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Transfer: A Moral Discourse-Part III

Boris Shusteff Arutz Sheva July 27, 2003

The authors of the Road Map have not only seemingly failed to consider the moral implication for the Arabs themselves of a Palestinian state in Judea, Samaria and Gaza (Yesha), but also completely disregarded other fundamental issues.

One of them is the viability of such a state. Already in the 1970s, Israeli Professor Yehoshafat Harkabi, an internationally known expert on the Arab-Israeli conflict, unequivocally proved in a series of articles that an Arab state created in Judea and Samaria cannot be viable. The main reason for this is that this state will need the support of Arab countries to survive. However, if this state is created without Jerusalem and if the “right” of the Arab refugees to settle in Israel is not realized, the Arab countries will not offer their support to this new artificial state entity. Perhaps they might recognize it on the surface, but they will never forgive the Palestinian Arabs for forsaking the common Arab demand for Jerusalem and the return of the refugees.

Another problem that cannot be resolved is based on the fact that the national ethos of the so-called “Palestinian people” has, at its core, a deeply ingrained belief that the Jews have forced their miserable fate upon them. This is the common denominator that gives the “Palestinian people” their identity and the only real glue that keeps them together. If an Arab state is created in Yesha with the refugee issue left unresolved, the schism between different groups of Palestinian Arabs will only exacerbate the current situation. Undeniably, with the establishment of an Arab state in the disputed territories and the disappearance of the “return option”, no Arab Palestinian leader will be able to suggest any satisfactory, practicable alternative to 3 to 4 million “refugees”. Indeed, though, as we mentioned before, the return
of the refugees is a red line that Israel cannot cross, it is nevertheless clear that finding some resolution of the refugee problem must preempt, or go hand in hand, with any discussion of a Palestinian state.

At the same time, the entirety of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, which the Arabs demand for their state, encompasses only about two thousand square miles. It is roughly twice the size of Vermont, one of the smallest states in the US, which, with one million people, has the second highest population density of any US state. The current population density in Gaza is already 250% higher than Vermont’s, and with a far inferior standard of living. Given the right and opportunity to settle in an Arab state created in Yesha, the Palestinian Arabs will certainly never exercise this right in large numbers. This is simply because no one will voluntarily move from a living situation that is already bad to one that is much worse. This means that a huge fraction of the “Palestinian people” will remain in a state of limbo, with at least 3 to 4 million Palestinian Arabs retaining refugee status and remaining completely dissatisfied.

No help is likely to come from neighboring Arab countries. To expect that they will voluntarily absorb the Palestinian Arabs living among them after so many years of refusing their integration is merely naive. These countries have kept the Palestinian Arabs in these degrading conditions quite intentionally. There will be no new incentives for Arab leaders to deal with these unfortunate people, who are not even their citizens in the first place. This means that their plight will become even more pitiful, and their resentment will only grow, since Arab anti-Israeli incitement is unlikely to stop. It is not hard to predict that in such a situation, vengeful feelings will remain strong: “the villains that expelled us from our homeland achieved safety, and we must continue living in hell?” Just as Arafat’s PLO was created in order to help “Palestinians return to their homeland,” in this situation another Arafat will quickly emerge to create a new PLO (assuming that the old one ceases to exist) to demand rights for the refugees. His logic will be very simple: if it was appropriate to allow the return of the Palestinians to an area that was captured by Israel in 1967, it should be just as appropriate to allow the Palestinians to return to the area captured by Israel in 1948.

It is easy to conclude that the creation of a “Palestinian state” in Judea, Samaria and Gaza without resolving the issue of the “Palestinian refugees” is a certain recipe for disaster. We must answer, from a common moral perspective, why the fate of some of these people must be so much different from others? Why can the two million Arabs in Judea and Samaria (not counting “refugees” in Gaza) have their right to self-determination satisfied, while 3 to 4 million others will not? To say that these 3 to 4 million Arabs have this right fulfilled, since they will be able to settle in Judea and Samaria, does not work. By the same reasoning, it can be said that these people can exercise their right to self-determination right now in Jordan, the majority of whose people are Palestinian Arabs. There is no logic that can support the premise that the “right” to move into Judea, Samaria or Gaza to live in squalid conditions, under a corrupt Palestinian leadership, is somehow preferable to moving into Jordan, to live a relatively normal life. And if it is legitimate and sensible to relocate 3 to 4 million Arabs to Jordan, what is wrong with relocating 1 or 2 million additional Arabs there?

