This time Kushner is right

Ending Palestinian refugee status is good for Israel, good for the Palestinians and good for the refugees.

By AVI JAGER
August 6, 2018 21:41

Recent reports quoting Palestinian officials indicate that US peace envoys seek to eliminate the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. UNRWA is a UN refugee agency exclusively responsible for Palestinian “refugees” worldwide. A few months after the Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in order to “take it off the negotiation table,” it seems that US peace envoys led by Jared Kushner are moving toward taking another core issue off the negotiation table: Palestinian refugees.

This time US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law is right: ending Palestinian refugee status will take a seemingly insurmountable issue off the negotiation table, allow for better treatment of the Palestinian refugees and promote the creation and stability of a future Palestinian state.

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There are two refugee agencies in the United Nations. The first, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), established in 1950, is responsible for all the refugees in the world, which are estimated at 70 million. The second, UNRWA, established in 1949, is dedicated exclusively to supporting Palestinian refugees, which are estimated at seven million. UNRWA provides, among other things, “education, health care, relief and social services” to residents of Palestinian refugee camps spread across the Middle East. An additional responsibility of UNRWA is to keep track of the number of Palestinian refugees as well as their whereabouts.

The case of the Palestinian refugees is the only case in modern history where the status of refugee is automatically inherited, regardless of whether the Palestinians are still living in refugee camps or were granted national citizenship by another country.
Therefore, while the number of post-WWII refugees plummeted from 60 million to less than five million by 2018, the number of Palestinian refugees grew tenfold, from 700,000 in the 1950s to more than seven million in 2018.

While the great majority of the non-Palestinian refugees from the post-WWII period died from natural causes, were granted citizenship or both, Palestinian refugees transferred the refugee status to their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, who as of now, are poised to pass it on as well.

With no foreseeable ending to the automatically inherited refugee status, the number of Palestinian refugees will continue to rise, and is expected to exceed 10 million by 2030. As the issue of Palestinian refugees constitutes a main reason that past negotiations failed, forcing it off the negotiation table could possibly contribute to the success of future negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians. More importantly, it will benefit all parties involved.

Israel, for security reasons, cannot allow the “return” of seven million Palestinian refugees into the Palestinian Territories, nor into a future Palestinian state. Under no circumstances will Israel welcome a hostile and at times belligerent people into strategic areas that determine the overall security of the country and its society. In addition, in the aftermath of the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, Israel had to absorb approximately 700,000 Jewish refugees who fled or were expelled from Arab countries. These refugees were granted citizenship immediately upon their arrival and today they are an integral part of the Israeli society.

The Jewish refugees and their descendants, as well as large parts of Israeli society, are not likely to support any Israeli government, much less an international organization, which recognizes the suffering of the Palestinian refugees while ignoring theirs.

Surprisingly enough, the Palestinian leadership would secretly prefer for Kushner’s efforts to succeed, but they cannot express this, as they will lose the little legitimacy they still have. The emotional connection between the Palestinians living in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip and the Palestinians living in refugee camps across the Middle East has long been dissolved.

The precarious response of the Palestinian leadership when Syrian President Bashar Assad besieged, starved and butchered the residents of the Palestinian refugee camp Yarmouk reveals how little the Palestinian leadership cares for other Palestinians in the Middle East. Practically speaking, the Palestinian leadership knows that a newborn state with a population of four million people cannot possibly absorb seven million others from all across the Middle East. Forcing the topic off the negotiation table will finally allow the Palestinian negotiating team to abandon that demand and focus on more practical matters.

Palestinian refugees have long been neglected, abused and discriminated against by Arab countries. Other than Jordan, no other country in the Middle East, including Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq, has granted citizenship to the Palestinian refugees in their territories. In Lebanon, Palestinians are still denied access to major social and occupational institutions and are prohibited from working as doctors, lawyers or engineers. In Syria, Palestinians are attacked by both Shi’ite and Sunni militias, with no one to protect them. In Egypt, Palestinians suffer from travel restrictions and they are denied basic government services.

The source of the discrimination against Palestinians living in Arab countries is the misconception that they are living there only temporarily and will soon move to Israel or Palestine. Ending the refugee status will force the host countries to recognize that these residents living in their territories are not going anywhere and should be treated as if they were equal citizens.
The biggest misconception about a negotiable solution for the issue of the Palestinian refugees is that the solution would involve either compensation or a return of the refugees to Israel or a future Palestine. In fact, the real options are either to agree upon compensation or keep futilely negotiating a Palestinian state for another 50 years. Under no circumstances will Israel allow the flow of millions of Palestinian refugees to a future Palestine, much less to Israel, and under no circumstances will the Palestinian negotiating teams waive the right of the refugees to return (even though they secretly despise the idea).

Since the Israelis and Palestinians have already agreed on the other two core issues that come up in every negotiation – security arrangements and borders – ending Palestinian refugee status will dramatically increase the likelihood of successful negotiations in the future. As all parties will benefit from ending Palestinian refugee status, it seems that this time, the son-in-law got it right, and Kushner’s initiative should be taken seriously.

