Why are Palestinians the only refugees in the world denied the right of third-country resettlement?
Last week, I argued that the growing importance of demographic arguments for ceding territory makes it vital for Israel to determine what the demographic facts really are. This, incidentally, is true even for supporters of a two-state solution: There’s a big difference between having to withdraw immediately, at any cost, to avoid imminent demographic doom and having another few decades in which to seek an agreement.
In reality, there are three ways to change demographic balances: immigration, emigration and natural increase. But only the first receives any attention at all from Israeli policy-makers, because in a brilliant feat of brainwashing, the other two have been successfully branded as racist, anti-democratic and contrary to human rights.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, which deals with all refugees worldwide except Palestinians, resettles tens of thousands of people every year (about 70,000 annually from 2008-2012). But UNRWA, the agency created to deal exclusively with Palestinian refugees, hasn’t resettled a single one in 66 years, because resettlement isn’t in its mandate. Instead, it seeks to keeps both the original displaced persons and all their descendants as perpetual refugees, vainly awaiting a “return” to Israel that will never happen unless Israel ceases to exist. And the rest of the world – especially the “enlightened” West, which funds most of UNRWA’s budget – shamefully abets this gross violation of Palestinian rights.
To understand the nature of this abuse, consider Yoav Sorek’s account in Mosaic of what ensued when he and a friend, citing surveys showing that 40 percent of Gazans want to leave, asked a representative of ECHO, the European Union’s humanitarian aid agency, why the agency didn’t try to help them do so.
His reply was startling in its candor. “Are you kidding? 40 percent? It’s probably 99 percent. All of them want to leave!” Well, we repeated, have you thought of helping them? “No, never.” Why not? “Because if they leave, it’d be like releasing Israel from its responsibility for the nakba.”
In other words, Palestinians are being denied a fundamental right enjoyed by all other refugees for the sake, as Sorek aptly put it, “of a political vendetta.” Or to put it more bluntly, in a vain effort to undo Israel’s establishment in 1948. For on that very day, five Arab armies aided by Palestinian irregulars invaded the newborn state, resulting in the refugee crisis Palestinians term the Nakba. Only by deeming Israel’s very creation a crime could you hold it responsible for the outcome of a war started by the Arabs themselves with intent to annihilate it.
But whether or not Sorek’s 40 percent figure is accurate, many Palestinians clearly don’t want to be sacrificed on the altar of this vendetta. Even PLO executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi inadvertently admitted as much in an October 2012 interview with Haaretz: “The worst thing that can happen to Palestinians is to keep having this hemorrhage of people leaving,” she complained. And if Palestinians are “hemorrhaging” even in the absence of any resettlement aid, more would likely leave if offered the same assistance given other refugees worldwide.
But at the very least, Israel and its overseas supporters should be demanding loudly and clearly, in every possible venue, that the “international community” give Palestinians the same rights as other refugees. While forcing Palestinians to leave if they don’t want to would obviously be unacceptable, it’s neither “racist” nor “anti-democratic” to demand that they receive the same resettlement assistance given to other refugees. Indeed, it’s racist and anti-democratic to deny them this right.
Personally, I’d rather end this anomaly, dismantle UNRWA and strip these fictitious refugees of their status. Among other reasons, the world’s real refugees would benefit greatly if all the money now wasted on fake refugees were spent on them instead.
But since the “international community” shows no signs of being willing to do this, Israel should at least stop letting its hypocrisy go unchallenged. If the world insists on treating these Palestinians as refugees, then Israel should insist it grant them the same right granted to all other refugees – the right to internationally assisted resettlement.