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The Arab refugee problem is no longer the principal obstacle to peace between Israel and the Arab states. This was indicated in the recent United Nations Palestine debate. Concern of most Arab speakers about the refugees was secondary to their fear of the Zionist enclave in the Arab "heartland."
Nevertheless, the United States and the United Nations continue to regard the refugee problem as the key to peace in the 15-year-old conflict. The appointment of Joseph Johnson, President of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, as Special Representative of the U.N. Conciliation Commission for Palestine to devise ways of giving the refugees a "free choice" about their future homes, was based on the premise that the refugee problem is central in the Palestine conflict. After several rounds of parleys with both Israelis and Arabs, Dr. Johnson put forward a series of still unpublished proposals which neither side has accepted. These envisage a scheme in which the refugees would be given an opportunity to make known whether they desire to settle in Israel, in the Arab host countries or elsewhere. The process by which they would indicate their preferences would be administered by the United Nations. Israel would not be committed to accept all those desiring to return, but it would be expected to accept a limited number who could be absorbed without jeopardizing its economic or military security. Dr. Johnson's plan is based on the belief that, although few refugees would want to live in the Jewish state, the opportunity to do so would give them a certain psychological satisfaction. With such a "free choice" they would, it was hoped, subsequently abandon their resistance to rehabilitation in permanent homes and jobs outside of Palestine.
This view of the refugee problem depends on assumptions which no longer seem relevant. Since 1948 the conditions in the Middle East have altered considerably. Why has policy of the United Nations and the United States lagged behind the changing realities?
The most obvious reason is the continued physical presence of the refugees in the host countries. Their encampments in the large urban centers are a constant reminder of the Arab defeat and loss of Palestine. These visual reminders are an embarrassment to the United Nations and to Western policy in the Middle East. Because of the pressing humanitarian needs of the refugees, because their plight has been the issue most frequently raised in the acrimonious public debates between Israel and the Arab states, and because on many occasions border flare-ups along the 1949 armistice demarcation lines can be traced to their dislocation, the refugees have continued to command world attention. Each year the General Assembly recommends continued emergency relief measures like those initiated when the problem was first brought to its attention nearly 15 years ago.
However, during this period the Middle East has undergone great economic, social and political changes which have altered considerably both the nature and significance of the refugee problem. Before the United States and the United Nations continue their annual grants of funds and outpouring of energy in the effort to find a solution, it would be wise to examine these altered conditions.
The most basic change is that the problem is no longer primarily one of emergency relief, of providing food, shelter and clothing for hundreds of thousands of people in immediate danger of famine and epidemic. More sophisticated measures are required today than simple emergency relief. The greatest need is for more economic security and social acceptance for the refugees than they have yet attained despite the great material improvements in their life since they arrived as indigents.
More and more of the refugees now scattered through the Arab world bear little resemblance to the people who had lived in Palestine until 1948. These were largely peasants with many characteristics of underdeveloped people, even though the Palestine Arab, generally speaking, was advanced in education, health and social progress compared to other peasant peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean.
Since 1948 the original 725,000 have grown by over 400,000 through natural increase; thus nearly 40 percent of those now classified as refugees have never been in their homeland. They, and those who were infants and now have little if any first-hand recollection of Palestine, compose more than half the refugee population; and their number is being increased by an additional 30,000 to 40,000 births each year. Soon a whole new generation of Palestinians will have grown up in the Arab "diaspora" without having had anything more than second-hand knowledge of Palestine. Nevertheless, their attachment to Palestine is no less intense than that of their parents. They are constantly reminded-by their families, by their U.N. schools and by the host governments and people-that they are Palestinians.
Yet this new generation differs from its elders. Superficially it differs as do all new generations throughout the East; its speech, dress, social mannerisms and outlook on life are not the same. Most significant are its attitudes toward the future.
