My name is Fred and I am a gay conservative living in Ottawa. This blog supports limited government, the right of the State of Israel to live in peace and security, and tries to expose the threat to us all from cultural relativism, post-modernism, and radical Islam. I am also the founder of the Free Thinking Film Society in Ottawa (

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Why can't refugees be integrated into the West Bank???

Why are they kept in camps???
A few years ago I briefly visited the Balata refugee camp with its 20,000 residents. The camp is inside the West Bank city of Nablus—that is, within the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority (PA). It is where many of the Arabs of Jaffa settled when they fled the armed conflict that flared up immediately after the November 1947 UN partition resolution dividing Palestine into separate Jewish and Arab states. Most of Balata's current residents are the children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren of the original refugees. Thus, a new baby born in Balata today is still designated by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) as a refugee dislocated by the 1948 Arab-Israeli war and hence entitled to substantial material benefits for life, or at least until the conflict is settled. That infant will grow up and attend a segregated school run by UNRWA. In UN schools and cultural clubs financed by American tax dollars, Balata's children, like the children in similar camps in Gaza and neighboring Arab countries, are nurtured on the myth that someday soon they will return in triumph to their ancestors' homes by the Mediterranean Sea.

While awaiting redemption, Balata's Palestinian residents are prohibited, by the Palestinian Authority, from building homes outside the camp's official boundaries. They do not vote on municipal issues and receive no PA funding for roads or sanitation. As part of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's "economic renaissance" and state-building project, a brand new Palestinian city named Rawabi is planned for the West Bank near Bethlehem. But there will be no room at the inn for the Balata refugees. Sixty years after the first Arab-Israeli war, Balata might accurately be defined as a UN-administered, quasi-apartheid, welfare ghetto.

This historical and political absurdity—unique in the experience of the world's tens of millions of refugees displaced by modern war and political conflict—helps explain why Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas walked away from the best deal his people have ever been offered. It happened in November 2008, when Ehud Olmert, then the prime minister of Israel, presented him with a detailed map of a future Palestinian state that, with land swaps, would constitute close to 100 percent of the territory of the West Bank and Gaza prior to the June 1967 war. Olmert also offered to divide Jerusalem, enabling the Palestinians to locate their capital in the eastern half of the city. The only thing he would not agree to was a right of return for Palestinian refugees—for the obvious reason that this would mean the end of the Jewish state.

As I have reported elsewhere, Abbas, promising to come back for further discussions, took the map to his Ramallah office for his aides to study. But he never returned with the map, and this was the last time the Israeli and Palestinian leaders met. The reason, I believe, is clear: if Olmert's offer had ever become the basis of serious negotiations, Abbas would have had to admit to the residents of Balata and the other refugee camps on the West Bank that their leaders had lied to them for 60 years and that they were not returning to Jaffa. Among those leaders was Abbas himself, who in his 2005 campaign for the PA presidency declared repeatedly that he would never bargain away the Palestinian refugees' right of return.

Today, two years later, face-to-face meetings, brokered by the Obama administration, are again being held between Abbas and an Israeli prime minister. But just like the Abbas-Olmert meetings, the current talks will go nowhere until Washington recognizes that the official Palestinian stance on the refugees presents a far more serious obstacle to Middle East peace than the issue of construction within Jewish West Bank settlements. The latter is no more than a complication, while Palestinian insistence on the right of return is a deal breaker.

Why not, at long last, break up the awful refugee camps and encourage their residents to integrate themselves into West Bank civil society? The rationale for doing so is not merely political expediency. There is an overwhelming human-rights imperative to deal with the issue now. For the past decade, an array of peace and human-rights groups has been protesting Israel's "brutal" West Bank occupation and the military checkpoints restricting the movement of innocent Palestinians. Now, many of the checkpoints have been closed, and Palestinians are building their economy and policing their own cities. In these circumstances, where are the human-rights advocates demanding that the Palestinian refugees be freed from their crowded camps, allowed to build their own homes anywhere on the West Bank, and permitted to send their children to regular Palestinian schools? Why aren't peace demonstrators marshaling outside the Balata refugee camp with signs saying, "Mr. Abbas, tear down this wall"?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

ericfromnewyork says -
I could cite a hundred historical examples, but one will do: the entire German population of East Prussia and the eastern provinces was driven out or deported by the Soviets in WWII and its aftermath. Post-war West Germany was an impoverished, occupied country, but not a single German was put in a refugee camps to eternally await the mythical day when the ancient imperial capital, Koenigsberg, will be returned to its former inhabitants. They simply took their place alongside their fellow Germans in new homes. My mother was one of these people.
It is not in the interest of either Israel or the Palestinian people to maintain this open running sore. But it is in the political calculation of every other neighboring and nearby state. Things are the way they are because all the Arab governments (and Iran)want it that way.
More than enough money has been already been spent by the US and the EU, to say nothing of what oil rich states could do if they wanted to, if the goal was actually to resettle and re-equip these displaced peoples in prosperous new lives.
Tiny Israel absorbed Jewish refugees from the entire Arab world with hardly a hiccup. There was no real difference between the indigenous people who were displaced in either direction - all of the difference was in the attitude of their new neighbors and their governments: "can-do" vs. "won't-do."

4:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Its mystifying why after a six month freeze in settlements that NOW the PA wants to talk.Where were they 5 1/2 months ago?
Why cant Israelis or Jews live in the West bank under palestinian control?Because the PA wont protect them thats why.PLO militants attack religious holy sites(see western wall) and then expect support?How about signing a peace treaty with Israel first.Draft a contitution that protects all rights of human beings living within their borders instead of demonizing the Jew.
Every single generation since 1948 its the same damn arguement.Actually since recorded history began.Jews are pigs.Muzzies are animals.Knock it off and live like human beings for a year and stop listening to the extremist mouthpieces.
The PA is recognized by the UN is it not?Then respect the UN charter for human rights.Maybe its time we start enforcing that charter armed to the teeth.


9:31 PM  

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