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Some time ago, at the Jerusalem Summit, a survey of prevalent attitudes among the Palestinians was made public; it was carried out among a representative sample of the adult population of Judea and Samaria by a well-known Israel institute in collaboration with a respected Palestinian institute. The poll results point to respondents' dissatisfaction with their quality of life, with the performance of their leadership, and with the chances to improve their situation in the foreseeable future.
The survey also showed that more than 40% of the respondents had considered emigrating to another country; only 15% answered that nothing could make them permanently leave their homes. About 70% pointed to some material factor (housing, education, generous financing, etc.) that could bring them to decide to move their permanent place of residency to another land.
For some reason, the survey was received with astonishment. Certain elements, primarily on the Left, tried to cast aspersions on it and even to discount its credibility; it is not difficult to guess why. The findings seriously damage their political philosophy, which is greatly dependent on a myth of the Palestinians' uncompromising attachment to the land. Furthermore, the survey results undermine the argument - currently widespread even among certain segments of the Right - that there is no solution to the demographic problem except retreat from the lands of Judea, Samaria and Gaza.
A finding is taking shape, therefore, that points to the fact that the Palestinians are not so different from other people. When their situation is bad, they are interested in finding their future in a different place. That fact has far-reaching political consequences. In effect, the stubborn persistence of the Palestinian problem can be, to a large degree, attributed to the special status accorded the Palestinians as opposed to the rest of humanity.
Take, for example, the matter of the refugees. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is responsible for all the refugees in the world - except the Palestinian refugees. For them, there is a separate and unique body: UNRWA. Each of these bodies has a different definition of "refugee". According to the definition of the High Commissioner, the number of refugees decreases over time; while according to UNRWA's definition, their number continually grows with each passing year.
If the definition accepted for the rest of the world was applied to the Palestinian case, the number of Palestinian refugees would be about 200,000 - less than five percent of the number according to the unique definition of UNRWA, which counts 4,250,000 refugees. As it turns out, the ongoing existence of the Palestinian refugees is in large part the bureaucratic product of an organization whose entire existence is dependent on the perpetuation of the problem it was meant to solve.
It should be pointed out that also in the Arab world, the Palestinians suffer discrimination. For example, about two months ago, Saudi authorities announced the easing of restrictions on citizenship for foreigners living in the country - with the exception of the approximately half-a-million Palestinians who live there. The reasoning given by the Riyadh authorities was their desire to prevent the "destruction of the Palestinian national identity."
The spokesman for the Arab League also explained the discrimination against the Palestinians in the Arab world by reference to the need "to maintain their national identity," adding that "if every Palestinian living in a particular country would be absorbed in that state, he would have no reason to return to Palestine." It appears, therefore, that the non-Palestinian Arabs are much more determined than the Palestinians themselves to perpetuate the Palestinian national identity.
The ongoing failure in facing the Palestinian issue demands unconventional thinking in an attempt to settle it, and the conclusions from the foregoing are obvious. First of all, the Palestinian problem is very much an artificial product of the evilness of Arab states (and the foolishness of the state of Israel). Secondly, it appears that by the combination of two factors would make it possible to bring about a dramatic decrease, by non-violent means, in the size of the "Palestinian problem", perhaps even its solution:
What could be more liberal and humanistic than the demand to put an end to discrimination against a person because of his background, and giving freedom of choice to an individual - including a Palestinian individual - in deciding the his fate and that of his family?
This artically originally appeared in Hebrew in "Yediot Acharonot",
December 23, 2004 and was translated into English January 06, 2005.
Thanks are due Mordechai Ben-Menachem for bringing it to our
Martin Sherman was the Academic Director of the Jerusalem Summit, November 2004, and lecturer in Political Science at Tel Aviv University.
This artically originally appeared in Hebrew in "Yediot Acharonot", December 23, 2004 and was translated into English January 06, 2005. Thanks are due Mordechai Ben-Menachem for bringing it to our attention.
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