"The Israel Initiative"
Over four years ago, when I wrote my first major report on UNRWA, I concluded that "The terrorism generated in the camps is so central to what is presently transpiring between the Palestinians and the Israelis, that it is not an exaggeration to say that there will be no resolution of the current crisis, no genuine cessation of violence, until the refugee issue is realistically resolved."
I knew then that talking about "peace" while the UNRWA refugee camps were still sustained would be an exercise in futility For the so-called refugees who live in these camps are fed the myth of "right of return" and encouraged to continue a life of limbo until such time as the "right" might be realized; but frustrated in their attempts to fulfill that "dream" they become radicalized. I knew that terrorism arose in the heart of those camps, while UNRWA turned a blind eye.
In the years that followed, I found that I met a stonewall on this issue in several quarters, and most particularly in the political sphere. Politicians in the main did not want to confront this truth, it was not politically correct.
But now there is a politician who is confronting this forthrightly. He is MK Benny Elon (NU), and the issue of the refugees is one part of his "Israel Initiative."
My delight with Rav Benny is considerable , because he is talking sense in a world of inverted and dangerous nonsense. He is beginning a major campaign to promote his ideas for peace. They require a new paradigm, a new way of approaching the problem, and he knows it will take time. But he believes that his ideas are so eminently sensible and decent that in time they will catch on, and he intends to do major education to help people here in Israel, in the US and in Europe, understand the underpinnings of what he is proposing.
As to the Palestinian refugee problem , he addresses the inequities of how the Palestinians are treated as versus how all other refugees in the world are treated, with a different agency just for them (UNRWA, with all others cared for under the UN High Commission for Refugees), and different rules. No other refugee population in the world has remained a refugee population as long as the Palestinians, he points out. This is not because all other populations have been able to return home, but because they have in many instances been resettled in a third country so that they could get on with their lives, while UNRWA has a mandate to keep them in limbo and not resettle them.
It’s time, he says, for the camps to close and for UNRWA to be dismantled. Boy! is it time. It’s time, he insists, for the "Palestinian refugees," now counting to the forth generation, to be given an opportunity to get on with their lives fully. The problem is that the focus has been on their presumed political rights — their "right" to "return" — and that in the process their humanitarian needs have been given short shrift. They suffer in the camps, and the world allows this to continue.
The world now needs to pay attention to the genuine humanitarian needs of this population, he insists. Solving the Palestinian refugee problem is an international responsibility. Within an established period of time (five years, perhaps), the refugees should be helped to find homes in a third country (Arab where possible but not necessarily) and should be provided with an allocation of funds to get started in their new lives. They would not go as paupers, but in a position to begin anew and make a contribution to their new country. Considering the billions that have been spent on UNRWA over the years to keep these people in their miserable limbo, this is certainly viable fiscally.
There are two other aspects to the "Israel Initiative":
One says that the PA should be dismantled and that Israel should maintain sovereignty from the river to the sea. This is the only way to insure stability in this part of the world. This is something else that it’s politically not correct to say, but it’s so — and you’ve certainly heard it here often enough. Any Palestinian entity formed would be a haven for terrorism and foment unrest and instability in the entire region. Jordan doesn’t say so out loud because it’s not PC, but Jordan would far prefer Israel in control at its border than an independent Palestinian state.
The last concerns those Palestinians who would remain in Judea and Samara, and Gaza, after the refugees found their new homes. These are individuals who have lived in these regions for some time and have roots there. They would be permitted to stay within the Israeli borders, would be given humane consideration and permitted autonomy in local matters. As to enfranchisement, that would be through Jordan, which would provide them with citizenship. Not such an extraordinary thing, for people to be resident in one place and have citizenship elsewhere.
MK Elon says that he has been in touch with high officials in Jordan and remains convinced that they are not as opposed as would seem at first glance. They provided the residents of Judea and Samaria with citizenship until 1988 (way after 1967, which is when Israel acquired the area), but subsequently relinquished involvement with the growing violence. If the US backs this position, they would come on board.
In time, in time…
I will be returning to these issues from time to time and providing further background information that helps put it all together.
What’s significant now is to know that when Olmert says we "must" deal with Abbas because there is no alternative, we know with certainty that this is not so.
Already opposition leader Binyamin Netanyahu (head of Likud) has embraced the notion of dismantling the refugee camps.