The humanitarian approach: Responding to readers – Part I

Into The Fray: Not economic cost, but lack of political will in Israel and perceived legitimacy abroad prevent implementing the humanitarian solution.

Construction worker in West Bank 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Construction worker in West Bank 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Abu Mazen [Mahmoud Abbas] set off another bomb. In a television interview, he requested that the Arab states grant citizenship certificates to the Palestinians living within their borders. – Haaretz, August 21, 2005
MK Yossi Beilin called on European countries to declare how many Palestinian refugees and their descendants they would be willing to absorb as part of any future peace agreement. – The Jerusalem Post, July 17, 2008
Over the past few weeks, I have presented the reasoning for, and the operational elements of, an alternative humanitarian paradigm to replace the two-state solution (TSS), and to forestall what has been erroneously presented as its default option, the one-state-of-all-its-citizens solution (OSS).
The discussion hitherto
The humanitarian alternative is rooted in the recognition that Palestinians are not a cohesive national entity, but merely a contrivance meant to undermine the Jewish national entity. This realization suggests that rather than relating to the Palestinians as a national collective, they should be addressed as an amalgam of unfortunate, exploited individuals, cynically misled into their current predicament by cruel, corrupt ruling cliques.
Addressing the Palestinians on an individual, rather than a collective, level calls for a solutionoriented policy that depoliticizes the context of the problem and atomizes (individualizes) the measures to dissipate it.
This approach translates into a comprehensive proposal, consisting of the following three interactive and interdependent components:
• Dismantling – or dramatically restructuring – the anomalous organization UNRWA, which deals (exclusively) with the Palestinian “refugees,” to bring their treatment into line with all other refugees on the face of the globe, who fall under the auspices of another organization, the UNHCR.
As explained in previous columns, this would reduce the “refugee” problem to almost negligible dimensions (from around 5 million to under 50,000). It would also go a long way toward debunking the duplicitous and deceptive Palestinian narrative, which draws, in large measure, on the image of millions of dispossessed refugees.
• Applying assertive diplomatic pressure on Arab governments to end the ethnic discrimination against Palestinians (“refugees”), resident in their countries for decades, and to allow them to acquire citizenship of those countries – which, according to available evidence, most of them desire. It should be remembered that the envisaged changes to UNRWA would means millions of Palestinians would no longer receive the anomalous handouts/services from the disbanded/ reconstituted organization.
To ease the execution of this measure, the funds that currently go to UNRWA to perpetuate the culture of dependency of the “refugees” could be channeled to the governments of the countries, in which they are resident, to finance their absorption as contributing citizens.
• Providing generous funding for the relocation and rehabilitation of the Palestinian Arabs resident in Judea/Samaria (and eventually Gaza) in third-party countries of their choice. This should not be done through any Palestinian organization, which may have a vested interest in this measure’s failure. Instead, it should be made available directly to individual familyheads/ breadwinners, to afford them a chance to extricate themselves from the regressive and repressive regimes in these territories, and an opportunity to build a better future for themselves and their families elsewhere.
Taking the bull by the horns
In last week’s column I discussed the first two components, which relate mainly to the Palestinian Arabs living outside Judea/Samaria (and Gaza). The third element – and arguably the most provocative – relates to those living within these territories, and I will elaborate on it in the ensuing sections.
Since first raised in this column, the proposal has generated a deluge of responses – in hundreds of talkbacks to The Jerusalem Post’s website, and also to my Facebook page and email address. Some were effusively complimentary, others caustically critical; some were cynically skeptical, others genuinely inquisitive.
Most these comments/critiques/queries related to one (or more) of the following topics: Control of the decision variables; recriminations of racism; Fear of fratricide; allegations of ethnic cleansing; diplomatic and economic feasibility; identity of prospective host countries; and evidence of acceptability in Israeli and Palestinian societies.
Not unexpectedly, most reactions focused on the third component – funding the relocation and rehabilitation of Palestinian Arabs in Judea/Samaria and Gaza.
I will now address these issues as comprehensively as space permits.
Decision variables
This policy prescription is designed to be a unilateral initiative, whose implementation does not require agreement with any Arab collective, but rather the accumulated acceptance of individuals of an offer to greatly enhance their wellbeing – far beyond anything they could reasonably expect otherwise.
This is something that Israel – given the political resolve – could advance, proactively, on its own, under an adequately assertive diplomatic umbrella.
True, Israel by itself cannot effect the first two components of the proposal: dismantling/transforming UNRWA or the granting of citizenship by Arab states to their resident Palestinian Arabs. For this the cooperation of other parties is required. Although it would be hugely beneficial to all involved – particularly the Palestinians – if they were implemented, this is largely incidental to their real purpose.
For these measures are not intended primarily as actionable policy items. Rather they are meant to comprise important elements in the arsenal of a diplomatic offensive, aimed at putting Israel’s adversaries on the defensive, exposing the flawed and fraudulent foundations of their positions, and generating new conceptual space for TSS-alternatives in the discourse.
Their purpose is to inform interested publics of existing realities in order to change the conversation, restructure (mis)perceptions regarding the conflict, and dispel the ignorance on which they rest.
Clearly then, the decision variables involved in launching both the diplomatic and the actionable elements of the proposed initiative are in Israel’s hands.
Calculating costs
Many readers were concerned that the cost of the envisaged emigration incentives might be prohibitive. These concerns are unfounded.
The first and crucial point to grasp is that the absolute cost of the proposed measures is not really the issue, but rather the comparative cost, relative to other proposals – including the TSS – whose implementation is also likely to be vastly expensive. Indeed, given the dire state of the Palestinian economy, it would appear that the billions already poured into it have been wildly insufficient to sustain it.
