newsIsrael at War

Voluntary population transfer floated as option for Gaza residents

Former Israeli ambassador to the U.N. Danny Danon is the leading proponent of enabling the voluntary emigration of Gazans to other countries.

Palestinians flee Khan Yunis for Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, Dec. 25, 2023. Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.
Palestinians flee Khan Yunis for Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, Dec. 25, 2023. Photo by Atia Mohammed/Flash90.

South American and African countries have already expressed interest in taking in Palestinian Arab refugees from the Gaza Strip in return for monetary compensation, Likud Knesset member Danny Danon said on Monday.

Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, who has floated the idea of the transfer of Gazans as part of his five-point plan for the post-war period, told Israeli broadcaster Kan Reshet Bet that Israel should “make it easier” on those Palestinians who wish to leave the Strip for other countries.

Danon noted that Canada said last week that it would expand immigration for Gazans, referring to Canadian Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister Marc Miller’s Dec. 21 announcement that he would enact measures to allow extended families of Gazans with Canadian citizenship to enter the country.

“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.)

The interviewer questioned the feasibility of the plan as both Egypt and Jordan have cautioned that if Israel considers directing Gazans into their territories, it would mean war. Danon replied, “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, he continued, “have an obligation to help the Palestinians. Let them help instead of giving inflammatory speeches.”

He emphasized that the plan doesn’t involve large numbers.

“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 last week 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 referred to assisting Gazans to relocate away from the “tyrannical oppression of Hamas” as “correct, moral and humane.”

While population transfer remains a controversial subject, voices recently raised in its favor have attracted the attention of long-time observers of the Israel-Palestinian conflict such as Martin Sherman, founder of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies, who 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 twenty thousand 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.”

Proposals for the transfer of Arabs from Palestine have been discussed for years, both inside and outside of Israel.

One of the most famous proponents of transfer was U.S. President Herbert Hoover, who saw transfer as a just solution to the highly volatile Arab-Jewish conflict, urging the peaceable relocation of “the bulk” of Palestinian Arabs to Iraq, which at the time was in need of population growth to develop its economy.

Population transfer has at times gained international favor as a humane solution. After the Greco-Turkish War of 1919–1922, an involuntary population exchange took place between Greece and Turkey involving some 2 million people.

Norwegian explorer turned diplomat Fridtjof Nansen won a Nobel Peace Prize in 1922 in part for his efforts to negotiate that exchange.

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