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Artillery Row

We should oppose “voluntary resettlement” out of Gaza

It is wrong for the Palestinians and for the world

Tony Blair has denied Israeli reports that he will be involved in promoting the emigration of Palestinians from Gaza to the West. It’s surprising but welcome to hear that there are some causes so bad that even Sir Tony doesn’t want to be associated with them. (I almost can’t believe that it is true.)

“Voluntary resettlement” is a cause that Israeli politicians have been edging into the discourse as the world has grown sickened by the bloodshed in Gaza. “We need to encourage immigration from [the Gaza Strip],” Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich said last week, “​​And we need to find countries willing to take them in.” I suppose no necessary contradiction in the idea of encouraging someone to volunteer — but the connotations? Dark. I mean, lest anyone think that Mr Smotrich spoke out of pure humanitarian concerns, he added: “I don’t think there’s anyone in Israel who doesn’t want to see Jewish settlements everywhere.”

Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel, meanwhile, wrote an op-ed for the Jerusalem Post which raised the “option” of promoting “the voluntary resettlement of Palestinians in Gaza, for humanitarian reasons, outside of the Strip”. To repurpose a popular online meme, “My ‘The Resettlement is for Humanitarian Reasons’ shirt has people asking a lot of questions already answered by my shirt.”

An Israeli “concept paper” has discussed moving the population of the Gaza Strip to Egypt’s Sinai peninsula. Granted, a wartime proposal is not the same as official policy. But the fact that this is an attractive idea for the Israeli government seems undeniable.

Well, of course. In terms of pure Israeli self-interest, the depopulation of the Gaza Strip would be a major blessing. In the short-term, at least, it would all but solve complex security and political dilemmas at a stroke. It’s hardly surprising that it is in their minds.

But that does not mean that the rest of the world has to agree

But that does not mean that the rest of the world has to agree. First, let’s address the suspicious “voluntary” in “voluntary resettlement”. Of course, there is one limited sense in which it could be inoffensive. If a Palestinian really wants to leave, one can hardly blame Israel for not saying, “No! No, please! Don’t go!” But there is volunteering because you really want to do something and there is volunteering because you feel like you have to do it. In Mrs Gamliel’s op-ed, she wrote that resettlement would be a good alternative to “funnelling money to rebuild Gaza”. Leaving your hometown because it is in ruins is not quite “volunteering”, is it?

Secondly, while resettlement might appear to solve security and political dilemmas for Israel, it would export them elsewhere. Some Westerners seem baffled that Arab nations like Egypt don’t want to take in the Palestinians. This betrays a miserable ignorance of history. Palestinian migrants — tribal, ideological and aggrieved — were a huge factor in the Jordanian Civil War and the Lebanese Civil War (not, of course, that they were the only guilty parties in those conflicts). It’s very much predictable that the likes of Egypt are not keen to risk their own tenuous civic stability — and European states should not be willing to do so either.

There you go, Ben, I hear our more liberal readers say, back to immigration… Well, yes. But while I say a lot of Palestinian migrants would make for a destabilising force, I couldn’t really blame them. Would I be the most conscientious and assimilative immigrant if I had had to leave my homeland because it had become unlivable due to actions that the government of my new host nation had supported? Hell no. (I’m not saying this would apply to all Palestinians, because everyone is different, but I’m sure it would apply to a lot.) Pro-Israel commentators could respond that Hamas bear a great deal of responsibility for the war, and I’d agree with them, but would I agree if an Israeli rocket had flattened my home? Probably not.

Even in the terms of the Israeli politicians, “voluntary resettlement” is not the long-term solution that it seems to be. There’s no point pretending that population transfer does not have a long history as a means of ending conflict once and for all. My region of Poland used to have a lot of German residents. It doesn’t any more. Brutal as those expulsions were, though — and they were brutal, and I’m not suggesting that the Israelis would show the callousness of the Red Army and the Polish communists — the Germans were at least moving to their ethnic homeland. This is not to claim that the process was just — it is to claim that there was cold realist logic to it. Even this does not apply when the Israelis propose that Palestinians be encouraged to move to places they have no ancestral connection with. Would the dream of Palestinian statehood die? Of course not.

We should oppose this idea while we have the chance. It is immoral and it is against our interests, and commentators who oppose mass immigration while unqualifiedly supporting Israel’s war are being naive at best.

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