Posts Tagged ‘Jerusalem Post’

The Jerusalem Post on UNRWA’s 65th birthday

Posted: June 7, 2015 by Rex Brynen in Israel, UNRWA
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The United Nations Relief and Works Agency recent celebrated—if that is the right word—its 65th birthday. The occasion was notable for some quite strong criticism from Israel Deputy Permanent Representative to the UN, Ambassador David Roet.

The statement by UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krähenbühl on UNRWA@65 can be found here.

UNRWA’s 65th also sparked a critical commentary from the Jerusalem Post. Among other things, the editorial is notable for how much erroneous information it contains—highlighting once again how poorly understood the Agency is, especially within Israel.

PRRN reproduces the editorial at length below, with some comments inserted.

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UNRWA’s birthday
OPINION

By JPOST EDITORIAL \ 06/06/2015 20:55

There’s no other UN organ in which so many layers of unabashed hypocrisy overlap and contribute so cynically to the perpetuation of misery instead of assisting the cause of peace and prosperity.

Staging another of its surreal spectacles, the UN last week marked the 65th birthday of one of its most deformed, misbegotten offspring – the United Nations Relief and Works Agency.

UNRWA was established in 1949 to cater exclusively to those deemed to be Palestinian refugees. All other refugees, regardless of degree of plight and objective hardship, are looked after by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), while the privileged Palestinian category is singularly aided by UNRWA.

It is probably worth noting that UNHCR didn’t exist when UNRWA was established in December 1950. Moreover, UNRWA only deals with Palestinian refugees in its areas of operation—others outside this area (for example, in Iraq) do fall under its auspices.

The defect was already implanted in UNRWA’s genome.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon admitted that UNRWA was never meant to live this long, but he contended that “it exists because of political failure.” Doubtless, as per the UN’s dishonorable tradition, Israel is blamed for this failure.

The Jewish state is habitually painted as the villain of any piece and its bogus villainy is exasperatingly accepted as an axiomatic premise.

Given that Israel forcibly displaced Palestinians in the first place, seized their property, and prevented them from returning to their homes, it is hardly surprising that many attach blame to Israel for the refugee issue.

UNRWA Commissioner-General Pierre Krahenbuhl plaintively bewails refugee statistics, which he characteristically presents as unassailable facts – even though there is plenty to assail. According to Krahenbuhl, there are more than 5 million Palestinian refugees in today’s Middle East, because that is the number registered with UNRWA – never mind the fact that there may be personal incentives to register and political profit in inflating refugee rolls.

There is little evidence at all that current UNRWA rolls are inflated, in the sense that they inaccurately reflect the number of eligible persons under UNRWA’s mandate.

UNRWA’s own self-serving interests rule out neutrality and fairness to begin with, lest these actually lead to improvements that might obviate the sham pretext for keeping UNRWA around. Perversely, UNRWA’s continued existence hinges on never alleviating this region’s woes.

Put differently, it’s in UNRWA’s distinct interest to keep the flames of conflict burning high.

It is fair to say that the vast majority of UNRWA employees–who are refugees themselves–would like to see their status resolved in a just way. The leadership of the Agency has repeatedly noted that they look forward to UNRWA going out of business. Donors find it invaluable, and even Israel—despite its complaints—sees little alternative, and has called upon donors to increase their UNRWA contributions.

UNRWA’s numbers do undeniably point to the embedded problem, but not in the way Ban or Krahenbuhl portray things. True, UNRWA is kept alive because of a political failure, but not one that is of Israel’s making.

The Arab states, among them unimaginably wealthy oil-glutted monarchies and fiefdoms (quite niggardly in their handouts to UNRWA), utilize that very agency to calculatingly prevent refugee descendents from losing their refugee status. They thereby create the greatest obstacle to the peace they ostensibly seek.

It isn’t clear how a handful of Arab oil states would do this, given that UNRWA’s mandate is determined by the entire UN General Assembly. Moreover, around 2 million of the 3 million UNRWA-registered refugees outside of Palestine have been granted full citizenship in their host country or another. With the exception of Lebanon, refugees have also been economically integrated, with social and economic indicators largely comparable to host populations.

