OpinionIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

Incentivized emigration: An idea whose time has come?

In order to allow non-belligerent Gazans to extricate themselves from their existing humanitarian crisis, they should be offered generous relocation grants to allow them and their dependents the opportunity to seek more prosperous and secure lives elsewhere.

Palestinians inspect the damage after Israeli airstrike overnight in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, on June 14, 2019. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Palestinians inspect the damage after Israeli airstrike overnight in Khan Yunis in the southern Gaza Strip, on June 14, 2019. Photo by Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90.
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman spent seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli defense establishment. He is the founder of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a member of the Habithonistim-Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF) research team, and a participant in the Israel Victory Project.

“Past attempts to encourage Palestinians to voluntary emigrate have always failed, so time and effort would be better invested in reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement.”Yossi Beilin, former Israeli government minister and a principal architect of the Oslo Accords, Al Monitor, Aug. 26, 2019 

The above quote is from an article by Beilin, still an unchastened champion of the fatally flawed process he helped initiate in the early 1990s, in response to a spate of recent reports indicating that Israeli officialdom is considering, albeit with some hesitancy, the idea of offering the residents of Gaza material assistance to facilitate their emigration to third-party countries (see, for example, here, here, here and here).

Beilin’s dismissal of the notion of Israel encouraging Arab emigration is more than a little disingenuous. For if past failure is his criterion for disqualifying a policy proposal, the first to incur such rejection should surely be his own preferred Oslowian land-for-peace, two-state formula.

After all, from Beilin’s critique, the uninformed reader would never guess that far more “time and effort” has been invested in an almost three-decade long endeavor to “reach an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement” than in any attempt at inducing Arab emigration.

Indeed, no other policy prescription has been backed with such massive and sustained outlays of treasure, political and diplomatic capital (and blood) as that embraced by Beilin and his like-mined pro-Oslowian ideologues in their foolhardy gamble of trying to reach a resolution to the conflict with their overtly Judeophobic Palestinian interlocutors by means of political appeasement and territorial withdrawal.

Setting aside for a moment Beilin’s invocation of the lack of success of previous efforts to induce Arab emigration, there are substantive reasons why the past may well not be a reliable indicator of the future.

The first is that the Arab population, particularly in Gaza, has already experienced the onerous travails of life under a duly elected Palestinian-Arab government.

Documented desire to leave 

This, of course, is particularly true for Gaza, although there is also considerable dissatisfaction in Judea-Samaria, where after more than a quarter-century of government by Fatah, all that has been achieved is a dysfunctional polity and an emaciated economy, crippled by corruption and cronyism, with a minuscule private sector and a bloated public one, patently unsustainable without the largesse of its alleged “oppressor”: Israel.

But it is Gaza, where the misguided experiment in two-statism was first initiated back in 1994—sparking a surge of deluded optimism fanned by the likes of Beilin—that has now become its gravest indictment for both Jew and Arab alike.

The gross misgovernment of Gaza has left the general population awash in untreated sewage flows, with more than 90 percent of its water supply unfit for drinking, electrical power available for only a few hours a day, and unemployment rates soaring to anything between 40 percent and 60 percent, depending on the source cited or the sector involved.

Unsurprisingly, this has led to a widespread desire to leave Gaza for a better future elsewhere, reflected in numerous media reports and statistical polling, which regularly shows that between 40 percent to 50 percent of respondents seem willing to declare their desire to leave.

Significantly, according to some sources, since May last year, between 35,000 and 40,000 have  left, despite heavy restrictions at the border, ominous disapproval of the regime and the lack of any purposeful policy of Israel to incentivize their departure.

Enhanced scale and scope

Another reason why past failures to induce emigration may not necessarily indicate that future attempts are futile is that any envisaged future endeavor must be qualitatively different in nature, in size and in scope to those previously undertaken.

In the past, the emigration initiatives have been timid, hesitant and surreptitious, while the material inducements offered were decidedly miserly.

In prior attempts, Israeli authorities attempted to conceal the initiative to encourage emigration. Thus, one internal Foreign Ministry memo (1968) stipulated: “This must be done discreetly and ‘spontaneously’ and under no circumstances should this be declared as official policy or appear to be organized by us.”

By contrast, what is called for today is an overt, publicly declared strategic initiative, including an assertive public diplomacy offensive and accompanied by a comprehensive set of highly tempting incentives to leave and commensurately daunting disincentives for continued residency in Gaza.

The point of departure for any successful incentivized emigration policy is to identify the Palestinian-Arab collective for what it is and for what it identifies itself to be—an implacable enemy and not a prospective peace partner—and to differentiate between the inimical collective and non-belligerent individuals, which it may include.

Disincentives for staying, incentives for leaving

This brings us to the disincentives for staying.

