Thursday, August 13, 2009

Solving the problem as an exchange of refugees

At long last, someone is taking a serious look at resolving the Arab refugee problem, which has always been shoved into the far distance as 'a final status issue'. Ruth King and Rael Jean Isaac, the authors of 'Solving the Arab refugee problem' in Family Security matters are right to see the refugee issue as an exchange populations, and the integrated Jewish refugees a model for resettlement of the Arab refugees. Where I find their analysis flawed is when they try to apportion responsibility among Arab states. Better to hold the 22-member Arab League collectively responsible, since it originated this whole mess. Host Arab states should give citizenship rights to Palestinians of all generations, not just the 'original' refugees, and the right to work and to own property. The costs of resettlement should be worked out among all the members of the Arab League. The authors also let Jordan rather too easily off the hook, when a recent report suggests that the Hashemite kingdom has been stripping citizenship from its Palestinian population. (With thanks: Lily)

"Although long forgotten by the media and general public, the number of Jewish refugees from Arab countries was substantially greater. On May 16, 1948, the day following Israel's declaration of independence, the New York Times headlined an article: "Jews in Grave Danger in All Moslem Lands: Nine Hundred Thousand in Africa and Asia Face Wrath of Their Foes." And indeed within 15 years (the last great wave was from Algeria, after it gained independence from France in 1962), Jews had fled the Arab world en masse (until the Shah's ouster, in 1979, there remained one viable Jewish community in the Moslem world, in non-Arab Iran). Today there are barely 5,000, chiefly elderly, Jews in the entire Arab world.

"One reason the expulsion and flight of these Jews even then attracted little attention was that Israel never referred to them as refugees – they were welcomed as an "ingathering of the exiles," given citizenship on the spot. Yet these Jews had lived in the countries from which they were forced to flee far longer than the vast majority of those who left the small territory that became Israel. In Iraq, for example, the Jewish community dated back to the Babylonian exile. In contrast, most of the Arabs leaving Israel in 1948 were recent arrivals, attracted to what had been an empty and desolate territory by the economic opportunities opened up by Zionist colonization of Palestine in the 20th century.

"What happened in Israel was a replay, on a far smaller scale, of the vast population exchange that took place on the Indian subcontinent when England gave up rule of its last great colony. In that case, 8,500,000 Hindus fled Pakistan to India and 6,500,000 Muslims fled to Pakistan. (...)

"The fairest, most equitable, way to end the problem of the refugees is to base their resettlement on the population exchange that followed the 1948 Arab-Israel war. If 1948 is the starting point for the Arabs, it must also be the starting point for the Jews. Because so many Arab states had a substantial Jewish population, this also has the advantage of forcing a number of Arab states to take some share of responsibility for the refugees, without singling out or overwhelming any one of them. Wealthy countries like Saudi Arabia or the United Arab Emirates, that did not have a Jewish population, could shoulder a disproportionate share of the cost.

"Returning to the population exchange also has the merit of throwing out reparations claims. The Jews left far more property behind in Arab lands than Arabs in what became Israel; generously, Israel can offer to declare a washout.* Making the Arab states face up to the task of resettlement will also have the merit of encouraging them to evaluate honestly claims to refugee status. While the international community footed the bill and the larger the number of refugees, the greater pressure on Israel, the attitude of the Arab states was "the more the better." Once the burden is on them, phony claims are no longer welcome and it is safe to assume it will rapidly be discovered that there are far fewer refugees than UNRWA now claims.

"What, then, would refugee resettlement look like? Iraq, Morocco and Algeria between them had almost half the population of expelled Jews; they should proportionately take responsibility for half the number of Arab refugees. Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Syria, in that order, also had substantial Jewish populations; they would also take in substantial number of refugees***. (Since Syria already hosts 409,000 refugees, it would need to permanently absorb them, not take in any more.) The burden on these states would not be as great as it sounds because Jordan has 1,718,767 registered refugees, only 304,000 of whom are in camps. Jordan has behaved better than any other Arab state toward the refugees, making them full citizens, in effect absorbing them (indeed they form a majority of Jordan's population). Of course, those so-called refugees in Jordan are, strictly and historically speaking, in Palestine, bearing in mind the 1922 partition of Mandatory Palestine which gave the Hashemites 80 percent of the land. Thus almost half the refugees are off the table.

"Lebanon, with close to 400,000 refugees, over half in camps, is a special case. It did not expel* its small Jewish population in 1948 and is desperate to rid itself of the Palestinian Arab refugee population, who have served as persistent troublemakers and would totally destroy the balance between Muslims and Christians, should they become citizens. The other overwhelmingly Muslim Arab states should resettle the refugees now in Lebanon. (If any of the Arab states had insuperable difficulties with absorbing their "fair share" of refugees, they could, if need be with the help of international funds, find Muslim states which would absorb a portion of their "quota.")

"Once the refugees were resettled away from Judea, Samaria and Gaza, and the entire refugee issue had dissolved, the Arab-Israel conflict would become manageable.

Read article in full

*The reparations issue is rather too easily dismissed as a washout. It has been proposed that individual Jewish and Arab refugees be entitled to compensation from an international fund, as mooted by President Clinton in 2000 - ed.

**Neither did Morocco and Tunisia technically expel their Jews. Another reason why the resettlement is best handed over to the Arab League - ed.

***What about Kuwait and the Gulf States? They have substantial numbers of Palestinians, but no Jews - ed.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Israel is a very small country with over 1.5 million Arabs not including the West Bank and Gaza Strip. On the other hand, there are no more than 3000 Jews left in all of the many different Arab countries that cover a large area of the Middle East and North Africa. The Jews are accommodating and tolerating Arabs more than the Arabs are accommodating and tolerating Jews.