Regarding those refugees currently in the West Bank and Gaza, it is the Israeli occupation that prevents them from becoming full citizens of a functioning state of Palestine.

Also, it is not really true that Arab oil states are niggardly in their donations to the Agency. In 2014, the top ten donors to the Agency were (in absolute terms):

  1. US
  2. EU
  3. Saudi Arabia
  4. United Kingdom
  5. Sweden
  6. UAE Red Crescent
  7. Norway
  8. Japan
  9. Australia
  10. Netherlands

However, Arab economies–even those of the oil states, are much smaller than those of European countries. A fairer comparison (relative to real GDP) would thus be:

  1. UAE (government + Red Crescent)
  2. Netherlands
  3. Saudi Arabia
  4. Sweden
  5. Kuwait
  6. Norway
  7. Denmark
  8. Ireland
  9. Finland
  10. Switzerland

Obviously, if services provided to refugees outside of UNRWA were included, the Palestine Authority, Jordan, and pre-civil war Syria would be on these lists too. (Israel, might be noted, does not appear on the list no matter how one calculates it.)

They deliberately keep alive and fan the ambition to inundate Israel with millions of hostile Palestinians, while paying lip-service to a two-state solution. Had these same stingy states counseled refugee descendents to drop their “right-of-return” demands, they would make a colossal contribution both to refugee welfare and to peace.

I agree that greater clarity is needed from the entire international community on what sorts of durable solutions to the Palestinian refugee issue are plausible. Clearly, full-scale return of refugees to Israel is not going to happen.

That being said, Arab states have implicitly made this clear by offering israel a veto over any future refugee arrangements in the 2002 Arab Peace initiative. At no point since 1994 have Palestinian negotiators envisaged that Israel would accept and fully implement an unlimited “right of return,” although they have sought some acknowledgement that such a right exists as part of a compromise solution.

By unnaturally perpetuating a problem for generations, they give the lie to their own claims to promote a peaceful two-state solution. The same goes for UNRWA itself, an organization whose raison d’être is fraudulent and whose self-preservation hinges on making sure the problem entrusted to it is never solved.

This becomes self-evident when we consider the different definitions for “refugee” to which UNHCR and UNRWA resort. UNHCR’s refugee is one who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted… is outside the country of his nationality.” By this definition the refugee’s descendents aren’t refugees. Florida-born children of Cuban refugees are no longer considered homeless.

…however, stateless descendants of refugees are considered refugees (“derived status”) by UNHCR.

The only exceptions are the Palestinians.

Not at all. Afghan refugees born in Pakistan are, for example, considered refugees by UNHCR. UNHCR has also been very, very clear that the stateless descendants of Palestinian refugees born in Iraq should be considered refugees too.

UNRWA classifies as refugees any Arabs, native or not, who sojourned “in Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, and lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Not only could an itinerant foreign Arab laborer claim Palestinian refugee status, but UNRWA stipulates that the right extends to “descendents of persons who became refugees in 1948.” Indeed one refugee great-grandparent suffices for inheriting the distinction – even when not “outside the country of one’s nationality.”

By UNHCR’s yardsticks, over 97% of those whom UNRWA regards as refugees are nothing of the sort.

This is simply not true at all, and—assuming that the Jerusalem Post is not being deliberately disingenuous—shows a remarkable lack of understanding. Under UNHCR rules, Palestinian citizens of Jordan would not, it is true, be considered refugees. However, Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, and Lebanon would almost certainly be considered refugees under UNHCR rules, just as UNHCR treats stateless Palestinian refugee descendants as refugees in Iraq and elsewhere.

There’s no other UN organ in which so many layers of unabashed hypocrisy overlap and contribute so cynically to the perpetuation of misery instead of assisting the cause of peace and prosperity.

It’s time to regard UNRWA as a problem in and of itself.

It’s time to cease shelling out millions that only impede peace and artificially sustain an insidious travesty. This region would be better off without UNRWA. It’s time to transfer its responsibilities to UNHCR.

