With Hamas the new undisputed masters in Gaza, people are talking of the demise of the ‘two-state solution’ – a Jewish state in Israel living side-by-side with a Palestine, where Arab refugees might be repatriated. The ‘Palestinian cause’ appears to have imploded: the Islamists of Gaza have never been Palestinian nationalists. Their sole objective is to re-islamise every inch of what once once Waqf territory, entailing the destruction of Israel. Meanwhile, on the Fatah-dominated West Bank, it is doubtful how long an independent Palestinian state might survive. There are calls for Jordan to step into the vacuum.
We are at one of those watershed moments: let’s seize the opportunity to advocate, not a political, but a humanitarian solution to the millions of stateless (except in Jordan) ‘Palestinian refugees’ living in camps around the Arab world. Let them at last be resettled by their host countries – Egypt, Lebanon, Syria – and given full citizens’ rights. Let the UN machinery which perpetuates their tragedy, finally be dismantled.
The Jewish refugees who fled the Arab world in even greater numbers than the Palestinians who fled Israel here provide a model for solving the Palestinian refugee problem, as noted by the Saudi Youssef al-Sweidan, writing recently in a Kuwaiti newspaper. According to former secretary-general of the World Jewish Congress Dr Avi Beker, the Jewish refugees never received any aid or even attention from the UN Relief And Works Agency (UNRWA), the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, or any other international agency. Although their plight was raised almost every year at the UN by Israeli representatives, there was never any other reference to their case at the world body. It was hard, and many of them had to endure unspeakable conditions in transit camps in the 1950s, but they were finally turned into fully, integrated and productive Israeli citizens.