Israel’s interior minister recently declared that after their release from long jail sentences, four Palestinians convicted of helping with suicide bombings in 2002, killing 35, will be expelled from Israel. They would, reports the Associated Press “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 anti-Israel terrorists to want to live in the Palestinian Authority (PA).
Well, one would be wrong. Palestinians even terrorists generally prefer life in what they call the “Zionist entity.” This pattern became especially clear twice when a chunk of territory eastern Jerusalem in 2000 and part of the Galilee “Triangle” in 2004 was slated for transfer to PA control. In both cases, the Palestinians involved clung to Israel.
Jerusalem: 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 social worker found “an overwhelming majority” of Jerusalem’s 200,000 Arabs choosing to remain under Israeli control. A member of the Palestinian National Council, Fadal Tahabub, specified that number: 70 percent, he said, 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 rush for Israeli citizenship, the ranking Islamic official in Jerusalem issued an edict prohibiting it and the PLO’s agent in Jerusalem, Faisal al-Husseini, went further, calling this step “treason.” This proved ineffective, so Husseini threatened that taking out Israeli citizenship meant one’s home being confiscated.
The Galilee Triangle, a Palestinian-majority area in the north of the country: Just 30 percent of Israel’s Arab population, a May 2001 survey found, agreed to some of the Galilee Triangle being annexed to a future Palestinian state, 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 percent. And 73 percent 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; Ahmed Tibi, an Arab member of Israel’s parliament who once served as advisor to Yasir Arafat, 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 Palestinians faced a choice 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 Palestinians 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 explains, it is “an unknown state that doesn’t have a parliament, or a democracy, or even decent universities.”
Palestinians are not so committed ideologically as to disdain the good life that residence in Israel offers. Two long-term conclusions follow. First, were Palestinian demands for a “right to return” to Israel ever met, a massive population influx into Israel would result. Second, any final-status agreement that requires turning Israeli-ruled land to the Palestinians will be very hard to implement.