What is important is that no one has ever conducted any polls in order to determine which option the Palestinian Arabs themselves would prefer: Jordan or Yesha. While their leaders, certainly insist on the latter and more, demanding the right to return to Israel proper, the actions of the Palestinians speak volumes. Over a million Arabs living in Gaza did not even try to settle in Judea and Samaria during the height of Palestinian Administration in the 1990s, instead preferring to rot in the refugee camps in the hope that they will “return to their homes in Israel.” Clearly, Yesha itself is not a major attraction. This indicates that the rhetoric from all sides calling for Arab sovereignty in Yesha does not reflect the real desires of the Arabs themselves.

How, then, can we make a judgment about the morality of the transfer option? The dictionary defines “moral” as “relating to, dealing with, or capable of making the distinction between right and wrong in conduct.” So if something is right – it is moral, and if it is wrong – immoral. Is it therefore not absurd to use statements like “I want this and that” or “I want it here and now” as the chief measure of the morality of an issue? Yet, this is what objectors to transfer do when they claim that transfer is immoral because it goes against what the Palestinian Arabs “want” (and we have also already seen that it’s at best unclear where exactly they want to live). In order to truly judge the moral aspects of transfer, one should ask: “Is it right or wrong to move people from their homes in this particular situation?”

To answer this question, it is clear that the mere desires of some people to live in certain places are not sufficient, in and of themselves, for a moral judgment on the issue of their relocation. All other considerations must be taken into account as well. We can analogously ask if it is moral to relocate thousands of people living next to a volcano, in spite of their desires to stay put, knowing that an eruption is inevitable. Obviously, the act of relocation would certainly be right, because it would save many lives, and therefore would be a moral action. It is noteworthy that if the stubborn volcano-dwellers remain where they are, they harm no one but themselves, whereas leaving the Palestinians where they are is likely to harm not only them, but the Jews living in Israel as well – therefore making transfer an even greater moral imperative in the latter situation. Thus, if the relocation of Arabs allows the resolution of the conflict between Arabs and Jews, it is certainly moral, since it is right and long overdue to bring the conflict to an end.

When we consider all of these issues, before insisting on the establishment of an Arab state in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, we must honestly answer what good it will bring to the Middle East equation. Even in the most optimistic scenario, it is extremely uncertain that it will indeed lead to any sort of stable or peaceful resolution of the conflict. Conversely, it is easy to answer what harm it will bring.

First, it will restore a state of great vulnerability for Israel, which will lose all of its strategic depth. Second, the new Arab state itself will be not only unviable (see this author’s article on “The Stillborn
Palestinian State”), but also will have no chance of gaining support from other Arab countries, since, as we have already determined, Israel cannot yield on the red-line issues of refugees and Jerusalem and give up its Jewish essence. And one must remember that it is not only Arafat and Abu Mazen who insist on the return of the refugees and demand part of Jerusalem. It is also Mubarak, King Saud, King Abdullah, Assad and all the other Arab leaders. Third, the issue of “Palestinian refugees” will not move any closer to resolution, leaving 3 to 4 million people in a forlorn state, without any hope for a better future. Fourth, the real cause of the conflict, which is the failure of the Arab states to recognize Israel’s right to exist, will not disappear. The Arabs will cling to it with tooth and nail, using as a pretext the same refugees whom they will keep in misery themselves.

Many of those familiar with the Arab-Israeli conflict maintain that international involvement is key for resolving the situation. Thus far, however, the involvement of the international community has only exacerbated the current problem. Instead of encouraging the resettlement of the refugees, an approach that has proved successful with about one hundred million other people all over the world, the UN, via UNRWA has only helped to keep the problem alive. The only Arab country that accepted the Palestinian Arabs more or less willingly was Jordan. Even recently, after the 1991 Gulf War, Kuwait expelled 300,000 Palestinian Arabs, who found refuge in Jordan without a problem, which is quite understandable, since Jordan is a Palestinian Arab state. At the same time, it is unrealistic to expect that Jordan will voluntarily agree to accept millions of destitute people. The involvement of the international community is therefore simply a must, despite the poor track record up to now. And progress can only be made if major players, such as the US, EU, Russia, China, Japan or at least some of them, officially proclaim the truth that has been hidden for fifty years – namely, that Jordan is the Palestinian state.

