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From Israel’s point of view, the “two-state/land for peace” solution to the Palestinian conflict has proven to be a long, drawn out failure that should have been abandoned long ago. It is only because many prominent political figures have foolishly mortgaged their personal and professional prestige in the name of this unworkable position that it manages to remain a live option – to the grave detriment of Israelis and Palestinians alike.
Any dispassionate evaluation of the events of the past two decades invariably leads one to accept the following conclusion: that the Palestinians seem far more focused on annulling Jewish political independence than attaining Palestinian political independence. That is to say, Palestinians are far more committed to the deconstruction of the Jewish State than to construction of a Palestinian one.
However, no matter how convincingly one can show that the Palestinians as a national entity have failed to create their own national destiny, a stark reality remains: there are hundreds of thousands of essentially disenfranchised Palestinian families residing both in Israeli territory and in the wider Arab world.
Addressing this situation requires a comprehensive solution comprised of three constituent elements, all eminently consistent with liberal political doctrine. Two involve eliminating discriminatory practices against the Palestinians as refugees and as residents in Arab countries. The third involves facilitating free choice for individual Palestinians to determine their own future.
Eliminating the UNRWA
As Daniel Pipes has pointed out, the persistence and scale of the Palestinian refugee problem is, to a large degree, an artificial construct. The UN body under whose auspices all the refugees on the face of the globe fall — except for the Palestinians — is the UN Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). A separate institution exists for the Palestinians — the United Nations Relief and Works Agency. UNHCR and UNRWA have widely different definitions for the term “refugee” and widely divergent mandates for dealing with them.
According to the High Commission’s definition, the number of refuges decreases over time, while according to the UNRWA definition, the number increases. This “definition disparity” brings about an astonishing situation: If the High Commission criterion was applied to the Palestinians, the number of refugees would shrink dramatically to around 200,000 – i.e., less than 5 percent of the current number of almost 5 million according to the UNRWA definition.
Moreover, while the mandate of the UNHCR permits the body to seek permanent solutions for refugees under its auspices, UNRWA is permitted only to provide ongoing humanitarian aid for the ever-increasing population of Palestinians. Accordingly, while UNHCR operates to dissipate the problems of the refugees under its auspices, UNRWA activities serve only to prolong their refugee status and thus, their predicament. Indeed, rather than reduce the dimensions of the refugee problem, UNRWA has actually functioned to perpetuate the refugee status of the Palestinians from one generation to the next. It has create an enduring and expanding culture of dependency, while cultivating an unrealistic fantasy of returning to a home that no longer exists.
As long as the Palestinian refugee problem continues to be treated in what former Congressman Tom Lantos called “this privileged and prolonged manner” it will never be resolved. Accordingly, the first step toward the resolution of the Palestinian refugee problem must be the abolition of UNRWA and the transfer of responsibility for the matter to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. This move will facilitate the gradual tapering off of support for what should be a decreasing Palestinian refugee population.
Eliminating Arab Discrimination against Palestinians
Throughout the Arab world, the Palestinians are subject to blatant discrimination with regard to employment opportunities, property ownership, freedom of movement, and acquisition of citizenship. For example, Saudi Arabia in 2004 announced it was introducing measures to ease the attainment of Saudi citizenship for all foreigners who were residing in the country except Palestinians, half a million of whom live in the kingdom.
Similar policies of discrimination are prevalent in other Arab states. A 2004 Los Angeles Times report painted a grim picture of the life Palestinians are forced to endure among the Arab “brethren.” According to the report, Palestinians in Egypt suffer restrictions on employment, education, and owning property, and when Egypt announced in 2003 that it would grant nationality to children of Egyptian mothers married to foreigners, Palestinians were excluded. In Lebanon, meanwhile, nearly 400,000 Palestinians live in 12 “refugee camps,” where crime is rife and clashes between rival Palestinian factions are common. Palestinians cannot own property or get state health care. According to Tayseer Nasrallah, head of the Palestinian Refugee Rights Committee in the West Bank, Lebanon bans refugees from 72 areas of employment, including medicine and engineering. Syria, with a population of 18 million, is a strong verbal supporter of the Palestinian cause, but refuses citizenship to its 410,000 Palestinian refugees. Even in Jordan, where Palestinians comprise nearly 70% of the population, Palestinians complain that they are discriminated against in terms of employment.
When approached on this issue of discrimination against the Palestinian residents in Arab countries, Hisham Youssef, spokesman for the 22-nation Arab League, openly acknowledged that Palestinians live “in very bad conditions,” but claimed the policy is meant “to preserve their Palestinian identity.” He went on to explain with perhaps unintended candor: “If every Palestinian who sought refuge in a certain country was integrated and accommodated into that country, there won’t be any reason for them to return to Palestine.”
But according to a survey conducted by the well-known Palestinian pollster, Dr. Khalil Shikaki, most Palestinians were less interested in being nationalist standard-bearers than in living fuller lives. This view resonates strongly with opinion samples gathered by the leading Arab television stations Al-Arabiya and Al Jazeera of Palestinians living in the various Arab states, the vast majority of whom very much want to become citizens in the their respective countries of residence.
This clearly seems to indicate that Palestinian national identity is something more jealously guarded by non-Palestinian Arabs rather than the Palestinians themselves.
It is only the United Nations Relief and Works Agency that allows the Arab countries to continue to keep the Palestinians within their borders in their situation of suspended stateless animation. For while its mandate prevents finding a permanent solution for the Palestinian residents in these countries, it is the ongoing humanitarian aid that it provides for an ever-increasing client population that permits the host governments to sustain their discriminatory policy toward their Palestinian “guests,” to perpetuate their inferior status, and to allow their situation to languish and fester.
Allowing Individual Palestinians the Exercise of Free Will
If the first two elements of the proposed solution — abolishing the UNRWA and attacking the discrimination Palestinian émigrés suffer in other Arab countries — are directed mainly toward easing the plight the Palestinians living outside the West Bank and Gaza, a third element is aimed directly and exclusively at those living inside these areas.
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