Since the creation of the modern state of Israel in May 1948, the non-Jewish residents of Mandatory Palestine (i.e., today’s Palestinians) have become fragmented and stateless, and their future seems now as uncertain and bleak as ever. The bravado displayed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at international forums likely fools no one, not even himself. Any objective observation of the last 66 years shows that Palestinians have suffered many calamities and continue to do so on a fairly regular basis, with no end in sight. As a result of this, outspoken support for the Palestinians is not lacking, but what is lacking is the widespread recognition of the actors in this tragedy and the way to correct it. The only actor usually cited in this tragedy is Israel, but there are many others, and ignoring the full set of actors has led to ignoring the real solutions.
The modern state of Israel was founded in May 1948, but the refusal of Arab countries to accept the existence of the new Jewish state resulted in a war that lasted from May 1948 to March 1949. This war resulted in about 711,000 Palestinian refugees; these were Arabs who previously lived in Mandatory Palestine but either fled or were expelled.
The 1967 war, initiated by the Arab states and won by Israel, resulted in an additional 280,000 to 325,000 Palestinian refugees who fled or were expelled from the West Bank and Gaza as it became occupied by Israel.
Today two million Palestinian refugees are located in Jordan, of whom about 340,000 are still living in refugee camps. Lebanon and Syria host another one million Palestinians in refugee camps, and 250,000 Palestinian refugees live in Saudi Arabia with no right to apply for Saudi citizenship. Even in Gaza and the West Bank, which are considered Palestinian territories, over two million Palestinians are identified as refugees and live in refugee camps. All these refugees (almost four millions) expect to be able to re-settle in Israel at some point in the future, but that hope is no more than a cruel illusion since Israel has absolutely no intention of welcoming them.
The war of 1967 also resulted in the West Bank and Gaza being under the administration of Israel. Since 2005, Gaza is no longer occupied by Israel, but its autonomy is limited due to a blockade by Israel and Egypt intended to prevent Hamas from obtaining weapons that can be used to attack Israel. Three wars have already occurred between Israel and Hamas, resulting in many Palestinian casualties and extensive destruction in Gaza.
Since the war of 1967, Israel has been building settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank (Israel’s Controversial Settlements in the West Bank). Today about 325,000 settlers live in East Jerusalem, and about 400,000 live in the West Bank. The presence of these settlers is one of the hurtles in creating a Palestinian state since the stated intention of the Palestinian Authority (PA) is to create a state in the West Bank and Gaza; borders would need to be adjusted, some settlers would need to be relocated, and some settlers could remain in Palestine but would require protection.
Arab states created the Palestinian refugee problem and have ensured that to this day the Palestinian state does not exist (Arab/Israel Conflict: Palestine Delayed). Arab states also ensured that Palestinians remain stateless and in refugee camps. The Arab League in 1952 issued instructions barring the Arab states from granting them citizenship “to avoid dissolution of their identity and protect their right to return to their homeland”.
Based on the position of the Arab states, the Palestinian refugee problem can only be resolved through the influx of millions of Palestinians into Israel. In other words, Arab states ensured that the only possible solution to the Palestinian refugee problem is the destruction of the Jewish state, therefore pitting the Palestinians against a much more powerful enemy that has no intention of committing national suicide.
In addition to being confined to camps in Arab countries, Palestinian refugees are also in some cases barred from the rights that would allow them to live normal lives. In Lebanon, Palestinian refugees are banned from 73 job categories including medicine, law, and engineering, they are not allowed to own property, and they are denied access to the healthcare system. In some camps, Palestinian refugees are not even allowed to obtain construction tools to fix their houses.
The Arab states use antisemitism (The Arab/Israel Conflict: Let’s Stop Enabling Antisemitism) as a tool to paint Israel as the enemy and to divert their people from revolting against their governments, which are their real oppressors. In the process of doing so, they have used and abused the Palestinians and left them stateless and without any concrete hope for a better future.
The UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) was created in December 1949 in order to support Palestinian refugees. However, in addition to supporting the Palestinians, the UNRWA has facilitated the Arab states’ refusal to offer citizenship to Palestinians. The loss of refugee status by the clients of the UNRWA would result in huge financial and job losses for the host Arab countries. The UNRWA has an annual budget of well over $1 billion and its staff includes over 25,000 Arab employees.
The actions of the UN through the UNRWA have essentially ensured that Palestinian refugees remain refugees and remain dependent, from one generation to the next, on international charity, with no reasonable prospect of improvement in the near future.
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement aims to put pressure on Israel to change its policies towards the Palestinians. Its demands, including the “return” of all Palestinian refugees, would amount to the destruction of the Jewish state and will therefore not be met. By insisting on unreasonable demands, the BDS movement acts as a catalyst to antisemitism both in the Arab world and elsewhere. Antisemitism is counterproductive to the resolution of the Israel / Arab conflict.
Other than fomenting antisemitism, the BDS movement has generally been ineffective except in one respect, and that is in the boycott of Israeli companies operating in the West Bank. Its actions have gained some traction in traditionally antisemitic Europe and have resulted in some success. Recently SodaStream announced the closure of its factory in the West Bank (SodaStream to move factory out of West Bank Israeli settlement). Unfortunately for the Palestinians, this “success” has resulted in the loss of well-paid jobs and has done nothing to slow down the growth of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
The BDS movement has proven to be nothing more than a group of extremists willing to sacrifice the livelihood of Palestinians on the altar of antisemitism.
Significant elements of the Western left claim to support the Palestinians, but the reality is quite different, and it is fueled by the simplistic paradigm that today’s world is an unambiguous struggle between rich nations/colonizers (the irredeemable bad people) and poor nations and movements (the incorruptible good people).
These leftists, who in their own countries support LGBT rights, consistently excuse crimes against LGBT people in the Palestinian territories (The Accusation of Pinkwashing: A Smokescreen for Hatred). Their standard sound bite is that the struggle for LGBT rights will have to come at a later time. This reveals two facts that these leftists will never admit: they don’t care much for gay Palestinians, and they think that Palestinians are not intelligent enough to understand the need for human rights.
These leftists continuously and consistently blame Israel, regardless of what Palestinian groups do. The only time they even hint at criticism of the Palestinians is when some Palestinian spokespeople make conciliatory comments towards Israel – the leftists openly condemn those Palestinians as traitors. The leftists, however, never condemn the most extremist groups like Hamas.
George Galloway is a leftist who is famous for his hate of Israel. He handed out a load of cash to Hamas saying “I, now, here, on behalf of myself, my sister Yvonne Ridley, and the two Respect councillors – Muhammad Ishtiaq and Naim Khan – are giving three cars and 25,000 pounds in cash to Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh. Here is the money. This is not charity. This is politics.” Although Galloway later appeared to backpedal by claiming that the money was for Gazans, not Hamas, his statement was clear, “this is politics”.
One of the most notorious activities of the Western left against Israel is to send ships supposedly to help civilians in Gaza. The ships which typically include medical and other humanitarian aid are meant to send three messages: (1) that Gazans are starving for these supplies due to Israel’s blockade, (2) that Israel’s blockade is illegitimate, and (3) that Israel is a bully since it intervenes to stop such shipments. The reality is that Gaza receives massive amounts of humanitarian aid, not from the leftists, but from Israel itself, even during conflicts with Hamas (Humanitarian aid to Gaza continues), and Israel’s blockade of Gaza is a perfectly legitimate way to help prevent a terrorist group from arming itself.
In every war that occurred between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, these leftists have allied themselves with the most antisemitic Arabs and have demanded unconditional retreat by Israel, therefore encouraging Hamas to continue terrorizing Israelis (What do Israel’s critics really want?).
Supporting Hamas is one of the worst offenses that anyone could commit against the Palestinians. It prolongs the conflict by ensuring that no reasonable solution is acceptable to the Palestinians. It gives the illusion to uninformed people that Palestinians are standing up for their rights when in fact they are giving up autonomy, economic wellbeing, and safety for the benefit of the Hamas dream of a Judenrein future.