Adults who fled from Palestine suffered a trauma from which few recovered. Loss of homes, jobs and economic security and the complete uprooting of the familiar social structure engendered deep bitterness against all those responsible for the catastrophe; it expressed itself in absolute refusal to coöperate in transplanting their community to new soil. The older generation made known its fierce determination to return home by rejecting permanent housing, employment and all other assistance which would further its relocation. They were, until recently, abetted in their opposition by the host countries. This obstinate refusal to accept rehabilitation aid gave birth to the view in the West that the refugees would more willingly accept rehabilitation assistance if given a "free choice" about their future.
The younger generation is no less bitter about its refugee status, no less resentful toward those responsible, and no less determined to regain its homeland, but its reactions are less self-destructive. The youth realize that only through strength can they attain their ultimate objective, and that strength will be created through self-improvement, not self- destruction. Consequently they not only are willing to accept opportunities for education, vocational training and employment, but eagerly search them out. Having appraised realistically the chances of an early return to Palestine, they seek normal lives now. They want to marry, raise children and enter the mainstream of national life until the day of their return-or their children's, or their grandchildren's.
The Palestine refugee now benefits from a relatively advanced system of social security which provides excellent care for infants and nursing mothers, and a moderately good program of youth services. The basic ration given by UNRWA (the United Nations Relief and Works Agency) is 1,500 calories a day. This is just barely enough to prevent serious malnutrition, but most refugees supplement it with food acquired from part-time earnings. Since the United Nations began its program, there have been no epidemics or famines, although many suffer from a protein deficiency in their diet, causing lassitude and undermining efficiency.
The Palestine youths of today are far better educated than their elders; indeed, the new generation may have a higher literacy rate than that in most host countries. Soon there will be almost no illiterate males and many fewer illiterate females. Better education and the rapid development of inexpensive communications have made the new generation more wise in the ways of the world, politically more sophisticated and intellectually more developed than the former peasants of rural Palestine.
Improved conditions have altered even the appearance of refugee settlements. In UNRWA camps the refugees no longer live in tents. The camps, once the symbol of degradation, have developed in many instances into permanent quarters of the towns and cities onto which they were grafted. Although in more cases than not, refugee homes seem jammed to capacity, the housing is now at least livable. The schools, social welfare stations, clinics and feeding centers are often constructed according to the latest architectural models. Indeed, the Palestinians live far better than refugees in India, Pakistan or Hong Kong.
This progress has occurred against a background of almost revolutionary change in the host countries. Large urban centers, such as Beirut, Damascus, Aleppo, Amman and Jerusalem, where most refugee camps are located, have grown dramatically into modern cities. Fundamental social forces are in motion. There is talk of, and frequently creative activity leading to, development of new trades and industries and the expansion of agriculture. Revolutionary doctrines have either undermined, or are in the process of undermining, the older generation of political conservatives. Socialism, republicanism and democracy have become accepted slogans.
Development of agriculture, industry and trade has facilitated the economic absorption of most employable refugees in Syria and of many in Lebanon, so that they are no longer a financial burden on these countries. Indeed, between 20 and 25 percent of the refugees never received any UNRWA assistance because they found ready opportunities to use their training in law, medicine, business or other skills in the expanding economies of the host countries. Those who were farmers or unskilled found difficulty because of the surpluses of unskilled laborers with which they had to compete in the host countries. As economic development progressed in Syria, UNRWA relief became necessary for only a few of the refugees there, and to some extent the same thing happened in Lebanon; for most it is now simply a welcome supplement to low wages and a token of continued identification as displaced Palestinians.
In Jordan and Gaza economic opportunity is not so great. The tiny Gaza strip, cut off from its Palestine hinterland, has no possibility of becoming self-sufficient. Nearly all the 250,000 refugees there must be relocated or continue to receive relief in order to survive. The expansion of Jordan's economy has absorbed a number of refugees, but the potential is so limited that in the foreseeable future not as many as half the 600,000 refugees can be integrated. What is the future, then, of the others in Gaza and Jordan?