To the total cost needed to create and maintain a Palestinian state, one also needs to add the cost of resettling hundreds of thousands of Jews living east of the pre-1967 Green Line, and the huge increases that will be required in Israel’s defense budget to enhance capabilities to adequately patrol and secure the indefensible frontiers implicit in any TSS configuration.
Moreover, most variants of the TSS do not exclude the return of millions in the Palestinian diaspora, who considerably outnumber the population currently resident within the borders of the prospective Palestinian state. Perversely, the cost of moving millions into the Palestinian state, which, in all probability, would be higher than moving smaller numbers out of it, has never been considered a prohibitive obstacle.
If the claim is that only a few would return, with most preferring to stay in their current places of abode, this would constitute resounding endorsement of the first two elements of the proposal, greatly bolstering the feasibility (and desirability) of the notion of Palestinians building better lives elsewhere.
The total cost would be a function of the size of the Palestinian Arab population in Judea/Samaria and Gaza – a matter that is hotly disputed. But to side-step arguments on figures, let us focus on principle. I will therefore adopt a figure that tends toward the higher estimates and assume that there are roughly 1 million family units involved, 600,000 in the “West Bank” and 400,000 in Gaza.
Accordingly, providing an average funding for each family unit with an amount of 1.5 to 2 decades of the IMF/World Bank global average GDP per capita (roughly $10,000) would amount to between $150 billion and $200b., over an envisaged time period for implementation (15-20 years – the time elapsed since the conclusion of the Oslo Accords, which brought nothing but trauma and tragedy).
Focusing on the “West Bank” alone would reduce this figure by 40 percent (to $90b.- $120b.).
Calculating costs (continued)
While this may seem a daunting sum, it should be recalled that it is a small fraction of what the US spent, in less than a decade, on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (around one trillion dollars). Significantly, over 90% of this was spent after Saddam Hussein was apprehended and the Taliban dislodged – in a futile, some would say delusional, attempt to institute liberal democracy on the slopes of the Hindu Kush and the banks of the Euphrates.
Israel, with its current GDP close to a quarter trillion dollars, could probably shoulder the bulk of the burden itself, if spread over the specified time period. Indeed, if the yearly outlay (around 3%-5% of Israeli GDP – depending on whether Gaza is included) were added to the defense budget, it would bring this budget (in terms of share of GDP) to the levels of the late 1980s/early 1990s – perhaps even lower. Moreover, if GDP were raised significantly, by improving domestic productivity and/or inducing greater participation in the labor force in the haredi and Israel Arab sectors, the burden would be commensurately less onerous.
If the OECD countries, which contributed to the Oslo process, were persuaded to participate, the entire enterprise could be funded with sums amounting to a fraction of 1% of their respective GDPs – hardly an unbearable sacrifice for dispersing one of the world’s most intractable problems. Indeed, one might be excused for being baffled as to why Western governments would be prepared to contribute billions to facilitate the establishment of what in all likelihood would be doomed to become a failed mini-micro-state, harboring some of the most extremist terror organizations on the planet, but would resist contributing to a program that would prevent its establishment.
Accordingly, it should be clear that the economic cost is not the major obstacle to implementation, but rather the need to muster the political will in Israel and international legitimacy abroad. The first step to engender such political will and generate such legitimacy is to foster vigorous public discourse on it as a viable alternative – which is why, as I have argued in the previous installments, the drastic enhancement of Israeli diplomacy is so crucial.
Identifying host countries
One of the more common queries was “Which countries would accept the Palestinian Arabs as immigrants?” This question seems to miss the point on a number of levels.
First, the proposal neither envisages nor suggests an en masse movement of Palestinian Arabs – certainly not a coercive deportation to defined destinations by Israel. Rather, it would entail a gradual, “osmotic”-like (for want of a better word) process, in which recipient families would identify their preferred destination – with or without Israeli-facilitated consultation.
(Indeed, one might envision the establishment of a national authority – a Zionist-oriented version of the Sela Disengagement Authority set up to accompany the coercive evacuation of Jews from Gaza in 2005 – to advise Palestinians on their options in implementing the voluntary “evacuation-compensation” (pinuipitzui) principle).
It should be noted that the prospective relocation grants would be sufficient to qualify recipients for immigrant status in numerous countries – not only Arab or Muslim ones. There are, for example, reportedly over half a million Palestinians in South America.
This would allow them to arrive at the gates of potential host countries as relatively wealthy (in terms of local GDP per capita) émigrés – not destitute refugees.
The question would become: Which country would not accept them? Or is the assumption that Palestinians seeking a better life would be denied their wish, simply because of their ethnic identity? That would be racist, wouldn’t it?
If the insinuation is that Palestinians – even with adequate capital – cannot be useful citizens, capable of making a positive contribution to a prospective host country, how can they be expected to build their own state – without the benefit of that funding?
Of course, it should be remembered that absorption of externally funded Palestinians could entail considerable capital inflow into the host country – up to a billion dollars for every 5,000 families – hardly something that would make them undesirable newcomers. The greater the absorption, the greater the capital inflow.
Furthermore, if accepted by the international community (again a function of the efficacy of Israeli diplomacy), host countries could be given further benefits for absorbing Palestinians – something raised by prominent “peace process” advocates, who have urged the US to launch “an international initiative that would provide economic support for refugees in neighboring states, including host governments, and provide incentive packages for patriation to non-neighboring states, including in the West.”
The tyranny of space
I have once again exhausted the space at my disposal with many questions still unanswered.
For example, what about the threat of fratricide to dissuade Palestinians from accepting relocation funding? Or the repugnant recriminations of racism? And the egregious efforts to portray an offer of economic enhancement as ethnic cleansing? The answers to these and other questions will have to wait until next week.
Gmar Hatima Tova!
Martin Sherman ( is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.