THE ISRAEL REPORTJanuary/February 2001
Palestinian PawnsJanuary 15, 2001
John Manley, the Foreign Minister, has offered to admit an unspecified number of Palestinian refugees into Canada to help break the diplomatic deadlock in the Middle East. Canada is also prepared to increase foreign aid to the Palestinian Authority, and Mr. Manley has even offered to send Canadian peacekeeping troops into the dusty alleys of the West Bank and Gaza. "We are ready to do our part," he said. By "we," Mr. Manley presumably means all Canadians, but he has not yet explained his thinking to Parliament, or sought its advice and consent.
When he does, he could explain how Palestinians who have been living peacefully for 52 years with fellow Arabs in Egypt, Syria, Saudi Arabia and a half-dozen other countries can still be considered refugees. The 5.1 million people who the Palestine Liberation Organization claims live throughout the world include children and grandchildren of Palestinians who fled their homes since 1948. Their "refugee camps" are not temporary fields of pup tents, but permanent towns. They remain outsiders because their Arab brethren in the host countries have deliberately disenfranchised them and used them as a propaganda tool to bash Israel. (By contrast, the 600,000 Jews exiled from Arab lands over the past half-century have been absorbed and made full citizens of Israel. Moshe Katsav, Israel's President, was himself a refugee from Muslim Iran.)
It is not clear why Palestinians would want to move to Canada. Our welfare system is more generous than that enjoyed by, say, the 430,000 Palestinians in Syria, or the 380,000 in Lebanon, but if Palestinians want a homeland rather than a handout, their natural destination should be the Palestinian state emerging in West Bank and Gaza.
All this, though, is really beside the point, because it treats Mr. Manley's proposal as though it were founded on the realities of the Middle East situation. That is not the case. Mr. Manley needs to understand that the refugee problem is not a genuine obstacle to a peace process in which both sides are acting in good faith. Palestinian negotiators know full well that, whatever concessions the Israelis may make on other issues, the so-called "right of return" is a complete non-starter because the influx of millions of hostile Palestinians into Israel proper would destroy the Jewish state. The reason Yasser Arafat raises the issue is not because he seriously believes the Israelis will eventually give ground -- even the endlessly conciliatory Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, will not do that -- but because its airing encourages the view that Israel is the intransigent party.
As with Jean Chrétien's offer to mediate between Moscow and Washington over George W. Bush's proposed missile shield, the recipients of Mr. Manley's offer must wonder whether Canadian politicians apprise themselves of the facts before they make showy diplomatic initiatives. The Israelis have politely noted the Foreign Minister's suggestion, and the Palestinians say brusquely that they are not considering it. It was presumably well intentioned, but was also naive.
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