Given the Jerusalem Post‘s earlier objection to the right of return, this is a strange proposal. UNHCR—far more clearly and frequently than UNRWA—asserts that all refugees indeed have a right of return, noting that “The right of refugees to return to their country of origin is fully recognized in international law” (UNHCR Handbook on Voluntary Repatriation: International Protection, Chapter 2.1). In practice, UNHCR generally prioritizes return/repatriation over other types of durable solution (local integration, resettlement) for refugees.

In any case, any such transfer would require a decision by the UN General Assembly—something, it is clear, won’t happen.

On December 1, the Jerusalem Post published a op ed by Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Eid regarding UNRWA. Eid, who made a brief reputation years ago as a critic of the Palestinian Authority, has not been considered much of a credible or influential figure in the human rights community for some time.

His op ed was very critical of the Agency:

I live in Jerusalem and was brought up in a United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) refugee camp in Shuafat, a refugee camp like 58 other UNRWA refugee camps created for the sole purpose of keep Palestinian Arab people in “temporary” conditions, for 65 years, under the false pretense and specious promise of the “right of return” to pre-1948 villages that do not exist.

As a proud Palestinian, I must take responsible for what will happen to our people.

We can no longer deny our responsibility for the future of our people.

UNRWA, to continue its operation, depends on death and the visual suffering of five million Palestinians who continue to wallow in and around UNRWA facilities.

The more Palestinians suffer, the more power goes to UNRWA, which allows it to raise unchecked humanitarian funds and purchase munitions.

As you can see already, it isn’t a very well-informed piece. Take, for example, the bizarre claim that UNRWA uses donor money to “purchase munitions”—how on earth did that piece of extreme silliness get past a Jerusalem Post editor? It is also not the case that UNRWA promises a “right of return” to refugees. Such a promise, to the extent that it exists, is rooted in international human rights law and UN General Assembly resolutions.

One could go on picking holes in the Eid op ed for some considerable time. However, what was also striking was the extent to which his piece seemed to simply paraphrase points that were made back in October by perennial anti-UNRWA gadfly David Bedein in the right-wing Arutz Sheva news service.

  • Bedein, for example, called upon donors to “predicate assistance to UNRWA on 4 reasonable conditions”—which in the Eid op ed becomes “predicate future aid to UNRWA on reasonable conditions.”
  • Bedein called for donors to “[a]udit all funds which flow to UNRWA, which operates on a 1.2 billion USD budget.’ Eid repeats this almost verbatim: “[a]udit all funds allocated to UNRWA, which operates with a $1.2b. budget.”
  • Bedein proposes to “[i]ntroduce UNHCR standards to UNRWA, to encourage refugee resettlement.” Similarly, Eid proposes to “[i]ntroduce UN High Commissioner for Refugees standards to UNRWA, to encourage permanent refugee resettlement.”
  • Bedein calls upon UNRWA to “[c]ancel the current UNRWA curriculum, which now incorporates principles of Jihad, martyrdom and the right of return.” Sure enough, Eid does the same, calling for the Agency to “[c]ancel the UNRWA war curriculum, based on principles of jihad, martyrdom and right of return by force of arms.”
  • Bedein demands that the Agency “[d]ismiss UNRWA employees affiliated with Hamas, in accordance with laws on the books in the US, the EU, Canada, Australia and the UK.” Eid changes a few words, so this becomes “[d]ismiss UNRWA employees affiliated with Hamas, defined by the donor nations to UNRWA as a terrorist entity.

I suspect that Bedein would be quite flattered by this sort of quasi-plagiarism, since it clearly serves his political purposes. It raises the question, however, of whether there is some sort of deeper relationship between Eid and Bedein, and whether the former has been assisting the latter in his various fraudulent video documentaries about UNRWA (like this one and this one). If so, UNRWA may actually owe the pair of them a paradoxical “thank you,” since the evident malicious distortions in these reports have actually won UNRWA greater sympathy in some donor agencies.