Their Own Leaders
Palestinian leaders routinely lie to their people about the Jewish history in the Land of Israel and about the prospect of victory against Israel. Yasser Arafat said after the peace accord was signed between Israel and Egypt in 1979, “I want to tell Carter and Begin that when the Arabs set off their volcano there will be only Arabs in this part of the world… Our people will continue to fuel the torch of the revolution with rivers of blood until the whole of the occupied homeland is liberated, the whole of the homeland is liberated, not just a part of it”. Not only is such talk hateful and an incitement to genocide, but it also lets the Palestinians down because it sets them up for failure.
Today Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas tells the world that he wants a state in the West Bank and Gaza, but before the West Bank and Gaza were occupied by Israel in a war of self-defense, the Arab world made no attempt to declare a Palestinian state on that land (1948-1967: The Years That Shall Not Be Named). Yet Abbas does not recognize past mistakes, and like his predecessor Arafat, he promises the moon to Palestinians (for example that Palestine can be created without negotiating with Israel) and lies to them (for example accusing Israel of “genocide”). This is not the sign of a competent and courageous leader; it is the sign of a demagogue who is unable or unwilling to do the heavy lifting required to build a state.
Palestinian leaders have also failed the Palestinians by not providing an honest government. According to European Union auditors, the Palestinian Authority (PA) “squandered $2.64 billion in European aid because of corruption and mismanagement” between 2008 and 2012 (Report: European auditors say Palestinians squander aid). The PA corruption is often cited as one of the main reasons why Hamas won parliamentary elections in 2006. The Palestinians had to choose between a hateful and corrupt bunch of liars (Fatah) and a hateful bunch of liars that appeared less corrupt (Hamas), so they chose Hamas. Hamas, which then went on to rule Gaza, proved to be just as corrupt as Fatah (Hamas corruption weighs heavily on Gaza) and proved even more inclined than Fatah to initiate wars with Israel that would result in nothing other than Palestinian death and destruction.
How to Help the Palestinians
If the groups who claim to support the Palestinians want their actions to result in a better future for the Palestinians, here is what they should do:
- The Arab league should accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish state and should apologize for its history of antisemitism. Its representatives should visit Israel like Anwar Sadat did, and should initiate a sound phase of negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, with the support of Arab countries to ensure that the peace agreement can resolve the issues of borders, autonomy, security, and refugees (including Jewish refugees from Arab countries).
- The UNRWA should disband, and the UN should divert the UNRWA’s budget to the countries that host the Palestinian camps to help them transition the refugees into a permanent situation, either as citizens of the country or as immigrants to other countries (including Palestine). The financial support should be phased out over a predetermined number of years to allow the transition to complete successfully.
- The BDS movement should stop its pointless and counter-productive attempt to damage Israel, and should instead spend its energies helping Palestinians build up their industries and their commerce.
- The Western left should go back to promoting traditional left-wing principles, including promoting human rights within the Palestinians territories, and including denouncing antisemitism.
- The Palestinian leaders should resign and ask for a credible third party (such as the European Union) to help transition the Palestinian Authority to an accountable and transparent democracy.
- Assuming enough movement on the above points, particularly if the existential threat to Israel is removed, Israel will be in a more realistic position to make peace with the Palestinians. If this happens, Israel will need to make some difficult compromises, for example on land, on Palestinian sovereignty, and on compensation for refugees.
None of the above is likely to happen in the near future, at least not without considerable external pressures. Old prejudices and entrenched privileges are very hard to break, especially when the vast majority of the world prefers to ignore all actors in this tragedy except Israel. The world leaders who claim to want a two-state solution need to go beyond pointless “peace negotiations” between a Palestinian Authority that has no interest in a solution and a disenchanted Israeli government that can see through the PA hypocrisy. They need to name the actors in the tragedy, identify their nefarious actions, and point to the changes that need to happen. There is no other way.