We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men – George Orwell
Let me begin with an apology.
My broken promise
I know that last week I promised to elucidate the mechanisms of the humanitarian alternative to the two-state solution (TSS) and to respond to an array of reservations from readers regarding the proposal.
However, I find I cannot convey all that was promised adequately in a single column. I request your patience and forgiveness for once again delaying some of the discussion till next week.
True, in the past few days, many events, perhaps far more newsworthy, have burst into the headlines – Iran, Egypt, Libya, US Mideast policy – on all of which I have much to say. However, the Palestinian issue lies at the core of the national debate, permeating almost every walk of life in the country. It impinges, directly and indirectly, on a myriad of other crucial matters. Indeed, the lack of a sustainable TSS alternative has resulted in billions being spent on temporary stop-gap measures – some hitherto reasonably successful, some disastrous failures – such as the construction of the separation barrier, the development of the Iron Dome system (intended principally to intercept short-range Palestinian projectiles launched from TSS-earmarked territories), and the devastating disengagement from Gaza.
(An aside: Given the huge cost-differential between the incoming and intercepting missiles, in the final analysis, the Iron Dome system only has long-term strategic logic if it is used to provide short-term protection to the civilian population while the IDF takes the territory from which the incoming projectiles are fired. It would be helpful if one has a plan of what to do with the territory once it is taken, other than eventually returning it to the folks doing the firing, i.e. if one has a TSS-alternative.) So until a coherent, comprehensive TSS-alternative is formulated, it will be impossible to achieve a strategy for the rational long-term use of national resources.
The effective promotion of such an alternative demands meticulous, tightly argued presentation. As I mentioned last week – this cannot be achieved with catchy sound bites, but only by exhaustive, clearly articulated intellectual endeavor. So despite the fact that its topicality may be eclipsed by other issues, I feel it is imperative to engage in a systematic and detailed discussion, not only of the logic and the internal mechanism of the proposal, but of the commonly raised reservations to it, even if that takes a little more time than originally envisioned.
So my apologies.
The chain of logic
In previous columns in this series I traced the links in the chain of logic that lead inexorably to the conclusion that the TSS is incompatible with the long-term survival of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people; and set out the elements of an alternative humanitarian – rather than political – policy paradigm for the noncoercive resolution of the conflict.
The major stages in the sequence of reasoning can be summarized as follows:
1. If Israel is to continue to exist as the permanent democratic nation-state of the Jewish people,
(a) It cannot make the territorial concessions in Judea/Samaria necessary for a viable Palestinian state without critically compromising its minimum security requirements and rendering itself geographically untenable; and
(b) It cannot incorporate the Palestinian Arabs resident in these areas into its society as enfranchised citizens, without rendering itself demographically untenable.
2. Israel must therefore maintain control over the territory while inducing the relocation and rehabilitation of the Palestinian Arab population elsewhere. The only noncoercive way to achieve this is with positive inducements – chiefly generous economic incentives.
3. However, there is strong international support for the establishment of a Palestinian state in Judea/Samaria. What fuels this support is the perceived legitimacy of the Palestinian narrative, according to which the Palestinian Arabs are a distinct people, comprising a cohesive national entity that strives to exercise national sovereignty in a defined homeland. As long as the perceived validity of this narrative persists, the international pressure for Palestinian statehood will persist.
4. Clearly then, if the intellectual fuel that drives international pressure for a Palestinian state is the perceived validity of the Palestine narrative, forestalling this pressure requires the deconstruction of this narrative. Such deconstruction should – and can – be based principally on the deeds, declarations and documents of the Palestinians.
5. This narrative-deconstruction must be attained by an assertive public diplomacy offensive, adequately funded and appropriately energized. Without achievement of this objective, there will be no conceptual space in the discourse to advance Zionist-compliant alternatives to the TSS.
6. Deconstruction of the Palestinian narrative will obviate the need to deal with the Palestinian Arabs as a cohesive national entity, and instead facilitate addressing them as an amalgam of fate-stricken individuals who, for decades, have been disastrously misled into their current unenviable position by cruel, cunning and corrupt cliques.
7. Approaching the Palestinians Arabs on the individual, rather than on the collective, level makes way for policy paradigms that call for (a) The depoliticization of context of the predicament, and the nature of its resolution; and (b) The “atomization” (individualization) of the implementation of that resolution.
8. This enables the formulation of crucial elements of actionable policy that do not require reaching agreement with any Arab collective or political entity –something increasingly implausible in the post-“Arab Spring” climate – but rather the accumulated acquiescence of individuals seeking to enhance their well-being.
Humanitarian instead of political
Depoliticizing the context of the Palestinian Arabs’ predicament will not, in itself, dissipate that predicament, or render the need to do so any less pressing. But what it will do is provide a totally new dimension along which to pursue policies to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian impasse, and new methodologies by which to do so.
Thus, rather than strive for an unattainable political solution, energies should be channeled along humanitarian lines, which as I pointed out last week, leads inexorably to a policy prescription based on the eminently liberal (as opposed to “illiberal” rather than “conservative”) principles of: 1. Eliminating ethnic discrimination toward the Palestinian Arabs as (a) refugees and as (b) residents in the Arab world 2. Providing individual Palestinian Arabs the freedom of choice to determine their future and that of their families.
These principles translate into a comprehensive tripartite proposal, whose constituent components should be seen as a mutually interactive, integrative whole: 1. Dissolution or radical restructuring of UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency) to bring the treatment of Palestinian refugees into line with universal international norms.
