The most shocking result is related to willingness to [e]migrate... The results also show that 44% of young Palestinians are willing to [e]migrate if given the opportunity.Poll #28, Center for Development Studies, Bir Zeit University, September 20, 2006

There has been much talk in Palestine about emigration, especially among the young people... This is being done in search of a better life abroad. Many... rush to the gates of the embassies and consulates of the Western nations with requests for visas in order to reside permanently in those countries. Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, mufti of the Palestinian Authority, in an anti-emigration fatwa, 2007

In Palestine, the salaries are like in Somalia and the prices are like Paris. – Palestinian protester quoted in The New York Times, September 10, 2012

In my column last week, I began responding to the deluge of queries and critiques sent in by hundreds of readers as talkbacks to The Jerusalem Post website, to my Facebook page and to my email, regarding my proposal for a humanitarian approach to the Palestinian problem, to replace the failed political paradigm with its focus on a two-state-solution (TSS).

Readers will recall

Readers will recall that the proposed humanitarian approach comprised a policy initiative with three integrative and interactive components:

-- Abolition of UNRWA (the anomalous organization dealing with the Palestinian refugees), in its current form, and bringing the treatment of Palestinian refugees in line with global norms, which would dramatically diminish the scope of the problem – from about 5,000,000 to under 50,000;

-- A strategic diplomatic offensive aimed at terminating the ethnic discrimination against Palestinians in Arab states and exerting pressure on Arab governments to allow them to acquire citizenship of the countries of their long-standing residence;

-- Provision of generous relocation grants directly to Palestinian family heads/breadwinners in Judea/Samaria (and later, Gaza) to facilitate their permanent emigration to third-party countries where they can build better lives for themselves/their families.

Points made so far

Clearly the third component is the most contentious and it is hardly surprising that it generated the greatest controversy.

In responding to issues raised by this controversy the following explanations/clarifications were made and should be borne in mind:

-- The implementation of the initiative is not contingent on reaching agreement with any Arab government/collective, only with individual Palestinians seeking to enhance their well-being. As such it is a policy that – given the appropriate political will/skill – can be launched unilaterally by Israel;

-- The envisaged grants per family unit would amount to almost two centuries (!) of current GDP per capita in the Palestinian-administered territories (equivalent to offering about $6 million to Israelis or almost $10m. to US citizens). If implementation was spread over 15 to 20 years, Israel – with its current GDP of a quarter-trillion dollars – could bear most of the cost itself, without the burden becoming unbearably onerous;

-- The grants would make recipients eligible to be residents in a range of potential host countries that would benefit from a considerable capital inflow from absorbing the newcomers (about $1 billion per 5,000 families), who would not arrive as destitute refugees, but as relatively well-off immigrants by local standards.

Feasibility: Facts & figures

Numerous naysayers dismissed the proposal, asserting – without any corroborating evidence – that the Palestinians would not accept the offers of relocation grants. There is little to substantiate such pessimism.

Indeed, there is a plethora of persistent evidence – both anecdotal and statistical – that suggests precisely the opposite.

For example, a poll conducted in late 2004 by the reputable Israeli institute Maagar Mohot, in collaboration with the Palestinian Center for Public Opinion, with a random sample, representative of the adult (17 and above) Arab population in Judea/Samaria, found that in answer to the question: “What would induce you to emigrate permanently?”: Only 15% stated that nothing would induce them to emigrate permanently; while over 70% specified one or more material factors that would, such as substantial financial compensation; guarantee of a good job abroad; and a high standard of housing.

Subsequent polls by various Palestinian institutes confirmed a widespread desire to emigrate – even in the absence of specific economic inducements – fueled by a pervasive sense of pessimism and dissatisfaction with the performance of the Palestinian regime.

For example, two years later, a poll by Bir Zeit University’s Development Studies Center found: “The most shocking result is related to willingness to immigrate [read “emigrate” – M.S.]. Overall, 32.4% of respondents say they are willing to [e]migrate compared with approximately 19% during the last few years (a 13-point increase). The results also show that 44% of young Palestinians are willing to [e]migrate if given the opportunity.”

The humanitarian approach would give them precisely such an opportunity.

Feasibility: Facts & figures (cont.)

Commenting on this result of the Bir Zeit University survey, pollster Nader Said, who monitored emigration attitudes for over a decade, stated that the proportion of Palestinians willing to relocate once hovered just below 20 percent. When that figure jumped to almost one-third in the aforementioned poll, Said admitted he was shocked.

Even more disturbing for him was that it climbed to 44% among Palestinians in their 20s and 30s, while among young males, it soared to over 50%.

Later surveys – up to the current year – by bodies such as An-Najah University’s Center for Opinion Polls and Survey Studies, and the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, show persistently that, overall, 30% of the respondents (and up to 45% in Gaza) are considering emigrating.

The significance of this figure is far greater than would appear at first sight.

First, it ought to be pointed out that dependents of adult respondents should be added to it. After all, it is only plausible to assume that most – or at least, a sizable proportion – of those considering emigrating, plan to do so with their families.

Moreover, given the stigma associated with emigrating – the Palestinian Authority’s mufti actually issued a fatwa in 2007 against it to stem the burgeoning tide – one might not unreasonably surmise that the real number contemplating a better life elsewhere is much higher.

