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January 15, 2003

Voluntary Transfer

Alternative Middle East peace planBy Solomon Weiskop

Here is the basic idea: Following the U.S.'s overthrow of Saddam, a new state is established comprising Jordan and most of Iraq (excluding, perhaps, Iraq's northern Kurdish region and a southern Shiite area near Iran). This new state would be placed under moderate Hashemite rule (presumably King Abdullah II of Jordan).

An interesting historical case can be made for such an idea, based on earlier Hashemite rule in both Jordan and Iraq. The new state would possess enviable natural resources (including oil, fresh water, and seaports on both the Gulf of Akaba and Persian Gulf) and ample territory. It would also enjoy strong ties to the United States. In time, it could well become a center of the Arab world.

At some point, when this new state has become politically and economically stabilized, the Palestinians (from the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and refugee camps throughout the Middle East) would be "invited" to emigrate to it en masse. The world community could offer historically unprecedented inducements to them (and to the new state) to agree. These inducements might include economic incentives of various kinds (including free housing) and substantial foreign investment intended to facilitate absorption of the large emigre population. The most meaningful inducement, however, would hopefully be the prospect of a new peaceful prosperous life in a spacious country full of potential. .

In judging this plan, it ought to be kept in mind that Jordan was originally part of mandatory Palestine and that something like 65% of Jordan's population is already Palestinian under Hashemite rule. King Abdullah's wife, Queen Rania, is herself Palestinian. Within a generation her half-Palestinian son would sit on the Hashemite throne. Further, a moderate firmly pro-Western Hashemite Kingdom would represent a significant step towards, and anchor of, the goal of democratizing the Middle East. The Hashemite Kingdom would not itself be a Western-style democracy, but in time could evolve to where the crown held no more power than it does in Britain. Perhaps most significantly of all, the direct descent of the Hashemites from the Prophet himself may provide the new Kingdom with unique legitimacy in the Islamic world.

This plan is distinguished from the 'standard' plan in that it offers reasonable long-term prospects for peace and prosperity. Consider that the West Bank and Gaza is already overcrowded (Gaza is perhaps the most densely populated place on Earth). Palestinians have both an extremely young population and high birth rate. According to a recent PA study, the population of these territories is expected to double in less than 20 years. This points to a real demographic catastrophe on the horizon.

The problem is further compounded by well over a million Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, Syria etc. Thus, refugee claims for repatriation would continue to provide an ongoing basis for renewed conflict between Israel and a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River. It would not be the only one. Interminable friction over borders, water rights, air space, demilitarization and of course Jerusalem can be expected. Any one of these could provide the spark for renewed violence. Given the likely severe overcrowding, poverty and absence of economic self-sufficiency of the putative Palestinian state, not to mention past history, one could easily foresee a receptive audience for the calls of Muslim extremists to renew the jihad against Israel. With simply far too many human beings (Israelis and Palestinians) crammed too close together into far too little space, the consequences could well make today's bad situation look like a picnic by comparison.

I consider it the height of irresponsibility to deliberately set the stage for what would almost inevitably develop into a future Lebanon- or Balkan-style nightmare, especially when an alternative exists. All of these problems could be reasonably and equitably avoided through the plan I have described.

Historical precedents for eliminating ethnic/religious strife through large-scale resettlement of populations exist, most notably the population exchange plan between Greece and Turkey following World War I for which Fridtjof Nansen earned a Nobel Peace Prize. .