2. Resolute insistence on the cessation of ethnic discrimination against Palestinian Arabs in the Arab world and of the prohibition on their acquiring citizenship of countries in which they have resided for decades.
3. Generous relocation loans provided directly to individual Palestinian Arab breadwinners/family heads, resident in Judea/Samaria (and subsequently, in Gaza) to allow them to build better futures for themselves, and their dependents, in third-party countries of their choice.
Crucial stumbling block
In pursuing a genuine resolution of the “Palestinian problem,” the issue of abolishing/restructuring UNRWA is crucial. To achieve any sustainable arrangement it is imperative to avoid tunnel vision by focusing attention almost exclusively on the Palestinian Arab population in Judea/Samaria, while ignoring the huge “overhang” of the Palestinian “diaspora,” who greatly outnumber their kinfolk living in these territories.
Without a conceptual blueprint 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 untenable.
Although a detailed account of the grossly obstructive role UNRWA plays in thwarting any possible progress toward a constructive end of the conflict is beyond the scope of this piece, it is being increasingly recognized by many, across a wide spectrum of political affiliations, both in Israel and abroad. Much has been written regarding this highly anomalous organization and how it perpetuates a culture of Palestinian dependency and the unrealistic narrative of “return.”
Although the topic warrants an entire column on its own, I will limit myself to a brutally condensed tour d’horizon of why the removal/restructuring of UNRWA is essential in any prospective resolution of the Palestinian problem.
All the refugees on the face of the globe are under the auspices of the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) – except for the Palestinians. For them a unique, separate institution exists – UNRWA. These two organizations have different definitions of who is a refugee and different mandates for how to deal with them. Unlike the UNHCR, UNRWA’s definition of refugees includes not only permanent inhabitants who fled the country during the 1948 War of Independence but also temporary migrant workers who were resident in Mandatory Palestine for less than two years – as well as all descendants.
While UNHCR’s mandate allows it to find permanent solutions for refugees in countries other than their country of origin, the UNRWA mandate allows only for providing their humanitarian needs.
The operational significance of UNRWA’s definition-cum-mandate is that the organization can only attend to the humanitarian needs of an ever-growing population, dependent on that assistance, making it an entity that perpetuates the very problem it was established to solve.
5,000,000 or 50,000?
The far-reaching significance of this can be condensed into the remarkable fact that if the universally accepted UNHCR criteria for refugees were applied to the Palestinian case, the number of “refugees” would shrink from about 5,000,000 to under 50,000 – even less by some estimates. These figures starkly illustrate that both the scale and the durability of the Palestinian refugee problem is fueled by the wildly anomalous nature of its definition and treatment.
It should not come as a surprise then that there is growing consensus that without abolishing UNRWA and folding its operations into UNHCR, no way out of the Israeli-Palestinian impasse is possible.
This was aptly expressed by Scott Lasensky of the US Institute of Peace and recipient of Tel Aviv University’s Yitzhak Rabin-Shimon Peres Peace Award, who stated: “The delivery of international assistance through UNRWA is untenable and does nothing to contribute to an eventual settlement...”
This view was endorsed by Prof. Nitza Nachmias of the Jewish-Arab Center, University of Haifa, who declared, “UNRWA has to be phased out, and only bold actions will yield the necessary results,” urging that although “this is a complex process [it] should not be delayed or avoided.”
Impact on the narrative
Bringing the Palestine refugee problem into line with accepted international practice by folding UNRWA into the UNHCR (or restructuring it to operate along similar principles) will also reduce the problem to its true dimensions.
This on its own will go a long way to undermining the foundations of the Palestinian narrative, much of which draws on images of destitute millions, still brandishing keys of houses that no longer exist.
However, contending with the detrimental UNRWA anomaly cannot be seen in isolation from the other measures.
Folding UNRWA into the framework of the UNHCR – or an UNHCR-like framework – would of course have significant ramifications for large Palestinian populations resident in the Arab countries, who would no longer receive the anomalous handouts paid to them by it.
This leads to the second element of the proposal: the grave ethnic discrimination against the Palestinian Arabs resident in the Arab world, where they suffer severe restrictions on their freedom of movement, employment opportunities, and property ownership. But most significantly, they are denied citizenship of the countries in which they have lived for decades.
The acquisition of citizenship of the countries of their long-standing residency is something overwhelming desired by the Palestinians – as numerous opinion surveys indicate. Accordingly, with the abolition of UNRWA and the accompanying reduction in the population eligible for refugee aid, a diplomatic drive must be mounted to pressure Arab governments to end their ethnic discrimination against the Palestinians, to desist from perpetuating their stateless status and allow them to acquire the citizenship of countries in which they have long resided.
To make this more palatable, the funds currently provided to UNRWA could be temporarily directed to the coffers of the governments of the countries in which the “refugees” live, to help finance their absorption as citizens – provided, of course, that the barriers to such citizenship are removed.
‘Hot potato’ delayed
Once the principle of Palestinian Arabs receiving permanent citizenship in third-party countries has been established as acceptable – even notionally, rather than in practice – we can turn to the third–most controversial element in the proposal: directly funding Palestinian Arab breadwinners, in the Palestinian-administered territories, to allow them to build better futures for themselves and their dependents, in third-party countries of their choice.
But elaboration of that – and the answers I so rashly promised last week to provide this week – will have to wait until next week.