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Tony Blair to look into voluntary emigration for Gazans—report

The former British PM's office swiftly denied the report, saying he wouldn't even consider the voluntary evacuation of Palestinians.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Photo by Chatham House/Flickr/Creative commons license.
Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Photo by Chatham House/Flickr/Creative commons license.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair met with senior Israeli leaders last week to discuss plans for a post-Hamas Gaza, in which he agreed to act as an envoy between Israel and moderate Arab states, Channel 12 reported on Sunday.

Blair would also look into the possibility of other countries absorbing refugees from the Gaza Strip, the Israeli news site reported.

Blair’s office swiftly denied the rumor, saying, “Reports that Mr. Blair has anything to do with the voluntary evacuation of Gazans is simply not true, there has been no such discussion nor would he consider it.”

Voices recently raised in favor of supporting voluntary emigration for Gaza residents include Likud Knesset member and Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations Danny Danon, who revealed on Dec. 25. that South American and African countries have expressed interest in taking in Palestinian Arab refugees from Gaza in return for monetary compensation.

Danon has floated the idea of voluntary emigration from Gaza as part of his five-point plan for the post-war period.

He noted that Canada announced last month that it would expand immigration for Gazans.

“Migration happens in every war, look at what happened in Syria,” said Danon. (More than 5 million Syrian refugees are registered with the U.N.’s refugee agency. This does not include those who went to Europe.)

Although both Egypt and Jordan have cautioned that if Israel considers directing Gazans into their territories, it would mean war, Danon has noted, “Look what happened during the Syrian civil war. Jordan made the identical statement. Now there are one-and-a-half million Syrian refugees in Jordan.”

The Arab countries “have an obligation to help the Palestinians. Let them help instead of giving inflammatory speeches,” he told Israel radio.

“Even if every country took 10,000, 20,000 Gazans—that’s significant,” he said, echoing a Nov. 13 Wall Street Journal op-ed he co-wrote with Ram Ben-Barak, member of the opposition Yesh Atid Party, titled “The West Should Welcome Gaza Refugees.”

“One idea is for countries around the world to accept limited numbers of Gazan families who have expressed a desire to relocate,” they wrote. “Even if countries took in as few as 10,000 people each, it would help alleviate the crisis.”

Danon’s plan received criticism from some quarters, less for the idea as a whole than for including America and Europe as target countries.

Tony Badran, news editor and Levant analyst for Tablet Magazine, called that aspect of Danon’s program “sheer lunacy.”

“Set aside the shortsightedness, from the Israeli vantage point, of seeding American and Western societies with more people who hate Israel and support its enemies,” Badran wrote in a letter to the Wall Street Journal. “America cannot and should not accept more people from sick societies, never mind likely terror supporters and anti-Semites. That is an act of national suicide.”

Daniel Pipes, president of the Middle East Forum, also writing in the Journal, said that while the idea of emigration by people “who wish to improve their lives” is a “positive impulse in itself,” it’s generally preferable that refugees “remain within their own cultural zone. That is where they most readily fit in, where they can stay truest to their traditions, best find economic roles, most easily can return home, and least disrupt the host society.”

GOP presidential candidate Nikki Haley told ABC News in December that Palestinians should be sent to “pro-Hamas countries,” listing Qatar, Iran and Turkey. “Where are the friends of those pro-Hamas people? Where are the friends of Gaza? They should be the ones doing what they need to do to save them,” she said.

In early December, an initiative was submitted to the U.S. Congress calling for conditioning foreign aid to Arab countries on their accepting refugees from Gaza. Countries named were Egypt, Iraq, Yemen and Turkey.  

It said helping Gazans to move from the “tyrannical oppression of Hamas” was “correct, moral and humane.”

Long-time observers of the Israel-Palestinian conflict such as Martin Sherman, founder of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies, recently noted that such calls are no longer reserved to the “extreme right,” but are coming from “prominent left-leaning” figures like Ben-Barak.

Sherman noted that Ben-Barak, on a popular TV channel, in noting a senior Hamas official’s comment that the entire Gazan population was made up of refugees, said, “So if all of Gaza is made up of refugees, let’s disperse them around the world. There are 2.5 million people over there. [If] each country will take 20,000 people—100 countries… It’s humane, it’s obvious.”

Sherman also noted that American politicians with impeccable left-wing credentials have called for bringing in Gaza refugees, including New York Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman, who told The New York Post that the United States “should be prepared to welcome refugees from Palestine.”

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