It was hardly Ariel Sharon's intention, but one can derive some sense of direction from the tragedy of evacuating the Gaza Strip and northern Samaria. Out of the ashes of Jewish homes, the desecration of synagogues and the misery of Israeli refugees, an intimation of a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict may have emerged.
The government has established a remarkable precedent. A forceful transfer of people from their homes took place, supported by the European Union, praised by the US State Department and applauded by nearly the entire world media. The self-proclaimed champions of human rights and democracy, both in Israel and abroad, ardently emphasized how moral it was to forcibly transfer Jews and how consensually the decision was reached.
Israel, the US and even the Palestinian Authority were virtually of one mind on the issue of disengagement. The consensus was marred only by the opposition of the settlers and about half the Jewish population of Israel. But this did not seem to count for very much.
In truth, consensual transfers are agreements between authorities to relocate populations for the sake of regional peace. The transfers of millions of Turks, Indians and Pakistanis were agreed upon by their governments, but never by the actual displaced persons.
Provided with a choice, most of the transferees would have decided to remain where they were. Despite this, however, these transfers were viewed by the world as morally legitimate. In fact, Dr. Fridtjof Nansen, who orchestrated the population exchange between Greece and Turkey, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the implementation of his solution.
Elsewhere in history, population transfers were regarded as justified solutions for separating hostile populations, solving demographic problems and punishing aggressor nations. Following World War II, 15 million ethnic Germans became refugees after being expelled from their homes in Poland, Russia and Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland.
Some might argue that these solutions worked in another time and place, and that the world has since evolved. Perhaps mankind no longer finds population transfers morally agreeable. But the events of this past summer would prove otherwise. In recent months, we have witnessed the world media and international community celebrating a forced transfer of people from their land. There were no objections or protests from human rights advocates around the world as thousands of Jews were uprooted from their homes and farms and transferred against their will.
THERE IS, however, one proposed consensual population transfer which, under all circumstances, will always be regarded as illegitimate a transfer the mere mention of which is considered not only politically incorrect, but immoral and even racist.
I refer, of course, to the unforced emigration of Palestinian Arabs from the Land of Israel. When portions of the Israeli Right proposed a consensual transfer of Palestinian Arabs in the interests of regional peace, they were met with wide criticism, vilification and even attempts at disfranchisement. They were compared to Italian fascists and even German Nazis (their critics conveniently ignored that the only major political party in Europe to formally incorporate into its platform the proposed transfer of Arabs out of Palestine and their resettlement in neighboring Arab countries was the British Labor Party in 1944).
Beleaguered by an imperative demographic predicament, Israel today needs a mature and creative response to safeguard its Jewish and democratic identity. We must hope that hypocrisy, even in regard to the Middle East, has its limits. We might even dare to assume that after a forced transfer of Jews from their homes, the unforced transfer of Arabs as a way of solving the Middle East conflict might become somewhat more legitimate in public discourse.
Logic might indicate that such a move would be greeted earnestly as a step toward securing world peace alleviating the misery of the Palestinian Arabs on the one hand and solving an existential Jewish problem on the other.
THERE IS of course one major problem with this solution: It is not going to happen. There is no Arab leader on the horizon ready to accept an unforced, agreed-upon transfer. Under these circumstances, there is only one civilized solution remaining a solution that, while mentioned in the past, has never been seriously considered.
Through financial and diplomatic incentives, the State of Israel must encourage Arab emigration from our borders to Arab lands. This solution is the most pragmatic and humane of any proposed thus far. There is no moral comparison between transferring people based on governmental concurrence and helping them to emigrate on the basis of their individual consent.
Many Arabs from Judea and Samaria have already departed those areas. In fact, since September 2000 virtually every Arab family in Judea and Samaria that could afford to has left. Therefore, one might assume that if good housing, employment and favorable living environments were provided elsewhere in the region, many who find it difficult to live in Israel and accept it as a Jewish state would choose to leave.
If people in Israel, the United States, Europe and elsewhere genuinely seek a lasting resolution to the Middle East conflict, they must recognize that only by facilitating massive emigration of a people unreconciled to Israel's Jewish character can a viable Israel and durable peace be attained.
The writer is chairman of World Herut and a former member of Knesset.
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