JPost continues its series on ethnic self-cleansing

Posted: January 6, 2012 by Rex Brynen in Israel, Jordan, peace process, quite a bit of well-deserved sarcasm, US

Apparently three op eds in less than a month from right-wing racist nutjob* Martin Sherman isn’t enough from the Jerusalem Post: yesterday they published a fourth, in which he again calls for paying Palestinians to leave the West Bank and Gaza, so that they could be resettled elsewhere and leave the place all tidy and Arab-free for Jewish settlement. What’s more, he suggests that the West should help pay for this ethnic self-cleansing (which he euphemistically labels the “humanitarian paradigm”):

The estimated cost of implementation is strongly dependent on the level of compensation and the size of the Palestinian population in the “territories,” which is the subject of intense debate.

A few years ago, the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research conducted a survey on the level of compensation Palestinian refugees considered fair to forgo the “right of return.” If we take more than double the minimum amount specified by most polls as fair compensation for relocation/rehabilitation, and if we adopt a high-end estimate of the Palestinian population, the total cost would be around $150b. for the West Bank Palestinians (and $250b. if Gaza is included). This is a fraction of the US expenditure on its decade-long wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which have produced results that are less than a resounding success.

Spread over a period equivalent to the current post-Oslo era, this sum would comprise a yearly outlay of no more than a few percentage points of current GDP – something Israel could well afford on its own.

If additional OECD countries were to contribute, the total relocation/rehabilitation of the Palestinian Arabs could be achieved with an almost imperceptible economic burden.

Of course, it is all political fantasy of the most unrealistic and unhelpful sort. He attempts to buttress with distorted findings from the 2003 PSR refugee poll, which was neither about Palestinians leaving their ancestral homeland nor giving up the right of return, and which actually shows that only 1% of refugees in the West Bank and Gaza would consider monetary incentives to immigrate as their first choice, and that over 80% of those who might immigrate would hope to retain Palestinian citizenship.

Again, the issue here isn’t that “transfer” is a theme in Israeli political discourse (it has been since before the formation of the state), nor that a former member of Tzomet advocates it. Rather, it is the treatment of the issue as a somehow normal one in the pages of a contemporary center-right-but-mainstream Israeli newspaper.

*I was struggling for the proper academic term here, but I think this one captures it nicely.

* * *

It is no wonder, therefore, that the Jordanian have been eager to host the recently renewed Israeli-Palestinian talks in accordance with the Quartet’s call for a peace agreement in 2012—not only are they concerned about the absence of diplomatic progress and fearful of the domestic “Arab Spring” ramifications of continued stalemate, but in addition Amman has a perennial fear of  “transfer” (as well as its companion theme, “Jordan is Palestine”). The talks themselves, of course, will go nowhere: Daniel Levy and Leila Hilal are, if anything, being charitable when they noted this week that “Given the positions of the negotiating parties, their respective political realities, and their actions over the last months, the talks in Amman had the theater of absurd quality to them.” Rami Khouri gets it right too when he comments that  we are “starting the new year with failed old diplomacy”:

The good news about the Jordanian-hosted Palestinian-Israeli-Quartet meeting in Amman to explore possibilities for resuming Palestinian-Israeli direct negotiations is that former US Mideast specialist Dennis Ross is not there to guarantee failure with the pro-Israel tilt of the US delegation.

The bad news is that the meeting is likely to fail because the Ross approach to guaranteeing diplomatic failure with the pro-Israel tilt of the US delegation still prevails.

The implications of this for conditions in the Middle East are profound, and mostly negative. The continued attempts to restart negotiations, define parameters, develop confidence-building measures, establish deadlines and targets, and pursue a host of other dead ends have all failed over the past 20 years because they lacked the intellectual honesty and diplomatic evenhandedness that is required for success in such situations.

This is aggravated by the trend, over the past decade in Israel, which has seen a combination of rightwing messianic and super-nationalist militaristic groups dominate the current coalition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli politics in general. Their position that peace talks can continue while Zionism pursues its steady colonisation of Palestinian lands is preposterous in its own right, and a diplomatic deadweight that is apparently supported, or merely accepted, by the United States.

The Quartet of the United States, Russia the UN and the European Union, which is supposed to shepherd the negotiations to success, adds another layer of incompetence, crowned by Ross-like bias and a penchant for rhetoric, statements and meetings over action.

Conditions on the Arab side are not much more impressive than the Israeli, American and Quartet perspectives, given the lack of unity among Palestinians and the general diplomatic lassitude of the Arab world as a whole. So breakthroughs for a negotiated peace are not on the horizon. One thing is sure, however. The persistence of the Palestinian-Israeli and wider Arab-Israeli conflicts, with the current political attitudes of the United States, EU and the leading Arab powers, can only portend more conflict ahead.

It is right that concerned parties should try to restart diplomatic negotiations, as they have done in Amman this week, but this is an exercise in futility if it occurs on the foundation of the cumulative failures of the recent past. Sadly, this seems to be the case.

The new year is full of hope for many Arabs who taste freedom and democracy, but it has not yet ushered in a new, more honest and fair, approach to Arab-Israeli diplomacy.

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