Analysis from Israel

Reuters has finally noticed what Israeli papers have been reporting for a while: West Bank refugee camps are seething. And unlike in the past, when most of the anger was aimed at Israel, “These days most of the wrath is aimed at [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud] Abbas himself and his failure to keep his promises.” Western observers are watching anxiously, Reuters says, because they fear an eruption of violence. But they ought to be watching for another reason: Nothing casts more doubt on the wisdom of the West’s drive for Palestinian statehood now than the PA’s treatment of the refugee camps over its 22 years of existence.

The case for Palestinian statehood makes obvious sense in the abstract: Palestinians need a state where they can promote their people’s welfare, just as Jews need a state where they can promote their people’s welfare. It’s not that Israel did nothing for the Palestinians during its decades of governing the territories. Palestinian life expectancy jumped by 50 percent under Israeli rule, infant mortality plummeted by more than two-thirds, literacy rates and living standards skyrocketed, and so forth. Indeed, every hospital and university in the West Bank was built by Israel, as were most of those in Gaza.

Nevertheless, there are many things Israel didn’t do, and the refugee camps are Exhibit A. Granted, Israel left the camps intact mainly because its one attempt to provide refugees with better housing back in the 1970s elicited such brutal opposition from the PLO–which threatened to kill refugees who accepted the offer–that it backed down. But regardless of the reason, the refugee camps are precisely the kind of open sore that Palestinian statehood is theoretically supposed to solve.

In reality, however, the PA has done nothing for the refugees. More than two decades after the PA’s establishment, the refugees’ schooling, healthcare and welfare allowances are still provided and funded wholly by UNRWA, the UN agency created especially for this purpose. Or, to be more precise, by the Western countries that fund most of UNRWA’s budget. Nor has the PA moved a single refugee into better housing. And this isn’t because Israel has somehow prevented it from doing so; most of the refugee camps are located in Area A, the part of the West Bank under full Palestinian control. It’s because the PA has no interest in doing so. As one resident of Balata, a refugee camp near Nablus, complained to Reuters, “The president [Abbas] hasn’t visited even once”–despite being in the 11th year of his four-year term.

Moreover, this neglect is quite deliberate: The PA doesn’t see the refugees as citizens to be served, but as a weapon aimed at Israel. They are kept in miserable conditions for the express purpose of creating sympathy for the Palestinian demand that they all be relocated to Israel, thereby eradicating its Jewish majority. And you needn’t take my word for that; as I’ve noted before, Palestinian officials have said quite openly that the refugees will never be granted citizenship in a Palestinian state–not even those already living in the West Bank and Gaza, the putative territory of this state.

Most of the arguments for creating a Palestinian state have long since proven false. The idea that such a state would bring peace to Israel, for instance, has been disproven not only by the upsurge in terror from every bit of territory Israel has handed over to Palestinian control to date, but also by the PA’s utter unwillingness to recognize that Jews have any right to a state even within the 1967 lines.

Similarly, the idea that the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is the main source of Mideast instability has been amply disproved by the meltdown of several Arab countries over the last few years, none of which had anything to do with Israel or the Palestinians.

But even with all those theories disproven, the basic desire one Balata resident expressed to Reuters–“We want dignity, we want better lives”–understandably resonates with most Westerners. And many believe this alone is sufficient justification for demanding Palestinian statehood now.

Except that a Palestinian state won’t provide that either, as the past 22 years have shown. The refugees will still be deprived of better lives, ignored by their own government, stuck in squalid refugee camps, dependent on Western charity for their healthcare, welfare and schooling, and subject to all the abuses of Abbas’s dictatorial government. As one Balata resident commented, “We don’t let the Palestinian Authority in because they will take us, torture us.”

In other words, Palestinian statehood now won’t solve a single problem, but assuredly will create a lot of new ones. If you doubt that, just consider the three wars Israel has fought with Hamas-run Gaza in the 11 years since it unilaterally withdrew from that territory. As long as Palestinians refuse to accept the Jewish state’s right to exist, an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank would almost certainly produce constant warfare just as the Gaza withdrawal has. And a Palestinian state at war with Israel will inevitably be a failed state, given the combination of Israeli military strength and Palestinian economic dependence on their larger, wealthier neighbor.

Thus, instead of continuing to push for the imminent creation of a Palestinian state, the West would do better to focus on the hard, slow work of educating Palestinians to come to terms with Israel’s existence. Demanding that the PA finally dismantle those refugee camps and take responsibility for their residents off UNRWA’s hands would be an excellent place to start.

Originally published in Commentary on November 3, 1016

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In Europe, Israel needs a bottom-up approach to diplomacy

For years, I considered Europe a lost cause from Israel’s perspective and decried the Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Euro-centric focus, arguing that it should instead devote more effort to places like Africa, Asia and South America, which seemed to offer better prospects for flipping countries into the pro-Israel camp. But the past few years have proven that Europe isn’t hopeless—if Israel changes its traditional modus operandi.

This has been evident, first of all, in the alliances that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has formed with several countries in eastern and southern Europe, resulting in these countries repeatedly blocking anti-Israel decisions at the European Union level. Previously, Israeli diplomacy had focused overwhelmingly on Western Europe. Netanyahu’s key insight was that conservative, nationalist governments seeking to preserve their own nation-states would have more instinctive sympathy for a Jewish state than the liberal universalists who dominate in Western Europe, and whose goal is to replace nation-states with an ever-closer European union.

But as several recent events show, even Western Europe isn’t a lost cause. The difference is that there, conventional high-level diplomacy won’t work. Rather, the key to change is the fact that most Europeans, like most people everywhere, don’t really care that much about Israel, the Palestinians or their unending conflict. Consequently, small groups of committed activists can exert a disproportionate influence on policy.

For years, this has worked against Israel because the anti-Israel crowd woke up to this fact very early and took full advantage of it. Take, for instance, the 2015 decision to boycott Israel adopted by Britain’s national student union. The union represents some 7 million students, but its executive council passed the decision by a vote of 19-12. Or consider the academic boycott of Israel approved in 2006 by Britain’s National Association of Teachers in Further and Higher Education (which no longer exists, having merged into a larger union). The association had some 67,000 members at the time, but only 198 bothered to vote, of whom 109 voted in favor.

Yet it turns out pro-Israel activists can use the same tactics, as in last week’s approval of a resolution saying anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism by the lower house of France’s parliament. The resolution passed 154-72, meaning that fewer than 40 percent of the National Assembly’s 577 deputies bothered to vote, even though 550 deputies were present earlier in the day to vote on the social security budget. In other words, most deputies simply didn’t care about this issue, which meant that passing the resolution required convincing only about a quarter of the house.

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