As always, declarations alone are not enough, and must be followed by corresponding policy decisions. Once this is done, the road will be wide open for the “refugees” to settle in Jordan and the word “transfer” will lose its negative connotation, since the world community will be involved in a decent and honorable task – the transfer of Palestinian Arabs from the misery of refugee camps and the abuses of their leaders to a life of hope and freedom.

The participation of the international community will also be needed in order to shield Jordan from the rage of other Arab countries, which will be the major obstacle on the road to the successful resettlement of Palestinian Arabs. For fifty-five years the policies of the Arab countries have been aimed at keeping the Palestinian Arabs in camps in order to use them as a powerful weapon in the war against Israel. It is obvious that they will object to such a solution and the international community will need to demonstrate resolve and forcefulness to make this happen. Certainly, this will not be a task of one month or even one year. A long-term plan must be developed to prevent the ruin of the Jordanian economy. Infrastructure and housing should be built up-front, and proper conditions should be established for the employment of future citizens. The construction boom that will precede resettlement will positively resolve the unemployment problem currently being faced by Jordanians. This will also provide an opportunity for Arabs in Judea, Samaria and Gaza to obtain employment. At the same time, if Jordan is officially recognized as a Palestinian state, the Arabs of Judea, Samaria and Gaza will be able to settle there as well. This means that the fate of two thousand square miles of land will automatically become a non-issue. The Palestinian Arabs will not need it to exercise their right to self-determination, which will enable Israel to annex it through a process of international recognition, thus obtaining the minimal strategic depth it requires, which will serve as the best guarantee of stability and peace in the region.

No one will argue that the resettlement of the Arabs will not be accompanied by substantial hardships, but is it not an honorable task for the world community to actively work to bring millions of people out of misery and give them real hope for the future? (Instead of clamoring for the emergence of a stunted and crippled state, knowing fully that this state will offer no chance for improving Palestinians’ lives or bringing peace to the region.)

From the perspective of human rights, the alternatives are immeasurably worse. In order to create an Arab state in Judea, Samaria and Gaza, it will be necessary to resettle nearly 500,000 Jews living there, including Jerusalem. This is because when Arabs speak of Israel abandoning “all the lands occupied in 1967,” they mean Jerusalem too. The Jews that will have to be relocated are well established in the places where they currently live. It is utterly immoral and illogical to ruin people’s lives based on “abstract rights talk.” And precisely because the vast majority of the Palestinian Arabs haven’t been given the opportunity to build lives for themselves anywhere, including Judea, Samaria and Gaza, it is possible to relocate them without great difficulty. The alternative is an ever-increasing number of poor and miserable people with no opportunity to create their own future. What kind of morality is it to multiply the number of suffering people, instead of decreasing it?

As Gavison stressed several times in her article, we cannot ignore the reality that has taken hold in the intervening years. The refugee problem, the misery of the Palestinian Arabs, the Jews living in over 150 locations in Judea, Samaria and Gaza are all the consequences of Arab attempts to destroy Israel. The latest indiscriminate terror war, unleashed by Arafat in 2000, has only added tragedy to both sides, while Jewish settlement on Jewish land has continued unabated in spite of the hardships.

Since these attempts to destroy Israel have persisted for more than fifty years, it is critical that the vengeful ideas that have driven the Arabs’ relations with Israel be abolished once and for all. This cannot be done through nice words or merely by signing agreements. Only facts established on the ground can make this happen. Therefore, by recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over Judea, Samaria and Gaza, the international community will send the clear message that the disputes over a meager 2,000 square miles of land, are finally over. It is ridiculous to believe that the Arabs, having 2,000,000 square miles of land, will settle all of their arguments with Israel, if they are given 2,000 additional square miles. At the same time, by recognizing Jordan as a Palestinian state, a path will be laid for the resolution of the refugee problem that has been a stain on mankind’s moral conscience for fifty -five years. The alternative is simply a continuation of the old rule of enmity and hatred – an admission of the moral degradation of the human species.

[Part 3 of 3]

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