A few tens of thousands could find employment in the Persian Gulf states, and many more in Syria and Iraq if these countries ever attained sufficient political stability to permit continued large-scale economic development. But an inherent irony of the situation is that where the greatest economic opportunity lies the refugees are least welcome politically and socially.
While economic conditions have improved considerably in Lebanon and Syria since 1948 and obstacles to employment of Palestinians have been removed, the refugees have not been accepted socially and politically. Not only do official attitudes and policies encourage discrimination, but the man in the street regards the Palestinians as a politically unreliable and often dangerous group whose departure from the country he would view with relief. These social pressures intensify the Palestinian's consciousness of being an outsider, already engendered by the schools and the closely knit social system. Thus, even children barely able to talk identify themselves with the Palestinian town of their parents' origin, such as Jaffa, Haifa or Lydda, rather than with Syria or Lebanon.
The Palestinians have thus developed many characteristic complexes and attitudes of a minority: they marry among themselves more frequently than with others; their friends are fellow countrymen more often than Syrians or Lebanese; their vocational objectives are to attain a middle-class status rather than that of a peasant or city worker. Even the sons of former Bedouin tent-dwellers aspire to become lawyers, doctors, teachers, businessmen and government employees, rather than tillers of the soil or craftsmen who work with their hands. They seek to "do well" in life to compensate for their warped childhood. UNRWA, therefore, has little difficulty recruiting candidates for its higher education and advanced vocational training programs. And it is estimated that some 50,000 Palestinians have flocked to the Persian Gulf sheikhdoms in the hope of enriching themselves from the oil boom there.
Contrasted with their apparent middle-class social and economic aspirations is the refugees' great attraction to radical political ideologies. Not only in Syria and Lebanon where they are treated as outsiders, but in Gaza and Jordan where Palestinians are in the majority, and where they find little social discrimination, they are politically volatile and easily incited to activism. In times of internal strife it is not unusual to hear Syrians or Lebanese blame the refugees; this is especially true of the merchant middle class, always concerned to maintain stability. While the fear of the Palestinians is often exaggerated, there have been a few instances where they were involved in political movements to overthrow established governments in Lebanon, Syria and Jordan.
Youth has rejected its own and all other Arab political leaders associated with the 1948 disaster. The former Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husayni, once the acknowledged leader and a folk hero of Palestine Arabs, and all those in any way identified with him, are shadowy relics of a now remote era. Old political conservatives from the landowning class and the religious hierarchy have also lost their allure. In their place, youth seeks more dynamic leaders who espouse the new socialist, republican and democratic slogans. If any individual can be said to represent the sentiments of Palestinian youth it is Egypt's President Nasser. To them he stands for a new, strong, progressive, dynamic Arab society.
Palestinians are in the forefront of the Arab unity movement. Many of them believe that attainment of a single Arab nation offers the only hope of returning to their homeland. The older generation's attachment to Palestine is primarily a nostalgia for their fields and ancestral homesteads. But their children, who never saw those fields and homes, who never lived in that familiar and comfortable environment, have created a fervent national sentiment that never before existed; and their aspirations are supported by the Arab national movement. Regardless of success or failure in economic integration or repatriation, these new Palestinians want to create a new Palestine.
The virus of irredentism has spread from the refugees and the host countries through the whole Arab world from North Africa to the Persian Gulf. During the past decade, the redemption of Palestine has become as much a goal of Arab nationalism as was Algerian liberation. Indeed, the success of Nasserism, the Ba'ath Socialist party in Syria and other radical movements was a direct result of the Palestine disaster.
While economic integration of the refugees would lessen their visibility in the Arab capitals it would not solve the Palestine problem. As is already evident in Lebanon, Syria and the Persian Gulf, economically integrated refugees do not cease to be Palestine nationalists. For ever increasing numbers of refugees the problem is not lack of a place to live or lack of food or insufficient shelter; it is political homelessness.
