Israel is far from eliminating Hamas’s terrorist threat, but what becomes of Gaza Strip residents thereafter? One viable long-term solution that receives little attention is resettling substantial numbers of Gazans. Rejecting this idea reflexively risks dooming the Middle East to continuing terrorism and instability.
For decades after Israel’s creation, Arab states, particularly radical regimes like Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Egypt, insisted that Palestinians had been forcibly displaced. Only return to their “country of origin,” namely Israel, was acceptable. Perhaps back then people didn’t chant “from the river to the sea,” but anti-Israel Arab governments used Palestinians as political and military weapons against Israel. Allowing resettlement elsewhere meant acknowledging Israel’s permanent existence, which was then unacceptable.
Times have changed. Israel isn’t going away. Muslim governments have recognized Israel and, before October 7, more were coming. Moreover, the two-state solution is definitively dead: Israel will never recognize a “Palestine” that could become another Hamas-stan. Besides, Gaza is not a viable economic entity, and neither would a “state” consisting of Gaza and an archipelago of Palestinian dots on the West Bank be viable. Israel has made clear it rejects any “right of return” for Palestinians, and has announced it will no longer even grant work visas to Gazans seeking employment.
Western peace processors trying to create a Palestinian state under the “Gaza-Jericho first” model made a cruel mistake, the victims of which were its intended beneficiaries. The real future for Gazans is to live somewhere integrated into functioning economies. That is the only way to realize the promise of a decent life and stability for a people who have been weaponized for far too long. The sooner the Biden administration realizes it, the better.
Refugee status is not hereditary. International policy is clear that the least desirable outcome for those displaced by conflict is life in a refugee camp, which is essentially what all of Gaza is. This has been orthodoxy for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees since its inception. Central to its basic mission of refugee protection and assistance is that the two legitimate outcomes are returning refugees to their home country or resettling them in countries willing to grant them asylum. UNHCR is not a permanent welfare agency.
The UN Relief and Works Agency, by contrast, is an aberration from the return-or-resettlement doctrine. For decades, UNRWA has served as the Palestinian department of health, education, welfare, housing and more; it would close up shop if resettlement became a reality. What a surprise that UNRWA does little resettlement, and functions within the UN system as a surrogate for Palestinian demands.
The answer is to abolish UNRWA, and transfer its responsibilities to UNHCR, which understands that resettlement is far better humanitarian policy than permanent refugee life. If allowed to speak for themselves rather than through Hamas’s distorted prism, Gazans would likely agree in large numbers.
Gaza’s governance after the war could be accomplished by partitioning it, perhaps along the Wadi Gaza, Israel’s dividing line for its incursion, with a UN trusteeship for Israel to the north and one for Egypt to the south. The UN Charter’s Article 77 arguably provides authority for such arrangements, since Gaza is an unsettled remainder of the League of Nations Palestinian mandate. Given legitimate Israeli and Egyptian security concerns, they could administer their respective trusteeships under Charter Articles 82 and 83, as America handled its Pacific trusteeship after World War II.
Where could Gaza’s population be resettled? Having previously weaponized Palestinians against Israel, Arab governments now see Palestinians as threatening themselves. Hence, post–October 7, Jordan and Egypt immediately declared they would not accept any Gazans into their countries. That isn’t Israel’s fault, but Israel’s plain self-interest also lies in resettlement away from Gaza. At least for now, the West Bank is a different question, unless Hamas and other terrorists have greater strength there than is immediately apparent.
Iran, Hamas’s principal benefactor, should certainly be willing to accept large numbers of people in whom it has long shown such an interest. Most other Gazans should be resettled in the regional countries that previously weaponized them. Although members of Congress have introduced legislation barring Gazan resettlement, America could grant refugee status to Gazans with a proven record of opposing Hamas, which our media reports is a large number.
Resettlement raises substantial practical questions, and would be difficult and contentious, but this is not a convincing objection — so are all the alternatives. Recreating the status quo ante October 7 is clearly impossible, totally unacceptable to Israel. Having the Palestinian Authority govern Gaza is almost as bad. Who can seriously argue that Mahmoud Abbas’s corrupt, dysfunctional regime, which barely governs the West Bank, will improve by expanding?
Resettlement may be unpalatable to many, but it needs to be on the table.
This article was first published in The Hill on November 16, 2023. Click here to read the original article.