Issues In The Palestinian—Israeli Conflict
__ Refugees Forever __
Restitution vs. Resettlement
The Palestinians have an excellent case for suing for reparations - that is,
if they were suing the Arab states whose advancing armies created the vast majority of Palestinian refugees in 1948. Instead, they are claiming
exorbitant sums from Israel.
Payment for pain the sky is the limit
McMaster University economics Professor Atif Kubursi, for example, claims that Israel is directly responsible for compensation for Arab losses in real estate, moveable property, lost opportunities, and psychological damage stemming from the 1948 war. In a lengthy study supported by charts he arrives at the astronomic sum of $281 billion. To lend credence to his study Kubursi adds detailed lists of lost Arab livestock and crops.
Should he wish to weigh these small losses against the Palestinian
systematic pilfering and plunder of Israeli farmers, Kubursi would soon
find his fledgling state well in the red. So, too, if he were to put the 1,284
Palestinian vehicles he claims were lost in 1948 against the 30,000 Israeli
vehicles stolen by Palestinians in each of the past several years.
Fellow Arab academics, Yusuf Massad and Rashid Khalidi, use similar tactics in drawing up wildly imaginative figures for Israel's "debt" in terms of today's dollars. Not only is this preposterous, it is as if Japan were demanding compensation from the US and the countries it had attacked early in WWII. Massad, assistant professor at Columbia proposes the "German model" of restitution and speaks of $253 billion (at the rate of 1994) to be paid by Israel.
Khalidi maintains "that the refugee issue is so central to the national narrative of the Palestinians that any approach which tries to sweep history under the rug will fail entirely." He calls on the Israeli government to pay reparations rather than compensation - because the former assumes responsibility. Khalidi's solution covers reparation payments for all those not allowed to return, and compensation for those who lost property in 1948. These sums, for property losses alone, range from $92 billion to $147 billion at 1948 prices. In addition to the above, he comes up with a reparation figure of $20,000 per person for an arbitrary 2 million refugees, totaling $40 billion. When it comes to Arab claims, the sky appears to be the limit.
These Arab claims are disproportionate when compared with the reparation payments for the devastation of a continent and the toll of millions of lives, levied by the Allies on Germany and its partners in the Treaty of Versailles of 1919. Germany had to pay 132 billion gold Deutsch Marks; and sums varying from 125 million pounds sterling to $360 million were imposed on Finland, Bulgaria, Hungary, Italy and Romania for being on the side of the aggressor.
Return of the Sheikh?
Certainly there was Palestinian property appropriated, destroyed, lost, or unclaimed. But, in negotiating this thorny issue, both sides will have to face a reality much changed since the events of 1948. Implementing the "right of return" today would mean dismantling and destroying the elaborate infrastructure built over the past 50 years, which includes housing for millions of Jews - as well as hospitals, universities, and industrial areas that have benefitted Jew and Arab alike. Anyone expecting Israel to undo all that is asking the state to start all over again. Take, for example, the return to Sheikh Munis, a village within the boundaries of Tel Aviv. The campus of the Tel Aviv University now occupies this site. To raze this institution of higher learning and make the land available to the families of the refugees of that village who demand the "right of return" would be unthinkable today.
That is merely one of innumerable instances throughout Israel. Most Palestinians recognize that this is not feasible and suggest that Israel swap land for those locations that were abandoned in 1948. This is obviously an attempt to use demographic pressure to destroy Israel. The essence of the Zionist idea was to establish a Jewish state, in which a clear Jewish majority was guaranteed. The influx of Palestinian refugees, and the high natural growth of that population, would guarantee the loss of Israel's Jewish majority within the space of two generations, at most. A study by Professor Arnon Soffer of Haifa University estimates that by 2020 the population covering the area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean will comprise 42% Jews and 58% Moslems and others. Professor Sergio de la Pergula of the Hebrew University forecasts an Arab majority as early as 2010.
Because of the enmity for Israel on which the Palestinians have been raised, their entry into Israel en masse would create an immediate terrorist threat - it would be an act of national suicide. Some argue that all the refugees do not really mean to realize "the right of return" in practice, they just want the Israeli recognition of it. But the moment Israel recognizes this "right," it will lose control of its borders, because the Palestinian refugee will be the one who decides today or in the future whether to actualize that "right." Besides the political motive, the economic incentive is enough to inspire Palestinian refugees - or other Arabs claiming to be Palestinian refugees—to flood into Israel. After all, who wouldn't prefer to live in a country where the per capita income is 15 times higher than in the Arab states?
Arab demands - how far and how much
But even such arbitrary use of economic factors and creative assumptions regarding Arab wealth in Palestine before Israel's establishment cannot top the gumption of the Arab states. When, after the breakdown of the Camp David talks in July 2000, US President Bill Clinton floated the idea of establishing a reparations fund to be
supported by the US, Europe, and Japan, several Arab states hurried to demand compensation for the years they have "hosted" Palestinian refugees. Lebanon's claim is said to amount to $7 billion. Jordan's formula is based on an annual payment of $2 billion for "hosting" the largest number of refugees since 1947. Syria is sure to follow suit. These claims are an ugly exercise, nothing short of extortion. Going from the ridiculous to the grotesque and malicious, Palestinian leaders and academics have used the Holocaust - when not denying it—as a model for the reparations they hope to receive from Israel. To put hundreds of thousands of refugees, most of whom fled from their homes because of the exhortations of their fellow Arabs, on the scale opposite 6 million slaughtered European Jews is downright atrocious.
Who owned the land?
Before the termination of the British Mandate in 1948, 8.6% was owned by Jews and 3.3% by Arabs within the Green Line. Another 16.9% was owned by those Arabs termed refugees. Plus 71.2% was State-owned land, mostly barren state owned land. -Kubursi, Yussuf Massad Palestinian Refugees and the Right of Return, Plato Press, London, 2001
Arab states hold the key
At the negotiations held in Taba on January 22, 2001, it was stipulated by the Palestinians that Israel is solely to blame for the creation of the refugee problem. They advocated that the "right of return" be implemented under the supervision of a special international committee including representatives of Arab states. (The Palestinians, mindful of the disproportionate sway of the Arab-Islamic bloc in the UN, have always held to a strategy of internationalizing the Arab-Israeli conflict.)
There is an alternative - settlement and freedom in Arab lands. Before the Palestinians initiated hostilities in September 2000, they had attained a reasonable standard of living that approached or even exceeded that of many sovereign Arab states, thanks to the Israeli policy of allowing them freedom of movement and the opportunity to work in Israel - rights that most Arab states have withheld from their homeless brethren. The Palestinians would be best served by absorption into surrounding Arab countries. They share the same language, religion and culture. In fact, seventy percent of Palestinians are third generation offspring of immigration from these countries due to economic considerations. However, not only do the 22 Arab countries have no interest in aiding the Palestinians, they prefer to wield them as a political weapon against Israel.
This article appeared in the Jerusalem Post 1-15-2003 approximately,
and is reproduced solely for educational purposes.
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