Ten or more years ago, before the new generation of Arab political leaders and of Palestinian youth had come to the fore, a rapprochement with Israel on the basis of a refugee settlement might have been possible. The sentiment for Arab unity was still somewhat vague and the antagonism to Israel was due more to the refugees' personal loss than to fervent national pride. While rehabilitation and payment of compensation to refugees who owned property in what is now Israel are worthy and justified ends in themselves, they would not remove the opposition to a Jewish state in the Arab heartland. Today the refugee problem is not a cause of Arab hostility to Zionism, but a symptom. To diminish the symptom, or even to remove it, would not end the hostility.
If not because of the refugees, why then do Arab nationalists so resent Israel? The explanation, like that of any nationalist sentiment, is psychologically complex. Perhaps it is the desire to create a homogeneous Arab world. To Arab nationalists, an ideologically independent non-Arab enclave expressing its independence through political sovereignty in "their area" is as repugnant as was the existence of Portuguese Goa to Indian nationalists. In such issues there can be no compromise. Israel's social and economic accomplishments are as irrelevant as were the accomplishments of Great Britain or France in the colonial areas they once dominated. Arab nationalists consider that Israel's close ties with the West, although a strategic necessity, prove that it is merely a "bridgehead of Western imperialism." The constant reiteration by Israeli leaders that the nation was created not only for its present residents but for all Jews is an added irritant, despite the fact that this was the premise which the world community accepted as justification for a Jewish state, and is by definition the meaning of Zionism.
Neither to extremist nor to moderate Arab nationalists are the refugees the central issue in the Palestine dilemma. The former view liquidation of Israel as an immediate objective to be attained by force, if force must be used. Ultimately they would remove all "foreign intruders"-that is, Jewish immigrants-from Palestine to their lands of origin, or elsewhere.
The moderates, no less implacably hostile to a Jewish state and to Zionist ideology, are more realistic. They see that no combination of Arab states in the near future will be powerful enough to remove Israel by force. They rely on diplomatic pressure, economic boycott and blockade rather than military means to deal with the situation. It is not the physical presence of Jews in Palestine nor the existence of Jewish cultural and religious institutions to which moderates object, but the Zionist concept of Jewish sovereignty which severs Palestine from the Arab world. The moderates would be willing to concede the same internal cultural and religious autonomy to Jews in Palestine that they would grant to Lebanese Christians and to Iraqi Kurds.
Obviously there is no possibility now of political compromise between Arab nationalism and a Jewish state founded on Zionist ideology. Israel cannot be expected to forego its sovereignty, nor will the Arab states acknowledge its sovereignty. Until 1948 a few Jewish and Arab moderates proposed to compromise this dilemma by creating a bi-national, Arab-Jewish Palestine. But that possibility has receded into history. Perhaps in the distant future, when political forces in the Middle East and in the world around it have changed, when national sovereignty is no longer so greatly prized, there can be realistic hope of an Arab-Israel rapprochement.
Continued identification of "the refugee problem" with a solution of the total Palestine dilemma is not only illusory, but fosters Arab fears that the success of international attempts to liquidate the refugee problem would mean abandonment of the rights of Palestine Arabs. But, if the refugees are no longer the central issue and their rehabilitation will not end the conflict, is any purpose served by continuing to pour funds and energy into attempts to solve the problem? Although "Palestine is here to stay" regardless of the refugees' future, improvement of refugee conditions is itself a worthy cause. Both the United Nations and the United States (which contributes approximately 70 percent of the UNRWA budget) have undertaken a moral obligation from which they cannot easily withdraw. There is also the practical goal of reaching stability within the host countries. But to be of value, the nature of refugee assistance must be reëvaluated in the light of changing realities.
Assistance is still essential for the majority of refugees in Gaza, for large numbers in Jordan, for some in Lebanon, and for a few, mostly of the older generation, in Syria. However, to continue placing primary emphasis on relief would perpetuate the refugee mentality and undermine the initiative of the younger generation eager to escape from the refugee status. What is most important is to encourage and create opportunities for individual initiative. Relief activities should therefore continue to diminish in favor of increased education, vocational training and placement programs.
