President Obama has fingered the settlements as his first item of business, a strategy of dubious merit except insofar as it uses the issue as a pawn sacrifice. As for the ways the Palestinians need to “belly up to the bar,” it’s fairly vague. Israelis, of course (and, I’d argue, anyone who’s paying attention), are worried that despite the Arabs’ extraordinary ability to position themselves as the proponents of the “two-state solution,” are not at all committed to what Western PCPers assume — i.e., that they accept Israel as a Jewish state with a right to live in peace.
On the contrary, too much evidence suggests that they are committed, one way or another, to the destruction of the state of Israel, and that the “two-state solution” is just another term for the “Phased Plan” for eliminating Israel.
I’d like to propose something that can test Palestinian intentions in concrete terms that will not only reassure Israelis profoundly, but benefit the Palestinian refugees. To my mind, the greatest sign that the Palestinian Authority had no intention of pursuing Oslo as a way to achieve peace, but as a Trojan Horse, is the fact that, once they had control of significant tracts of land in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, they never made the slightest move to get Palestinian refugees out of the camps and into real housing. The scandal of how the Arab and Palestinian leadership have treated their refugees is the most revealing story in the long and allegedly complex conflict between the Arabs and the Israelis.
I suggest that President Obama demand, publicly, and in the same strong terms with which he addresses the Israelis, that the PA begin immediately building settlements for Palestinian refugees on the lands available to them in the West Bank, so that they can begin living decent lives. This would be an enormous boon to the Palestinian economy, it would mobilize the significant talents the Palestinians have in the building industry, and would signal to the Israelis that the “right of return” — i.e., the demand that Israel commit demographic suicide — is not lurking in the background of the “Arab Peace Plan.”
Nothing prevents the Palestinians from doing this. They would surely get a great deal of (Western) funding to do it. And it would embody President Obama’s call for Arab governments that are “by the people and for the people.”
UPDATE: Noam, from the Blog Promised Land posted the following on my suggestion:
This idea is somewhat disconnected from the reality of the West Bank, let alone Gaza: one can’t really build anything – certainly not a city for hundreds of thousands of people – without Israel’s consent, and Israel doesn’t allow the Palestinians to do any significant work outside the major cities (which are overcrowded as it is). And in Gaza, Israel doesn’t allow any sort of building material in – amongst many other things, from books to pumpkins – so that the Palestinians there can’t even rebuild the houses that were destroyed during operation Cast Lead.
But if we leave all that aside, what is Prof. Landes really asking? The way I see it, he demands from the Palestinians to give up one of their major claims before Israel has even considered to end the occupation, and just in order to prove that their heart is pure. Why should they agree? I don’t support a return of all the 48′ refugees, but I do understand the Palestinian demand to solve this issue on the negotiating table, much in the same way Israel refuses to define its borders until its security concerns are dealt with.
(Having said this, I agree that from a humanitarian point of view, the refugees problem should be solved ASAP, but we are discussing here the political implications of the issue).
As for the “demographic suicide” – well, Israelis should certainly be worried about that, but not because of the Palestinian refugees, but due to the possibility that the ideas of those who oppose the two-state solution – like Prof. Landes – will prevail, and Israelis will be left with the entire land from the sea to the Jordan river, but also with the choice between an Apartheid state and a non-Jewish one.
To which I responded with the following comment:
Thanks for the post on my suggestion.
Altho you do have a “humanitarian concession” clause, I find your position on Palestinian refiugees as “bargaining chips” to be fairly horrific. Should Israel have kept their 800,000 refugees from 1948 in refugee camps for the last 60 years as a counter-bargaining chip?
The Palestinian and Arab leadership’s treatment of their refugees — the camps are really prison camps — is nothing short of scandalous. It’s index of their malevolence: the misery of their own people is a weapon aimed at destroying Israel. it shows the Palestinian people as the sacrificial victim on the altar of Arab hatred.
So i don’t think it’s “giving up one of their major claims” to start settling the refugees, i think it’s renouncing one of their most heinous policies. It doesn’t prove their heart is pure, it just proves its not black as night, it proves they’ve stopped the revolting practice of inflicting misery on their own people in order to attack Israel and plan her destruction.
I think if Israel were to engage in anything even remotely similar to this — say not building shelters in Sderot so they could point to children killed by gaza qassams for international sympathy — you’d be outraged. So what I suspect is going on here is an example of a fairly widespread unconscious progressive racism in which the Palestinians are not expected to behave decently even towards their own people, much less Israel. It’s the soft bigotry of low expectations: just as you don’t scold your cat for catching a mouse, you don’t scold the Palestinians for abusing their own people.
In the final analysis, getting rid of the refugee problem is not a bargaining chip, its an anti-bargaining chip. If the Palestinians renounced the claim to return, they would bring peace much closer, by reassuring Israel they were serious about real peace.
Finally, on the subject of the two-state solution — I’m not against the idea, I’m against it now (i’m a member of peace-when, not peace-now). Eventually, when Palestinian leadership show signs of willingness to be a civil polity rather than a rogue and malignant state, I’m all in favor. (And this is something they can start doing right away.)
Now, “two-states” is not a “solution” but a recipe for war. Does that matter to you, in your support of the ‘two-state “solution”‘?
His response is interesting. I encourage readers here to go to his blog and respond — respectfully. I don’t think the way to argue is to call names. His response to my almost calling him names shows a good capacity for self-criticism.