Opinion |

Palestinian Refugees – War by Other Means

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Palestinian refugees at the Yarmouk camp in Syria.
Palestinian refugees at the Yarmouk camp in Syria.Credit: Reuters

The 19th-century Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz wrote that “war is a mere continuation of policy by other means.” He could not have envisaged that the Palestinian refugees would be turned into a war against Israel by other means. The Arab world has waged wars against Israel and lost every one of them. Waves of terror have been directed against Israel and Israel has withstood them.

But the war against Israel goes on with the Palestinian refugees on the front line; for example, the recent demonstrations by Palestinian refugees at the Gaza fence organized by the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip.

These refugees, demanding their right to return to the villages and towns that their grandparents and great grandparents abandoned 70 years ago, are a reminder to those who might have forgotten that the Palestinian refugees from 1948, or at least their descendants, are still here and claiming their right to return to the homes of their forefathers and thus bring destruction to the State of Israel. It’s a war by other means that has been going on for the past 70 years and unless the Palestinian refugees are resettled may go on for many years to come.

All wars have created masses of refugees displaced from their homes by war. In the past, they were not left as refugees to serve as a festering sore that would prevent peace between the warring parties but were resettled in new homes.

That was the case with the German refugees displaced from what is now western Poland and the Sudeten regions of Czechoslovakia, who were not left in refugee camps clamoring for a return to their prewar homes but were resettled in Germany. That made it possible for Germany to arrive at peace with its neighbors. Those displaced from their homes as the result of the partition of India were settled long ago.

More recently, during the 1990s after the dissolution of Yugoslavia, millions were displaced from their homes by the subsequent fighting in Croatia, Bosnia and Kosovo. Most have been resettled and the international community is actively pursuing solutions for permanent settlement of those who have remained as refugees.

No such attempts at resettlement of the nearly 700,000 Palestinian refugees who were displaced by the fighting in 1948 have been made. The wealthy Arab states could have easily absorbed them but did not do so. The countries of Europe could have settled them, as they have accepted the refugees from the Syrian conflict, but did not do so. The Arab world insisted on retaining them as refugees as a weapon against Israel.

In this design to forge a permanent weapon against Israel the Arab world had the cooperation of many in the international community. Not wanting to take any measures that might blunt this weapon against Israel and motivated by humane considerations, they have spent billions to maintain the Palestinian refugees and their descendants as refugees. Money that could have been spent to alleviate their suffering was spent to perpetuate it.

They knew that any steps that might have been taken to resettle them in permanent homes were likely to be interpreted as a blow to the Palestinian cause and would be met by opposition from the Palestinian leadership. And so they became unwilling or willing accomplices to making a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict intractable.

Now over 5 million Palestinian refugees are eligible for the services of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA. As long as the Palestinian refugees, who are growing in number day by day, are not resettled in permanent homes, there will be no peace between Israel and the Palestinians. All efforts to arrive at an accommodation between Israel and the Palestinians are destined to fail. All efforts to mediate the conflict, no matter how well intentioned, will run aground.

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