Unfortunately, attention to Eid’s mistakes was temporarily derailed when UNRWA spokesperson Chris Gunness responded to his piece by appearing to call for a boycott of the Jerusalem Post:

I don’t think that the United Nations ought to get involved in twitter-fights, since they rarely make look you look objective, professional, or neutral. This was no exception, with the tweet causing a prompt, angry response in the Jerusalem Post and elsewhere in the Israeli and Jewish media:

What Gunness should not be doing… is launching an attack on a media outlet that supports free and open debate as well as a diversity of expression. Perhaps Gunness thinks that by singling out the Post for censure, he will endear himself to Palestinian extremists. He should know, though, that by calling for a boycott against the paper, he is betraying the basic principle of free expression and in the process undermining the very moral foundations that his own organization – UNRWA – is supposed to honor.

The Israeli government and local media should send an unequivocal message that Gunness’s boycott call is an unacceptable attempt to intimidate a reputable newspaper.

A precedent must not be set whereby critique is met with boycott.

Also riding to Eid’s defence was, of course, was none other than David Bedein.

Also, rather lost in the exchange was Gunness’ observation that the Jerusalem Post had hired as one of its journalists an alleged supporter of the banned Kahane Chai (Kach) terrorist group (and, incidentally, a former Bedein writing partner):

..although, once again, I don’t think that is a fight that ought to be waged by a UN official.

Today things come full circle, with an op ed by Chris Gunness himself in the Jerusalem Post (and kudos to the newspaper for offering him an opportunity to reply). Gunness doesn’t address the “boycott” controversy, but does do an excellent job of refuting some of the accusations levelled at the Agency:

One such criticism focuses on the notion that UNRWA in some sense endorses extremism.

This is an accusation we reject in the strongest possible terms. During the latest Gaza hostilities, it was UNRWA that came out proactively condemning militant groups that had placed rockets in our schools and which we had discovered during our own neutrality inspections. It is little reported, but our staff on the ground has received threats of abductions and violent retribution. As the conflict raged, UNRWA’s commissioner- general condemned the firing of rockets into Israel, not from the comfort of his office in Jerusalem, but from the battle zone itself, inside Gaza.

There is a related argument that UNRWA is in some sense anti-Israel. This is a notion we reject as groundless. Many of our stakeholders support us precisely because we oppose intolerance and discrimination and speak out against them as appropriate. No doubt in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, amid the appalling violence in Syria and in light of the wholesale denial of rights to Palestinians in Lebanon, maintaining staff neutrality is challenging, yet we take direct ownership of this issue. We have a plethora of procedures and systems in place for ensuring our staff understands why it is important to remain impartial.

Furthermore, it should not be forgotten that we pay a heavy price for working in such environments. Eleven UNRWA colleagues lost their lives during the conflict in Gaza, in addition to 14 in Syria since 2011, and one in the West Bank in 2013.

Meanwhile, you hear almost nothing in the media about our proactive programs to promote UN neutrality in the context of an increasingly radicalized Middle East. You rarely hear about thousands of UNRWA education staff members teaching human rights and conflict resolution as part of a discrete curriculum which we developed, promoting values based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

A related comment is that we allegedly promote the right of return for Palestine refugees in “UNRWA textbooks.” The fact is that we do not promote or prescribe specific political solutions and in reaffirming that the refugees have rights, we stipulate that the only solution to the conflict can be one acceptable to all the parties. As for text books, according to long accepted practice, we use the same books as host governments and local authorities.

This includes the schools administered by the State of Israel in east Jerusalem.

It is also alleged that UNRWA prevents people leaving refugee camps and somehow intentionally perpetuates the problem through the generations, unlike UNHCR, which, as our critics would have it, has a mandate to resettle refugees and never registers through generations. This is erroneous.

UNRWA does not run refugee camps, neither do we prevent people leaving them.

Our human development programs offer an escape from the grind of the camps, and incidentally only one-third of the refugees live in camps, a proportion declining over time thanks in no small part to social mobility nurtured by UNRWA. Moreover, UNHCR also registers children of refugees as refugees where their political plight remains unresolved.

UNHCR’s Handbook on Procedures and Criteria for Determining Refugee Status states: “If the head of a family meets the criteria of the definition [for refugee status], his dependents are normally granted refugee status according to the principle of family unity.”

UNHCR’s Procedural Standards for Refugee Status Determination makes the same point.