Although UNRWA's original mandate was to establish works projects which would favor integration, the framework within which it has worked from the first has been that of a temporary emergency relief agency. Originally, many believed that the refugee problem would be resolved within a few months and that UNRWA would gradually turn to works projects. However, during the early 1950s the host countries were unable either economically or politically to absorb the refugees rapidly enough to warrant cutting relief substantially. Consequently the General Assembly has periodically had to renew UNRWA's mandate, and its director must raise funds for it in much the same manner as those of a voluntary welfare organization. Although the Agency has become a more or less permanent landmark, its administration, organization, personnel, fiscal policies and general outlook have until recently had a temporary character. This weakness is still reflected in the local policies of many UNRWA administrators, although the present Commissioner General, Dr. John Davis, has increasingly shifted from outright relief to rehabilitation, with emphasis on vocational training. Within the limits of political expediency, attempts are being made to cut unqualified recipients of rations from the rolls and to use the funds for more creative purposes. Today nearly a third of the Agency's budget and half its personnel are used for education and technical training, and nearly 3,000 youths have been taught skills in vocational training centers. If given his way, Dr. Davis would place even greater emphasis on these projects. The obstacles are conservatism within the organization and the continued refusal of many politicians in the host countries to agree that rehabilitation projects are not simply attempts to undermine the refugees' rights.
The principal cause for the difficulties of UNRWA to date is not so much the policies of its directors as the reluctance of the United States and the United Nations to face the changed situation. They continue to hope that the refugee problem will be resolved within a few years and that then it will be possible to break the Arab-Israel stalemate. In the early 1950s the United States and the United Nations did support efforts to shift from relief to rehabilitation, but conditions in the region were not yet ripe. Many still fear that to diminish relief, or alter the organization of UNRWA radically, would jeopardize the prospects for compromise, illusory as these have proven to be.
True, it would not be easy to alter UNRWA's role from a relief to a rehabilitation agency. It has acquired far more than a welfare function. Thousands of refugees who are self-supporting continue to receive relief, not because of need, but because it gives them continued identity as Palestinians. In effect, an UNRWA ration card has become the identity card of the displaced Palestinian. Recognizing this, UNRWA has now issued cards which identify the bearer's status but do not entitle him to rations. The Agency employs thousands of Palestinian officials, physicians, teachers and clerks. Some 10,000 families depend upon it for employment and in Jordan especially they constitute a powerful pressure group. No politician in any of the host countries would dare to recommend abolishing their employment. Any sudden dismemberment of UNRWA is now impossible. What is feasible is a gradual transformation of it into an agency placing major emphasis on education, vocational training and placement.
For a number of years continued relief will be needed for the many unemployed in Gaza and in Jordan, and for the hard-core refugees in all the host countries, now perhaps numbering 300,000 persons. They are the "aging" refugees who left Palestine as adults and have been idle for the past 15 years. Most of them were unskilled farmers and workmen, of whom the host countries already have a surplus. In these years of unemployment they have lost their modest skills and their initiative and now resist effective rehabilitation. The situation is mitigated somewhat by the Middle Eastern social system in which young members of extended families accept responsibility for the aged. But the danger exists that many children of the "aging refugees" will also become hard-core cases if they are not soon taught vocational skills to prepare them to become useful adults.
A major psychological barrier to successful rehabilitation of the younger generation is their continued identification as "refugees," a term implying that Palestinians are an underprivileged minority. To help raise their status in the host countries, the term "refugees" might be replaced by "Palestinians." They would be recognized in the Arab world as a national group striving for self-determination. The United Nations rehabilitation program for "Palestinians" would not in any way vitiate their claims to their homeland. On the other hand, it would have to be made plain by the United Nations that recognition of "Palestinians" would not imply support for them in their dispute with Israel. Obviously neither the United Nations nor the United States could take any action that contravened Israel's accepted position in the international community.
