Tuesday, July 21, 2009

1983: Arafat vs. Sharon On Palestinian Immigration To The US

On July 7, Patrik Jonsson wrote the following article for The Christian Science Monitor:
Risking Israel's ire, US takes 1,350 Palestinian refugees
The US is generally reluctant to resettle Palestinians, but these are refugees from Iraq who have been targeted since the invasion.

The State Department confirmed today that as many as 1,350 Iraqi Palestinians – once the well-treated guests of Saddam Hussein and now at outs with much of Iraqi society – will be resettled in the US, mostly in southern California, starting this fall.

James Taranto notes that the title of the article is off the mark--

What reason could Israel possibly have to object to this humanitarian gesture? As it turns out, the article offers no evidence whatever of the imputed Israeli irefulness.

...Thus, as Seth Lipsky has argued, Palestinian immigration to the U.S. would be very much in the Jewish state's interest. If the U.S. "doesn't want the refugee program to become an issue in its relationship with Israel," maybe it is because it doesn't want to be pressed into admitting more Palestinians.

So what would be the reaction to such a suggestion?

The article Taranto links to is interesting on the topic of bringing Palestinian Arab refugees into the US--from a perspective in 2000...and 1983.

From the perspective of 2000, when the article was written:

It would be to map out a plan for bringing the Palestinian Arab refugees to America. Such a plan would take the pressure off the antagonists in the Middle East, and it would give America a chance to benefit from an influx of educated, intelligent refugees at a time when the labor market is so tight that America desperately needs all the help it can get.

Lipsky writes that he suggested the idea of encouraging such immigration in August 2003 entitled "Invite the Palestinians to America," proposing the US provide Palestinian Arabs with 250,000 green cards a year for 10 years.

He writes that Secretary of State George Shultz considered such an idea at that time because of the situation in Lebanon at the time--there was a report of a State Department study suggesting that the US bring in 50,000 Palestinian Arab refugees from Lebanon on an emergency basis. This was before the Lebanese Phalangists massacre of Sabra and Chatilla and before Syria began shelling followers of Yasser Arafat.

What is most interesting is the reaction Lipsky got to his idea--from Arafat and Sharon:

At one point I asked Mr. Arafat directly about the proposal. The Journal's Karen Elliot House and I had gone to see him when he was staying at a state guest house in Amman. I asked him what he thought of the idea of America offering the Palestinian Arabs 250,000 green cards a year for a decade.

At first Mr. Arafat looked startled and huddled with his aides. Then he looked up and asked whether I was serious, remarking at one point that the Palestinians would have influence in the election of the U.S. president. I conceded that it wasn't a live policy initiative in Washington and explained I was asking about the principle. Mr. Arafat huddled with his aides again before replying: "Me, I want a visa to Jerusalem." When pressed, he asserted that I had a "lively imagination."

Arafat's wariness is understandable. Imagine if Palestinian Arabs--especially the Palestinian elite--came to the US: what would have become of Arafat's Palestinian state (with the power and money it would bring to Arafat's coffers). Lipsky's plan would not be to Arafat's benefit.

And Sharon?

The only Middle East official I talked with who had a different view was, ironically, Ariel Sharon, the right-of-center general from Israel's Likud Party. I asked about the idea while visiting him at his farm. He said that he didn't see why those Palestinian Arab refugees in land controlled by Israel couldn't stay. He wasn't blind to the obvious political problems and the challenge to Jewish nationalism. His point was that he has always wanted a large Israel and recognizes that it is an underpopulated country.

Interestingly though Sharon was not "blind to the obvious political problems and the challenge to Jewish nationalism," he was at the time 'blind' to demographic considerations when he defended the Disengagement--considerations that have since been proven false.

Maybe Sharon changed his mind between his meeting with Lipsky and his proposal for the Disengagement; maybe Sharon did not consider the demographic threat real and he was just looking for any argument to support the Disengagement plan.

In any case, the issue of Palestinian immigration as part of an approach towards lessening tensions in the Middle East has been broached before--including an attempt in Congress to block such an attempt. Right now, Americans are too busy thinking about the economy to consider the immigration of Palestinian Arabs.

But they will.

Crossposted on Soccer Dad

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