Palestinians Who Cling to Israel
by Daniel Pipes
Translations of this item:
Israel's interior minister recently declared that after their release from long jail sentences, four Palestinian Arabs convicted of helping with suicide bombings in 2002, killing 35, will be expelled from Israel. They would, the Associated Press reported, "lose the privileges of permanent residents, such as social security and health insurance."
The minister's decision raises a question: Why would Palestinians engaged in destroying the state of Israel feel punished by losing the right to live in Israel? One would expect that anti-Israel terrorists would prefer to live in the Palestinian Authority (PA).
One would be wrong. Palestinian Arabs - even terrorists - generally prefer life in what they call the "Zionist entity." On two occasions, this pattern became especially clear: when eastern Jerusalem in 2000 and part of the Galilee Triangle in 2004 were slated for transfer to PA control. In both cases, the Palestinians involved clung to Israel.
When Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak's diplomacy raised the prospect, in mid-2000, of some Arab-majority parts of Jerusalem being transferred to the PA, a Palestinian Arab social worker found that "an overwhelming majority" of Jerusalem's 200,000 Arabs chose to remain under Israeli control. A member of the Palestinian National Council, Fadal Tahabub, specified that 70% preferred Israeli sovereignty. Another politician, Husam Watad, described people as "in a panic" at the prospect of finding themselves under PA rule.
Israel's Interior Ministry duly reported a large increase in applications for citizenship and one city councilor, Roni Aloni, reported what he was hearing from Jerusalem Arabs: "we are not like Gaza or the West Bank. We hold Israeli IDs. We are used to a higher standard of living. Even if Israeli rule is not so good, it is still better than that of the PA." A doctor applying for Israeli papers explained, "we want to stay in Israel. At least here I can speak my mind freely without being dumped in prison, as well as having a chance to earn an honest day's wage."
To stop this Palestinian Arab rush for Israeli citizenship, the ranking Islamic official in Jerusalem issued an edict prohibiting it, and the Palestine Liberation Organization's agent in Jerusalem, Faisal al-Husseini, went further, calling this step "treason." This proved ineffective, so al-Husseini threatened that taking out Israeli citizenship would result in the confiscation of one's home.
In the Galilee Triangle, a Palestinian-majority area in the north of the country, just 30% of the Arab population agreed to some of the Galilee Triangle being annexed to a future Palestinian state, according to a May 2001 survey, meaning that a large majority preferred it to remain in Israel. By February 2004, when the Sharon government released a trial balloon about giving the PA control over the Galilee Triangle, the Haifa-based Arab Center for Applied Social Research found the number had jumped to 90%. And 73% of Triangle Arabs said they would use violence to prevent changes in the border.
Local politicians fiercely denounced Israel ceding any part of the Galilee. An Arab member of Israel's parliament who once served as adviser to Yasser Arafat, Ahmed Tibi, called the idea "a dangerous, antidemocratic suggestion." Intense Arab opposition prompted quick abandonment of the transfer idea.
Also in 2004, when Israel's security fence went up, some Palestinian Arabs had to choose on which side of the fence to live. Most, along with Ahmed Jabrin of Umm al-Fahm, had no doubts. "We fought [the Israeli authorities so as] to be inside of the fence, and they moved it so we are still in Israel."
That Palestinian Arabs in large numbers prefer to live under Israeli control appears to result more from practical considerations than from an intent to submerge the Jewish state demographically. They see the PA as impoverished, autocratic, and anarchic. As one Palestinian explained, it is "an unknown state that doesn't have a parliament, or a democracy, or even decent universities."
Palestinian Arabs are not so committed ideologically as to disdain the good life that residence in Israel offers. Two long-term conclusions follow. First, were Palestinian Arab demands for a "right of return" to Israel ever met, a massive population influx into Israel would result. Second, any final-status agreement that requires turning over Israeli-ruled land to the Palestinians will be very hard to implement.
July 6, 2005 update: This article derives from a longer piece in the Middle East Quarterly, "'The Hell of Israel Is Better than the Paradise of Arafat'" For updates on this topic, see my weblog entry, "Hamas is Worse than Israel, Worse than Sharon.".
Reader comments (23) on this item
Comment on this item
Support Daniel Pipes' work with a tax-deductible donation to the Middle East Forum. Daniel J. Pipes