These attacks are based on the notion that if you get rid of UNRWA, you get rid of the refugees. The logic of this runs contrary to international law and refugee best practice.

What perpetuates the refugees as an issue is the political failure to address their plight based on international law and the precepts of justice, in the context of a just and lasting settlement of the Middle East conflict. That is one reason why UNRWA constantly calls on the political players to take meaningful political action. We seek nothing more than our own closure, which will come when the political parties finally resolve the issue for which we were created.

Let us recognize UNRWA for what it is: a UN human development organization providing essential services to an increasingly desperate and perpetually displaced population that lingers in a state of political uncertainty. The United Nations General Assembly, which represents the international community as a whole, established UNRWA for a particular reason, namely to address the needs of Palestine refugees, and the General Assembly continues to renew our mandate in the absence of a just and durable solution of their plight.

Meanwhile, we continue to ask the political actors and the international community to address the future of this population through a just and lasting resolution that provides the dignity and sense of peace that all people deserve. Until that occurs, we will continue in our mission as defined and mandated by the UN General Assembly.

Hopefully that will now serve as the point of departure for a better-informed, less vitriolic, and more productive dialogue on UNRWA, donors, Israel, and the Palestinian refugee issue.

facts

The Jerusalem Post published an editorial yesterday critical of UNRWA for artificially keeping the Palestinian refugee issue alive by inflating the number of “real” refugees:

This becomes evident when we consider the different definitions for “refugee” to which UNHCR and UNRWA subscribe. UNHCR’s refugee is one who “owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted… is outside the country of his nationality.” By this definition, the refugee’s descendants are not refugees. Florida-born children of Cuban refugees are no longer considered homeless.

The only exceptions are the Palestinians. UNRWA classifies as refugees any Arabs, native or not, who sojourned “in Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, and lost both their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Not only could any itinerant foreign Arab laborer claim Palestinian refugee status, but UNRWA stipulates that the condition extends to “descendants of persons who became refugees in 1948.” One refugee parent suffices to inherit the distinction – even when the inheritor is not “outside the country of one’s nationality.”

By UNHCR’s yardstick, more than 97 percent of those whom UNRWA regards as refugees are nothing of the sort. In 1948, there were some 600,000 self-styled Palestine refugees. UNRWA now boasts that it cares for 5,000,000 people.

One again, the editorial repeats the canard that UNHCR would not consider the descendants of (stateless) Palestinian refugees as refugees. This is simply not true: for UNHCR, refugee status ends when refugees are able to avail themselves of the protection of another state, usually through acquiring citizenship. Refugees who are unable to do so maintain their status, and their children are considered to have “derivative status.”

All of this is made amply clear in UNHCR’s  Procedural Standards for Refugee Status Determination under UNHCR’s Mandate, Section 5.1.1 of which notes:

  • Family members/dependants of a recognized refugee may apply for derivative refugee status in accordance with their right to family unity.
  • Family members/dependants who are determined to fall within the criteria for refugee status in their own right should be granted refugee status rather than derivative refugee status.
  • Individuals who obtain derivative refugee status enjoy the same rights and entitlements as other recognized refugees, and should retain this status notwithstanding the subsequent dissolution of the family through separation, divorce, death, or the fact that a child reaches the age of majority.

UNHCRmandatePalestinians who have acquired citizenship elsewhere (as is the case with most in Jordan) would not be considered UNHCR refugees, but those in the West Bank, Gaza, Syria, Lebanon, as well as stateless refugees in Jordan and elsewhere, certainly would.

Having got its fundamental facts wrong, the Jerusalem Post goes one further with its bizarre comment that “Florida-born children of Cuban refugees are no longer considered homeless.” One assumes they mean refugees, not homeless, but the point is that Florida-born children of Cuban refugees are American citizens. The 2 million Palestinian refugees in the West Bank and Gaza are refugees because there is no Palestinian state—in other words, because of Israeli policy. Syria and Lebanon choose not to naturalize the hundreds of thousands of Palestinians resident there—which has nothing to do with UNRWA or its rules. Many of the former, of course, face new displacements as a consequence of civil war.