The writer is a PhD candidate at the War Studies Department of King’s College London and the program manager of the Argov Fellows program in leadership and diplomacy at IDC Herzliya.

Caroline Glick: The Road to Peace Does Not Run Through Ramallah

President Donald Trump’s Middle East mediators, senior advisor Jared Kushner and chief negotiator Jason Greenblatt, are due in the Middle East this week to discuss aspects of their proposal for peace between Israel and the Palestinians with regional leaders.

Their visit will include stops in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, and Israel. They will not be visiting with Palestinian leaders. The Palestine Liberation Organization-controlled Palestinian Authority (PA) has been boycotting U.S. officials since Trump recognized that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital last December.

While Greenblatt and Kushner are not divulging details of their peace proposal, this weekend the Israeli media reported that they intend to ask Arab leaders to finance a $500 million humanitarian assistance program for Gaza, which is controlled by the Hamas terror group.

Among other things, Kushner and Greenblatt reportedly are interested in building electricity and water purification installations, as well as industrial parks, in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, which borders Gaza. They envision these facilities serving both the Egyptians of the northern Sinai and the population of Gaza.

The PA responded with fury to the news of the Kushner-Greenblatt Gaza proposal. And its anger shows why there is no reason to be upset that the PA is boycotting U.S. officials.

For more than a year, aside from Hamas, the PA has been the party most responsible for the economic and environmental crisis in Gaza. Last April, the PA fired a third of its then-60,000 employees in Gaza and slashed the salaries of its remaining workers by 30 percent. The PA stopped paying Israel for electricity to Gaza. Ever since then, Gaza has received electricity only sporadically.

In April, ahead of Ramadan, the PA failed to pay the salaries of its employees in Gaza. Last month, rather than pay them double salaries to make up for their lost wages, the PA slashed their salaries by an additional 20 percent. One 22-year-old father set himself on fire in a public square in Gaza in protest.

Last week, hundreds of Palestinians in PA-controlled Ramallah took to the streets to demand that PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas end his economic war against Gaza. Rather than bow to the public’s demand, Abbas declared the protests illegal. His security forces attacked protesters with truncheons and tear gas.

To date, then, not only has the PA done nothing to help the people of Gaza, but the same regime that also uses every international stage to condemn Israel for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, has taken active measures to deepen the suffering and poverty of the population.

Monday, PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesman released a statement responding to the Trump administration’s reported plan to help the people of Hamas-controlled Gaza. Promising that the Kushner-Greenblatt regional tour would end in abject failure, the PA spokesman insisted that the U.S. is trying to “divide the Gaza Strip from the West Bank under humanitarian pretexts.”

His statement also accused the U.S. of using the cause of “humanitarian aid or rehabilitation” as a means to defeat the Palestinian war against Israel by transforming the suffering of the people of Gaza into a “humanitarian issue rather than a political one.”

In other words, as far as the PA is concerned, Gaza’s humanitarian crisis is not something that is supposed to be dealt with on a practical level. No one is actually supposed to improve the lot of the residents of the Hamas-controlled enclave. Rather, Gaza is nothing more than a launching pad for human cannon fodder in the war against Israel. The purpose of the Palestinians’ existence in Gaza is to suffer and die to advance the cause of Israel’s annihilation. Anyone who treats the people of Gaza as human beings is harming the Palestinian cause.

If Kushner and Greenblatt are able to convince the Gulf States to finance infrastructure development in the Northern Sinai that will serve Gaza as well as Egypt, and if they convince Egyptian President Abdel Fatah a-Sisi to allow the projects to be built and to be used by both the Gazans and the Egyptians, then as far as the PA is concerned, they will be waging war against the Palestinians.

In the mind of the PA’s leadership, helping the Palestinians is tantamount to defeating them in war.

The people of Gaza aren’t the only ones who suffer from the PA’s never-ending war against Israel. The people who live under PA jurisdiction in Judea and Samaria also are its victims.

On Monday, one of Israel’s premier think tanks, the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, held a remarkable symposium highlighting this abject reality.

In a roundtable discussion, Palestinian businessmen and thought leaders explained how the PA’s political and economic wars against Israel, including the so-called “boycott, divestment and sanctions” (BDS) campaign, harm Palestinian society and the Palestinian economy. The discussion was held to mark the center’s publication of a collection of essays by Palestinians and Israelis on the topic.

Palestinian media analyst Khaled Abu Toameh noted that on the ground, Palestinians are more and more willing to embrace their Israeli identity and cooperate with Israeli Jews. In Jerusalem, for instance, he noted that Arab commercial centers are featuring Israeli brands and franchises of Israeli cafés for the first time.

“Seven years ago,” Abu Toameh related, “a Palestinian in Jerusalem tried to open a franchise of Aroma, [a popular Israeli café chain]. He was told in no uncertain terms that if he opened an Aroma, it would be burned to the ground.”

But even as the Palestinians themselves are interested in normalizing their relations with Israel, and engaging in economic cooperation with their neighbors, the Palestinian leadership is leading an international campaign to delegitimize Israel and wage economic warfare against it while making it more and more difficult for Palestinians to cooperate with Israelis.