In 1960 the late Dag Hammarskjold emphasized: "No reintegration would be satisfactory, or even possible, were it to be brought about by forcing people into their new positions against their will. It must be freely accepted, if it is to yield lasting results in the form of economic and political stability." The choice of returning to the homes of their parents is not available, nor is it likely to become so. But when other choices have been available the new generation has accepted them. Young people have shown a willingness to leave their inferior refugee status if they can retain the Palestinian identity of which they are so jealous.
UNRWA, or the agency to assist "Palestinians" which might replace it, cannot create opportunities for youth without coöperation from the host countries or outside the framework of general economic development in the Middle East. This was affirmed in Secretary-General Hammarskjold's 1960 report on the refugees, when he pointed out that economic development could not successfully improve the over-all refugee situation unless undertaken on a regional basis. Only through an integrated program of coöperation between those Arab nations with a capital surplus and those with a capital deficit would it be possible to attain full employment of the growing indigenous populations as well as the refugees. Even with this coöperation, investment capital from abroad would also be required. Perhaps the most critical problem, then, is to achieve a degree of political and social stability that will encourage both a free flow of capital within the Arab world and investment from outside.
Looking back, we see that there are two aspects to the refugee problem: the humanitarian and the political. To link the two does not solve it, regardless of how much economic assistance the refugees receive or of how successful attempts are to integrate them. They will remain Palestinians, committed to redeem their homeland.
This dire forecast need not prejudice efforts to improve their lot. The younger generation will strive to better its condition with or without assistance, and regardless of the opportunity to "choose" repatriation to Israel. However, there will remain a hard core of unproductive refugees who must also be helped in quite different ways. Opportunities exist for assistance by both the United States and the United Nations to both groups. But to confuse such help with a political solution of the Palestine problem can lead only to frustration and disillusionment alike among those who receive help and those who give it.
The initiative for a new approach must come from the United States, the principal supporter of United Nations refugee activities. It is now too late to expect "time" to solve the refugee problem; and it is illusory to hope that continued relief grants will tide over the "critical" period until there is agreement between Israel and the Arab states. No such agreement is in the cards. If United States encouragement of economic development is to succeed, merely passive acceptance of drastic social changes in the Middle East is inadequate. We must not only accept such change where it has occurred, but stimulate it at a much more rapid pace in the remaining Middle East countries where we can exert influence. In Jordan, for example, the existing power structure is still a major obstacle to integration of large numbers of refugees despite minor reforms made in recent years at the instigation of the United States. Country-wide development plans should be considered in the context of regional development, and activities for retraining refugee youth should be integrated with plans for national and regional economic development. A first step in this direction is UNRWA's present survey of existing skills in the Arab world. The purpose is to determine the pattern of vocational requirements during the next decade.
The United States should use its good offices to see that refugees receive compensation for their property in Israel, not for economic or political reasons, but for the same moral reasons that we supported German payment of compensation to Jewish victims of Nazism. The best contribution the West can make to improving the lot of the refugees is to encourage conditions in the Middle East leading to a take-off into sustained economic growth. When such growth begins, the economic problem of the individual refugee will be solved.
As for the political problem of Palestine, we must reconcile ourselves to seeing it continue for a generation or more. It is an unpleasant fact of international life that the Arab-Israel conflict has progressed beyond a stage where some new blueprint can help. The best that can be hoped for under existing circumstances is to contain the conflict through the efforts of the United Nations and the larger member states. Although conciliation is no longer possible, agencies such as the U.N. Truce Supervision Organization and Emergency Force can continue to limit border tensions and can prevent them from erupting into major warfare. Efforts to contain the conflict can run parallel to efforts to assist refugee youth in the struggle to find normal lives in the expanding economy of the Middle East.
Americans often hope to resolve international problems through some makeshift mechanical device-a peace commission or an economic plan. The Arab-Israel dispute is too complex and its emotions too deep to yield to such an approach. The problem is not one made up of specific issues. It is, rather, a deep-rooted ideological conflict in which both sides feel that compromise will lead to irreparable loss of far more significance than a few miles of territory, the return of a few thousand individuals to their homes or compensation for the loss of their property.