On a minor technical note, UNRWA’s refugee rules relate to service eligibility, which is somewhat different than UNHCR status determination. Also, UNHCR rules DO apply to Palestinians outside UNRWA’s fields of operation, but that error by the Jerusalem Post is rather secondary to its overall lack of comprehension of the refugee issue. Indeed, it is striking the extent to which this sort of misunderstanding continues, even though UNHCR procedures are easily accessible online. It is an perverse echo chamber effect of sorts, where loud and misinformed ideological positions drive out thoughtful and informed analysis if repeated often enough. Neither Israel nor Palestinian refugees nor the search for peace are well-served by any of this.

Finally, it is important to recognize that salience of the refugee issue in Palestinian political discourse has little relationship to UN rules, but is fundamentally rooted in the shared collective experience of dispossession and forced displacement. Jews maintained a yearning to “return” to their homeland for millennia in the diaspora, without an UNRWA or UNHCR. Why is it surprising that Palestinians do too, a mere 66 years after they too were driven into exile?

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.


Last month, the Jerusalem Post published a series of three articles by Martin Sherman, entitled  Notes to Newt (Part 1): Uninventing PalestiniansNotes to Newt (Part 2): Rethinking Palestine, and Into the Fray: Palestine: What Sherlock Holmes would say. As you might have guessed from the titles, in these he suggests:

  • The Palestinians are not a real people with an authentic nationalism, but rather “historically fictitious [and] politically fraudulent.” Here, of course, he is taking his rhetorical lead from Newt Gingrich’s mind-numbingly stupid comments on the issue.
  • Instead, Palestinians are simply generic Arabs, whose identity was manufactured as a weapon against Israel-an “artificially contrived invention.”
  • Because of this, the Palestinians have no real claim to rights of self-determination or an independent state. Rather, Israel should retain permanent control of the West Bank and Gaza.
  • But what of all those pesky indigenous pseudo-Palestinians that actually live in the occupied territories, forming the overwhelming majority of the population? Sherman suggests a sort of voluntary ethnic self-cleansing whereby Israel would offer “generous monetary compensation to effect the relocation and rehabilitation of the Palestinian Arabs residents in territories across the 1967 Green Line, presumably mostly – but not necessarily exclusively – in the Arab/Muslim countries.” (He proposes getting rid of UNRWA too, but that’s really a side issue to Sherman’s advocacy of an Arab-free Palestine.)

My point in highlighting this series is not to express surprise at Sherman’s views on the subject—after all, he is a former Secretary-General of the ultra right wing Tzomet Party in Israel, which has previously advocated the “transfer” of Palestinians from Palestine. I didn’t particularly want to waste time pointing out the very obvious political and moral deficiencies in his views—it is a bit like shooting fish in a barrel, and in any case Hussein Ibish already did an excellent job of demolishing his arguments shortly after they appeared. I won’t even point to the supreme irony of Sherman himself originally being an immigrant to Israel from South Africa. (OK, well too late, I just did.)

Rather, I wanted to comment on the fact that the Jerusalem Post saw fit to publish this not once, but three times. Can you imagine a mainstream newspaper in the US featuring a series of op eds suggesting that the American government pay Blacks or Hispanics to leave the country (presumably on the basis of their ties to Africa or Latin America), so as to maintain White territorial supremacy? Or a major Canadian paper allowing a contributor to suggest that the “problem” of native populations in Canada be resolved by creating financial incentives for them to move to Russia (after all, they all came here via the Bering Land Bridge, didn’t they) and thereby create more space for immigrant groups? Not even a British tabloid would offer a member of the British National Party three opportunities to outline an equally repugnant demographic policy in the UK context , although it might hack their voicemail. If someone suggested that the Saudis pay Israeli Jews to leave Israel for their pre-1948 countries of origin, it would be widely labelled stupid and/or anti-Semitic (as indeed it would be).

The historical and demographic parallels are very poor ones, of course, but the racism inherent in Sherman’s piece is quite clear. That it apparently is considered acceptable (if marginal) discourse is—well, depressing.

And with that, happy New Year from the PRRN blog!