- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 5, 2008

As a matter of courtesy, this reporter replies to all comments from readers. Occasionally, some responses are so erroneous in their observation of the initial piece, as well as in the direction and the sense of the analysis, that they merit somewhat more than the traditional “thank you.”

At times, perhaps, the fault is the reporter’s, for lack of clarity in his syntax - this was not the case this time - and sometimes maybe the reader is at fault because of a misconception of the facts, or because sometimes the truth may be hard to accept.

The report in question was titled “Foreign trip gave Obama lesson on Mideast crisis” and was published Thursday in The Washington Times. The analysis was based on the thesis that the crux of the Middle East problem is the unsettled Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

David Kross, writing from Columbia, Md., disagreed with this statement, calling it a “tired canard.” To begin with, a canard is “a deliberately false report or rumor, especially something silly intended as a joke.”

Let me assure Mr. Kross there is no false reporting - deliberate or otherwise - nor is the subject silly or intended as a joke. The fact that there are several hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees idling away in refugee camps scattered across the Middle East is neither a false report nor a rumor.

I have visited nine of the 12 camps in Lebanon, as well as camps in Syria, Jordan, the West Bank and Gaza. If there is a joke involved, I must have missed it, as have 4,562,820 registered refugees of which 1,355,470 live in a total of 58 refugee camps as of Dec. 31, 2007.

Again, these figures are not taken from a rumor or false report, but statistics compiled by the U.N. Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, a branch of the United Nations.

Mr. Kross argues against the fact that Palestinians contribute toward a general malaise in the region, saying, “This is a notion easily disproved.”

Well, try to disprove the fact that the lingering Palestinian issue contributed to the rise of terrorism in the 1960s and 1970s in the Middle East as well as in Europe, and that it was Palestinian resistance groups that brought airline hijackings onto the front pages of the world’s media.

Disprove the fact that the unsettled Palestinian question triggered civil wars in Jordan and Lebanon. Disprove the fact that the unsolved Palestinian question brought about the 1982 invasion of Lebanon by Israel, with intent to distance the Palestine Liberation Organization from Israel’s borders (in which they succeeded by forcing the PLO to relocate to Tunisia, although the exile was short-lived and Yasser Arafat and his clique ended up on Israel’s doorstep in the West Bank and Gaza).

Another unexpected fallout from Israel’s occupation of Lebanon was the creation - with Iranian assistance - of the Lebanese Shi’ite movement Hezbollah, which proved to be a far more formidable enemy for Israel.

The same can be said of the Islamic Resistance Movement, otherwise known as Hamas, whose creation “Islamizes” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Although the majority of Palestinians are Muslims, until the arrival of Hamas on the political scene, the overwhelming majority of Palestinians were liberal, as far as Islam was concerned.

As of a few days ago, a far more radical group called Hizb ut Tahrir (Party of Liberation) has made its appearance on the West Bank. Hizb ut Tahrir advocates the re-establishment of the Islamic caliphate. In a normally functioning society, such groups would have a far harder time finding recruits.

Yet armed with pockets full of dollars, euros or shekels, or simply with a bit of Islamic fervor, the recruiters have no difficulty seeking out volunteers. This is not to say extremists cannot be found in the most normal societies, except that when their prey can be found gathered in clusters of camps, it makes the recruiters’ job that much easier.

Instead of integrating the Palestinians into their societies, opines Mr. Kross, the Arabs have allowed the Palestinians to languish in refugee camps for six decades. The Palestinians, he said, are being used “as pawns to deflect the righteous anger of their people from their autocratic rule to Israel and its patron the United States.”

And that is precisely my point. The Palestinians have long been the abused child of the Middle East, a situation from which neither Israel nor the Palestinians and certainly not the United States profits.

This is the reality on the ground. It is not pleasant, but it is a fact.

I have never advocated or even suggested that Israel is expected to absorb millions of Palestinian refugees. In fact, I have stated repeatedly that it is unrealistic to expect these refugees to settle in the land under control of the Palestinian Authority. I have written extensively on the subject of the “right of return” of Palestinian refugees, stating time and again how unrealistic it is to expect Israel to absorb them. It would be demographic suicide for Israel to do so.

My suggestion to resolve the refugee status of the Palestinians living in the camps is to issue them all with “B-type” passports. The immediate result would be the termination of refugee status, granting 2 million to 4 million refugees citizenship with the right to visit but not to settle in Israel and/or Palestine.

With a recognized citizenship and a passport in hand, the 1.5 million refugees living in the camps could begin to apply for immigrant visas to a number of countries, including Arab countries, as well as the country in which they currently reside.

There is a legal precedent for this: Great Britain granted B-type passports to tens of thousands of Asians who suddenly were expelled from Uganda by Idi Amin Dada and who had claims to British citizenship.

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