In his essay for the conference, Abu Toameh wrote, “The Palestinian leadership and its NGO partners and supporters have distracted the international focus from addressing Palestinian economic development, liberalization, and infrastructural development. Instead, they have focused international attention on boycott and denormalization campaigns against Israel.”

He added that the economic failure the PA’s anti-Israel efforts have induced have, in turn, reinforced its campaign against Israel.

“The Palestinian leadership’s failure on the economic and political fronts has resulted in their attempts to refocus the debate on attacking Israel as an illegitimate, apartheid, colonial implant that is the source of all Palestinian ills.”

To date, the most significant “victory” the BDS movement scored was its campaign against the Israeli SodaStream carbonated beverage company. With sales in excess of $500 million in 2017, SodaStream CEO Daniel Birnbaum wrote that “SodaStream is currently the world’s largest carbonated water brand by volume and the largest producer of home carbonation machines.”

Until 2016, SodaStream’s main plant was located in the Mishor Adumim industrial zone in Judea, north of Jerusalem. After a rebranding campaign brought a rapid increase in sales, in 2010 the company began hiring Palestinian workers. Within a few years, SodaStream became the largest private employer of Palestinians. Birnbaum made multiple efforts to reach out to the PA leadership to spur additional economic growth and activity in the PA-ruled areas as a result of SodaStream’s success, but all of his efforts were ignored or rejected.

In 2013, SodaStream hired actress Scarlett Johansson to appear in its Super Bowl commercial in January 2014. The announcement instigated a wave of attacks against Johansson by BDS groups that pressured her to end her relationship with SodaStream.

For nine years preceding her engagement by SodaStream, Johansson had served as an international humanitarian ambassador for Oxfam, an international charity. Oxfam gives millions of dollars annually to projects demonizing Israel, including by supporting the BDS movement.

Rather than defend its longtime ambassador, Oxfam published a statement condemning Johansson. She resigned from her position with Oxfam.

Shortly after the controversy, the Christian Science Monitor published a feature interviewing Palestinian SodaStream employees. To the man, they defended their employer, and noted that their wages at SodaStream paid them ten times more than they received from Palestinian employers. They also expressed their fears that the BDS campaign would force the company to relocate and fire them.

In the event, in 2015, SodaStream, needing a larger plant, announced it was relocating to Israel’s Negev desert. Only 80 of its 600 Palestinian workers were retained in its new facility.

Nabil Basherat, a Palestinian manager at SodaStream, wrote an essay decrying the PA and the BDS movement for their negative impact on Palestinian society and the Palestinian economy. He noted that the PA, which actively participated in the BDS campaign against SodaStream, did not offer assistance to the SodaStream employees that lost their jobs when the BDS scored its “victory”  and the company relocated:

Nobody from the PA came to help us or even listen to our stories following our termination and unemployment in 2016…Nobody in the Palestinian leadership made an effort to replace our jobs or provide any safety net now that we were no longer receiving private insurance from SodaStream. All the Palestinian workers and their families were residents of the PA, and they should have been representing us and our interests. But this did not interest them, simply because the PA opposes Arabs and Jews working together.

Professor Mohammed Dajani Daoudi, an emeritus political professor from Al Quds University in Jerusalem, has decades of experience in international development organizations and management of the Palestinian public sector under the PA. He asserted at the symposium that the majority of Palestinians want normal, cooperative relations with Israel, and do not share the PA’s view that they should dedicate their lives to destroying Israel.

Dajani Daoudi founded the Wasatia movement for normalization with Israel to serve as the mouthpiece of these Palestinians for who no one else speaks. In his essay, Dajani Daoudi argues that “Palestinians who support of the global boycott campaign and denormalization of relations with Israel do not encourage peace, reconciliation and dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians. Rather, they have deepened the current political and diplomatic stalemate on both sides and have further entrenched Palestinian and Israeli negative conceptions of the ‘other.’”

Dajani Daoudi personally fell victim to this denormalization effort. In 2015, he took 30 Palestinian students on a trip to Auschwitz death camp in Poland to teach them about the Holocaust.

(Abbas wrote his doctoral dissertation and a book denying the Holocaust, and Holocaust denial is rampant in the PA.)

Upon their return to Jerusalem, Dajani Daoudi became a target of public vilification and death threats. His university colleagues disowned him and called for his firing. His car was torched. In short order. the university president accepted his resignation for the “crime” of normalizing Palestinian relations with Israel.

It is far from clear what Kushner and Greenblatt believe they can accomplish in their efforts to forge peace between Israel and the Palestinians. What is clear enough is that the PA’s boycott will not hinder their efforts, whatever they may be.

The PA’s efforts to “denormalize” Arab-Israeli relations and delegitimize Israel, even at the expense of the lives and wellbeing of the people they are supposed to represent, make clear that there is nothing to be gained by engaging with its representatives. The road to peace, to the extent it exists, does not go through the PLO or its PA.

Caroline Glick is a world-renowned journalist and commentator on the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy, and the author of The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East. Read more at www.CarolineGlick.com.