So, not only has the current desire to emigrate been expressed in a repressively menacing atmosphere (about two-thirds of respondents in a 2012 Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research poll expressed fear of criticizing the regime), but in the absence of any tangible opportunity to fulfill it. Accordingly, once a credible mechanism, envisaged in the humanitarian approach, is in place to provide the necessary financial resources and physical means to do so, there appears little reason to doubt that the numbers of prospective emigrants will surge.

Failing façade of Fayyadism

In a recent report (September 10) on the “Spreading Palestinian protests,” the New York Times wrote: “A week of Palestinian protests against rising prices and economic hardship erupted... into rioting against the Palestinian Authority... Public anger has mostly been directed at Salam Fayyad, the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, an internationally respected economist... widely credited abroad with shepherding the authority toward sound fiscal policies and the building of the institutions needed for a future state...”

According to one Palestinian legislator interviewed: “The high prices and the corruption of Fayyad’s ministries have led people to explode.”

This then is the situation on the ground, two decades after the launching of the Oslo process and after billions of dollars of international aid. The future portends only desperation and despair. According to an Associated Press dispatch (August 18) the Palestinians Authority is in “the worst crisis in its 18-year existence. In recent months, it has been struggling to meet its costliest obligation – salaries for 150,000 civil servants and security personnel which devour half the government’s budget of nearly $4 billion... Unlike in previous crises, the authority can no longer borrow to ease the pain: It already owes more than $2 billion to local banks, private companies.”

Economist Samir Abdullah, a former PA government minister, predicted, “If there is no reversal in the current trend, the Palestinian Authority will not survive this year,” and current finance minister Nabeel Kassis warned that at some point the debt-ridden government would become too feeble to continue.

Whether accurate or not, for the average Palestinian these gloomy forecasts, reflect the pervasive sense of failure, hopelessness and a future of deprivation, despondency and dependency.

Now imagine, against the wretched backdrop of corruption and collapse, an offer of almost 200 years of current GDP per capita being made directly to a Palestinian breadwinner, struggling to provide for his family and with little prospect of any improvement, that would allow him to seek a better future elsewhere....

Fear of fratricide

Several readers expressed concern that most Palestinians would be deterred from accepting the relocation grants because of fear of attacks on them by their kinfolk.

Clearly the specter of intra-ethnic violence among the Palestinians is something that cannot be discarded. After all, it has long been a pervasive characteristic of Palestinian society – well before any offer of a financial “escape hatch” was ever proposed. This appalling phenomenon of internecine killing has been dubbed the “intrafada.”

So, yes, it must be admitted that the threat of fratricide to dissuade Palestinians from accepting the relocation grants is a tangible possibility. But it is one that can be turned to Israel’s advantage. It is a prospect that presents the country with a moral challenge and a diplomatic opportunity.

The moral challenge would be for Israel’s security establishment/intelligence community to devise a mechanism that protects the rights of individual Palestinians to exercise free choice and provides them safe passage to their destination of choice by vigorously forestalling any violent attempts to dissuade them from their quest of a better life. Indeed, in light of the impending implosion of the Palestinian Authority (see above), it might find that it has little alternative but to undertake such a role.

The diplomatic opportunity would be to use the fratricidal endeavor to dramatically illustrate the brutal nature of Palestinian society and to deconstruct the Palestinian national narrative. It is difficult to envisage anything that could better undermine the claim that Palestinians have an authentic national identity, and better underpin the counter-claim that they are, in fact, an artificially invented national entity, than demonstrating that they can only be held together by coercion and fear.

Repudiating recriminations of racism

Some have branded the proposal racist. These repugnant recriminations are as ridiculous as they are reprehensible – and should be repudiated with the opprobrium they richly deserve.

The very allegations comprise an egregious manifestation of racist Judeophbia. They embody the implication that, no matter how generous and nonviolent a proposal is put forward by the Jewish state, if it does not constitute complete capitulation to its adversaries, if it does not comprise perilous concessions that make its survival untenable, if it does not bow to the dictates of thinly disguised fiction, fraudulently devised to effect its demise, then somehow it is guilty of racism.

The inevitable insinuation is that the only way the Jews can absolve themselves from charges of racism is to surrender.

There is no other way to interpret these allegations that dismiss/denounce a humanitarian offer of economic enhancement as discriminatory “ethnic cleansing,” than as a denial of the Jews the right to self-determination and self-defense. And that is about as racist as it gets.

Not so sumud? Some have warned that the proposal will flounder on the allegedly rock-like Palestinian characteristic of “steadfastness” in clinging to their land – known as sumud.

Well, if the Palestinians are so sumud, how is that so many in fact left the land?

It would be intriguing to hear how the sumud enthusiasts reconcile their claim with the millions of “refugees” in the Arab countries, the hundreds of thousands in the US, Latin America and Europe (where reportedly 14% of the 5,000,000 Arab population are Palestinian).

It would be even more intriguing to see how sumud stands up to a competing challenge of a chance of a better life elsewhere, accompanied by a financial-package equivalent to two centuries of current GDP per capita. Very intriguing.

Martin Sherman (www.martinsherman.net) is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.

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