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The PA’s Revealing Silence on Syria

Jonathan correctly pointed yesterday to Palestinian lionization of vicious killers as an indication of cultural attitudes that make peace impossible. But there’s another indicator that I find even more revealing–the Palestinian Authority’s deafening silence about the ongoing dispossession and slaughter of its countrymen in Syria.

As journalist Khaled Abu Toameh reported earlier this month, of the approximately 600,000 Palestinians in Syria, a whopping 250,000 have been displaced, according to no less a source than senior PA official Mohamed Shtayyeh. Additionally, over 1,600 have been killed and thousands more injured. Of the displaced, most remain in Syria, but some 93,000 have fled to neighboring countries, where they are uniquely unwelcome: Palestinians have been denied entry into both Jordan and Lebanon, and even when admitted, they face discriminatory treatment. In Jordan, for instance, they are strictly confined to camps, though other Syrian refugees are allowed to move about the country freely; in Lebanon, they are subject to numerous restrictions on employment, and often live in hiding for fear of being deported.

Ostensibly, this is an unbeatable argument for the urgency of creating a Palestinian state: Palestinians need a country to succor their refugees from Syria. Indeed, Jews used a similar argument to great effect in persuading the world of the need for a Jewish state after the Holocaust. Even today, Israelis routinely cite the world’s refusal to accept Jewish refugees, thereby abandoning them to the Nazi killing machine, as one of many arguments for why a Jewish state remains essential: There must be one country whose doors will always be open to persecuted Jews.

Yet rather than making this argument, the PA has gone to great lengths to ignore the Syrian crisis. As Abu Toameh noted, PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s UN address in September devoted a mere two sentences to the subject, without ever even mentioning Syria by name (“This year and in the last few years, Palestine refugees continue to pay – despite their neutrality – the price of conflict and instability in our region. Tens of thousands are forced to abandon their camps and to flee in another exodus searching for new places of exile”). The rest of the speech was devoted to attacking Israel. Hence Abbas deplored the 27 Palestinians killed “by the bullets of the occupation,” but never mentioned the hundreds killed in Syria during this period; he excoriated the construction of new Jewish homes in Jerusalem, but never mentioned the wholesale destruction of Palestinian homes in Syria.

Nor are these omissions accidental–because in fact, the PA leadership doesn’t want a state to succor its refugees. If it did, it wouldn’t still be demanding that any deal allow Palestinian refugees to relocate to Israel instead of Palestine, nor would senior PA officials be publicly declaring that the refugees will be denied citizenship in a future Palestinian state. It also wouldn’t still be insisting on land swaps of no more than 1.9 percent, rather than the 4 to 6 percent needed to accommodate the major settlement blocs; it would view this minor compromise, which wouldn’t even reduce the Palestinian state’s total area, as well worth making to get a state quickly and start absorbing its refugees–just as the Jews were willing to make much larger territorial concessions in the 1930s and 1940s due to the urgent need for a state to absorb their refugees.

The Syrian crisis remains absent from Palestinian talking points because Palestinians are still far more intent on destroying the Jewish state–inter alia by flooding it with millions of Palestinian refugees–than in making the compromises needed to get a state of their own and absorb those refugees themselves. And that’s also precisely why peace remains impossible.


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