Murphy's Law: No Good Deed Goes Unexploited

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May 11, 2016: Among the many minority groups to suffer heavy losses in the Syrian civil war are the Palestinians. Nearly one percent of the Syrian Palestinians have been killed so far, most of them civilians. Overall nearly two percent of all Syrians have died in the war so far. What is odd about this is that the Syrian Palestinians are not citizens of Syria but long-term refugees. Many of these Palestinian families have been in Syria since the 1950s. This is the result of an odd aspect of UN rules concerning refugees that only applies to Palestinians. This began in 1949 when Arab nations refused to accept and absorb Moslems who fled (mostly) from what is now Israel on the promise of the Arab nations would soon mobilize sufficient military strength to destroy Israel, drive the Jews out and allow the refugees to return home. That never happened and it was quickly recognized that there was a serious refugee problem. The UN established a program to take care of these refugees but in a very unusual move the 750,000 original Palestinian refugees were allowed to pass on their refugee status to their children. No other refugee group was allowed to do that by the UN. About the same number of Jews were driven out of Moslem countries after 1948 and they were all accepted and absorbed by other nations, mainly Israel and the U.S. Since 1947 the number of “Palestinian refugees” has grown to five million and Arab states continue to refuse to absorb them. A nasty side effect of this UN policy was to make Palestinian refugees unwelcome and untrusted in the countries they did settle in. Many Moslem nations have had serious problems in the past with Moslem refugees that were given sanctuary, but not citizenship.

While the UN paid to support these refugees the host countries found their unwelcome guests disloyal and sometimes a threat to the local governments. In the 1970s and 80s Jordan and Lebanon suffered armed insurrections by the Palestinians they hosted. After that the Assad government of Syria was openly distrustful of its Palestinian minority and sought to control them with terror. Other countries forced the Palestinians out. Jordan expelled over 20,000 Palestinians as a result and Lebanon continues to expel disloyal and rebellious Palestinians. After the 1990 Iraqi invasion and occupation of Kuwait the Kuwaitis were shocked to find that many of the 400,000 Palestinians they hosted supported the Iraqis. Worse the Palestinian leadership was quite open about their support. As a result over 90 percent of these Palestinians were expelled from Kuwait after the Iraqis were driven out. There was a similar situation throughout Arabia and many Palestinians were forced to flee. After 2003 the Palestinians in Iraq were also seen as disloyal and a threat by all the other factions (Sunni, Shia and Kurd).

This situation was all about Arabs believing they had the right to decide who can live in “Moslem territories” and for them Israel was a major offense. This is nothing new. Moslems had been driving infidels out of Islamic nations for a long time. That’s why most Arab-Americans are Arab Christians. Despite having been there before Islam came along, Arab Christians (and Arabs professing other religions) were always under pressure to either convert, or leave. Many of those who left over the past two centuries came to America and prospered in a much more tolerant society.

When the civil war in Syria broke out in 2011 most of the Palestinians sided with the rebels, even though the Assad government had tolerated them for decades while neighboring Lebanon and Jordan had not. One reason for the Syrian decision to tolerate its Palestinian refugees was because the Assads also sheltered the leaders of the two main Palestinian organizations (Fatah and Hamas) that claim to speak for all Palestinians. At first these leaders urged Palestinians to support the Assads but Palestinians in general saw the Assads for what they really were, just another Arab dictatorship. Palestinians support for the Assads has been declining since 2011 and by 2013 over half favored various rebel factions. The Fatah controlled Palestinian Authority fears that after the Syrian fighting is over, no matter who wins, the Palestinians will be expelled (to Lebanon, the West Bank who whatever). By now most Palestinians (who tend to be Sunni or Christian) have come out in favor of the Syrian rebels. This backfired in 2014 as ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) became a major factor in Syria and declared war on rebel factions that did not submit to ISIL rule. In early 2015 ISIL attacked Yarmouk, the main Palestinian settlement in Syria. The armed Palestinians who backed the rebels were unable to defend Yarmouk and Palestinians appealed to the Assads for help. Some 14 Palestinian factions then pledged support for the Assad government in the hope that some of the substantial Syrian Army forces in the vicinity would come in and drive ISIL out. Syria would only do that if the Palestinians would demonstrate a lot of pro-Assad support in Yarmouk. That proved impossible for the Palestinians to do as many young Palestinians had gone and joined ISIL. Thus the Assads are inclined to leave the ungrateful Palestinians to deal with ISIL on their own.

Palestinians have been able to obtain citizenship in some countries but they usually retain their official status as a “Palestinian refugee.” That’s because there is a chance they might be able to eventually take advantage of the "right of return.” This curious Palestinian demand is a side effect of the UN making their refugee status hereditary.

Unfortunately the "right of return” has become a major obstacle to peace with Israel. That is because of the Palestinian refusal to give up demands that Israel cannot accept and continue to exist. One of these is the result of a mistake made by the Arab world over sixty years ago. Thus Palestinians insist that any peace deal depends on Israel recognizing "right of return without discrimination." That means that the 650,000 Palestinians who fled the newly formed Israel in the late 1940s, and their five million descendants, can return to Israel and get all their abandoned property back. Israel would also have to pay compensation and grant citizenship. While many Palestinians would not return, enough could to change the demographic composition of Israel, turning it into a country with an Arab majority. This, for both the Palestinians and Israel, is the equivalent of "destroying Israel." This is something all Palestinian factions want to accomplish, and Israelis want to avoid. Getting around this obstacle would be very difficult, as the Palestinian public has endured decades of Palestinian (and Arab) media messages insisting that the right of return is an essential part of any peace deal. Westerners believe that money (a bribe) might make this problem go away. That could backfire, because the real problem is the Arab decision in the late 1940s to not offer citizenship to any Palestinian refugees. The other Arab states insisted that Palestinian refugees must remain stateless, preferably living in refugee camps (and receiving food and other aid from largely Western donors). Thus just giving the Palestinian refugees a few hundred billion dollars would not be sufficient. They need citizenship somewhere, either in the country where they are currently refugees, or in the West. Undoing this old Arab error, which the Arabs won't even admit was an error, is a formidable negotiating obstacle. It has also become a headache throughout the Middle East.

 


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