As its implacable enemy, Israel has no moral obligation or practical interest in sustaining the economy or social order of the Palestinian-Arab collective, either in Gaza or Judea-Samaria. On the contrary, an overwhelming case can be made—on both ethical and pragmatic grounds—that it should let them collapse by refraining from providing it with any of the goods or services it provides today: water, electricity, fuel, tax collection and port services, to name but a few. After all, these are in large measure used to sustain the hostility against Israel, as well as imperil the lives of its citizens and undermine the security of the state.

Although this cessation of provision should be executed gradually over a defined period of time, it will undoubtedly precipitate a grave deterioration in the already dire situation that prevails in Gaza.

Which brings us to the incentives for leaving.

In order to allow non-belligerent Gazans to extricate themselves from the inevitable humanitarian crisis such measures will entail, non-belligerent individuals should be offered generous relocation grants to allow them and their dependents the opportunity to seek more prosperous and secure lives elsewhere.

As for the incentives, these need to be of a completely different order of magnitude to those of the past and sufficient not only to cover the travel cost of the recipients to their future countries of abode, but to make them relatively affluent and welcome émigrés in those countries.

Approximating the cost

It’s not an easy task to determine the optimum compensation for prospective recipients, but for the sake of argument, let us assume that 100 times the current Gazan GDP per capita per family is not an unreasonable point of departure. This would amount to about $250,000 to 300,000 per family. With the estimated number of families in Gaza around 400,000, the total cost would amount to about $100 billion or about one-third of Israel’s total annual GDP.

At first glance, this might appear daunting, but if the implementation of the initiative were spread over a period of a decade-and-a-half—far less than the efforts to effect a two-state outcome have been tried—this would come to only 2 percent to 3 percent of GDP, something Israel could probably shoulder on its own. If other OECD countries could be harnessed to participate, it could be implemented at a fraction of a percentage of their GDPs, showing that political legitimacy rather than economic cost is the principal obstacle to be overcome.

To give a sense of proportion, the United States spent several trillion dollars on its military engagements in Iraq and Afghanistan, which dwarfs the size of the budget required to resettle all the Gazans, together with all of their kinfolk in the “West Bank,” safely and comfortably in some third-party country.

Who will host them?

One of the questions inevitably raised regarding the incentivized emigration idea is that of who the host countries are likely to be, especially given the migration crisis in Europe following the chaos in the wake of the “Arab Spring” and the Syrian civil war.

Indeed, according to the previously cited reports regarding renewed Israeli interest in encouraging Gazans to emigrate, it was noted that there was some difficulty in locating countries willing to accept them.

Clearly, however, within the parameters of the initiative set out previously, the situation would be very different. After all, within these parameters, the Gazan emigrants will not be arriving at the gates of their prospective host countries as destitute—or, at least, desperate—refugees but, as mentioned above, as relatively affluent emigrants by the standards of many such potential host countries.

Indeed, by absorbing Gazan emigrants, the host countries will generate significant capital inflows into their economies. For example, a country that accepts 3,000 Gazan families can expect a capital injection of almost a billion dollars!

If additional international aid can be extended to the host countries, absorbing Gazans could be an act that is both profitable and humane.

The moral high ground

Israeli officials have erred badly in being reticent as to the intention of encouraging Arab emigration.

Indeed, there is no reason for any sense of moral unease. To the contrary, incentivized emigration is clearly morally superior to any other policy paradigm addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—and certainly to that touted by Beilin calling for a two-state outcome. After all, any prospective Palestinian state will almost certainly be yet another homophobic, misogynistic Muslim majority tyranny whose hallmarks would be gender discrimination, gay persecution, religious intolerance and political oppression of dissidents. Indeed, no two-stater, however fervent, has ever produced any persuasive argument why it wouldn’t be.

Here, of course, a trenchant question must be forced into the public discourse on the legitimacy of incentivized emigration in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in general, and of Gaza in particular. This is: “Who has the moral high ground?”

Is it those who advocate the establishment of said homophobic, misogynistic Muslim majority tyranny that would comprise the very antithesis of liberal values usually invoked for its establishment?

Or is it those who advocate incentivized emigration and providing non-belligerent Palestinian individuals with the opportunity of building a better life for themselves elsewhere, out of harm’s way, free from the recurring cycles of death, destruction and destitution that have been brought down on them by the cruel corrupt cliques that have led them astray for decades.

The most humane; the least inhumane

Indeed, there is another, even more pertinent question to be asked of the proponents of Palestinian statehood: Why is it morally acceptable to offer financial inducements to Jews to evacuate their homes to facilitate the establishment of said homophobic, misogynistic tyranny, which almost certainly will become a bastion for Islamist terror, while it is considered morally reprehensible to offer financial inducements to Arabs to evacuate their homes to prevent the establishment of such an entity?

The proponents of incentivized emigration need not feel any sense of moral discomfort as to their policy prescription, especially when compared to that of the proponents of Palestinian statehood.

Indeed, as I have demonstrated elsewhere, the incentivized emigration paradigm is in fact the most humane of all policy proposals if its implementation is successful and the least inhumane if it is not.

This is the message they should be propounding vigorously, openly and unabashedly, as the harbingers of an idea whose time has come.

Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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