Note to Newt (Part II): Rethinking Palestine

Into The Fray: Some will consider this article provocative – especially if they deem "resettling" as more heinous than "recurrence of war."

palestinian flag_311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Ali Jarekji)
palestinian flag_311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Ali Jarekji)
Consideration should 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 countries.
– 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 wisdom.
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?
Prerequisite preamble 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.”
It will raise numerous questions which, because of the constraints of space, will go unanswered here, but which I hope to address in later pieces.
Clearly, 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.”
However, 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 approach.
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 proposals.
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.
Two imperatives 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 imperative.”
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 for policy.
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 entail.
Avoiding tunnel vision To effectively address the Palestinians issue it must be approached in a comprehensive, systemic manner.
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.”
Without a 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 untenable.
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.
However, even 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 constituencies.
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 Jewish nationhood?
Three components To be comprehensive it must have three elements, all firmly founded on the bedrock of liberal political doctrine.
Two 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 Agency).
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 “return.”
Invented refugees 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 – UNRWA.
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.
Ending discrimination 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 them.
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 indicate.
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.
Free choice
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 areas.
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.
Statistical support Although some may raise a skeptical brow as to the acceptability of the proposal to the Palestinians and its economic feasibility, two points should be underscored.
First, substantial statistical data exist indicating that such a measure would be enthusiastically embraced by a large portion of the Palestinian population.
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.
Other 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.
Windfall for hosts 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 citizenship.
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.