administered
It involves allowing individual Palestinians free choice in
charting their future and that of their families.
These efforts should
focus on two elements: (a) Generous monetary compensation to effect the
relocation and rehabilitation of the Palestinian Arabs residents in territories
across the 1967 Green Line, presumably mostly – but not necessarily exclusively
– in the Arab/Muslim countries.
(b) “Atomization” of the implementation
by making the offer of compensation and relocation directly to the breadwinners
and family heads, and not through any Palestinian organization that may have a
vested interest in thwarting the initiative.
some may raise a skeptical brow as to the acceptability of the proposal to the
Palestinians and its economic feasibility, two points should be
First, substantial statistical data exist indicating that
such a measure would be enthusiastically embraced by a large portion of the
According to one poll, only 15 percent would
refuse any financial offer that allows them to seek a better life elsewhere, while over 70% would accept it.
surveys – by Palestinians bodies – substantiate the existence of wide-scale
desire/willingness to emigrate.
As for the overall cost, it is easy to
show that the price of the proposed plan would be comparable to any alternative
under discussion, involving the establishment of a new state, developing its
infrastructure, and presumably absorbing a large portion of a relocated
Palestinian “diaspora” within its constricted frontiers.
Finally, it should be remembered that for the prospective host nations,
the plan has a distinct economic upside. Given the scale of the envisioned
compensation, the Palestinians would not arrive as destitute refugees, but as
relatively wealthy immigrants in terms of average world GDP per capita. Their
absorption would bring significant capital inflows to the host economies –
typically around half a billion dollars for every 2,000 to 3,000 families given
The time has come for new, imaginative initiatives to defuse
one of the world’s most volatile problems, one for which remedies hitherto
attempted have proved sadly inappropriate.
There seems ample reason to
seriously consider an alternative proposal, which at least prima facie, would
defuse the Palestinian humanitarian predicament, inject billions of dollars into
the economies of host nations, and ensure the continued survival of Israel as
the nation-state of the Jewish people.
Israel, the Palestinians and the
international community can ill-afford to dismiss it without a serious discussion
of its potential payoffs and its possible pitfalls.www.martinsherman.net