Palestine's Peace Bomb

What will happen when one million refugees have the right to return -- to the West Bank?

One of the key arguments of Israel's "peace camp" is that, without a two-state solution, the state faces a "demographic time-bomb." The contention is that perpetuating Israeli control over the growing Arab population of the West Bank will dilute Israel's Jewish majority, until it is a de facto bi-national state. Therefore, proponents of this line of thinking argue, Secretary of State John Kerry's push for a two-state solution is imperative if Israel hopes to remain both Jewish and democratic.

Some Israeli policymakers have bought into the threat of a ticking demographic time bomb. In 2007, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned the Knesset of "a demographic battle" if a Palestinian state is not created. Similarly, the current government's chief peace negotiator, Tzipi Livni, argued that "time works to our disadvantage" because of "demographic numbers...[and] a higher Palestinian birth rate that could mean the end of a Jewish majority."

But Israelis on the right see a different demographic time bomb -- one that Kerry's plan will produce, rather than prevent. By opening the West Bank to a flood of refugees from the neighboring Arab countries, Kerry's plan could throw the Palestinian territories into chaos and sow the seeds for the rise of further extremism and terrorism on Israel's borders.

"Imagine an independent Palestinian state that does not need to ask our consent to absorb Palestinian refugees," Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman said on Jan. 5. "Will the economy in Judea and Samaria, which is not the economy of Norway or Switzerland, be able to absorb 3 million additional Palestinians?...Where will they live?...Where will they work?"

The Palestinian Authority (P.A.), which was created following the Oslo Accords to be the core of a future Palestinian state, already faces enormous problems serving the current population of the West Bank. Since the P.A.'s establishment in 1994, according to the International Monetary Fund, there has been an 11-point rise in unemployment, to 23 percent in 2012. The unemployment rate in the Hamas-run Gaza Strip is even higher, according to U.N. statistics -- over 45 percent, among the highest in the world. The World Bank, meanwhile, noted that the P.A. is "facing a grim fiscal situation," with ballooning budget deficits and shrinking foreign support.

Moreover, the refugees who are most likely to resettle in the West Bank and Gaza (or be forced to do so by Arab governments) are not the established families in Jordan who have citizenship and employable skills. The ones who are most likely to come are the legions who are kept wretched in Syria and Lebanon -- the ones who Arab governments have deliberately left unemployed and stateless for decades, the ones who are economically desperate and politically extreme. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has acknowledged this, telling his advisors that while refugees in Jordan may prefer to stay where they are, "for refugees in Lebanon there is a need" to relocate.

Worst of all, from Israel's perspective, the refugees most likely to come are the ones who have decades of membership and training in the competing terrorist organizations that proliferate in the Palestinian camps in Syria and Lebanon. According to the State Department, at least nine designated terrorist organizations operate out of Lebanon's 12 refugee camps: Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine General Command, Asbat al-Ansar, Fatah al-Islam, Fatah al-Intifada, Jund al-Sham, the Ziyad al-Jarrah Battalions, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad.

For example, Ain al-Helwe, Lebanon's largest camp and what some writers have called "the capital of the Palestinian diaspora," is home to 17 different armed political factions. The State Department says the camp is the "primary base of operations" of, among others, Asbat al-Ansar, "[a] Sunni extremist group composed primarily of Palestinians with links to al-Qa'ida." Asbat al-Ansar has "assassinated Lebanese religious leaders and bombed nightclubs, theaters, and liquor stores," and one of its members plotted to assassinate then-U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon David Satterfield in 2000. Hamas also has a growing presence in the camps, where it spreads its ideology of struggle unto death with Israel.

If refugees raised in this environment are brought to the West Bank, will they consider it their final home, or see it as merely a step on the road toward their final struggle with Israel? Palestinian leaders from across the political spectrum have refused to completely reject the possibility of a right of return to Israel proper: Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said in November that "it is not possible for any person, regardless of who he is ... to give up on Palestinian land or to give up the right of return to our homes," while even Abbas said in January that "neither the P.A., nor the state, nor the PLO, nor Abu Mazen [Abbas], nor any Palestinian or Arab leader has the right to deprive someone from his right to return."

Hamas won the last Palestinian Authority election in 2006, earning 76 of the 132 parliamentary seats. If the P.A. voter lists are doubled before the next election by bringing in a million new citizens from Lebanon and Syria, many of whom are steeped in fanatic ideologies, the results could be even less favorable to Abbas's more moderate Fatah Party.

Abbas may understand that immigration of refugees from Lebanon and Syria will strengthen his opponents. But no Palestinian leader could oppose citizenship for any of the dispossessed, because that would violate cardinal principles of Palestinian ideology and the interests of the Arab states. Any effort to deny entry to a class of refugees would confront a daunting array of U.N. and Arab League resolutions and fierce opposition from all factions on the Palestinian spectrum. It would also violate one of the precepts of the Kerry initiative -- that a comprehensive peace agreement must address the problem of the refugees in the Palestinian diaspora.

But bringing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into the tiny area of the West Bank, which lies a few miles from the heartland of the Jewish state, alarms many Israelis almost as much as bringing them to Tel Aviv. If the new Palestinian state in the West Bank descends into the anarchy and factional warfare that exists today in Syria and in camps like Ain al-Helwe, how can this bring peace to Israel? If Jerusalem becomes the capital of both states and a city undivided by walls, how will the swarms of jihadists that the agreement will import to the West Bank be stopped from bringing violence to Israeli towns and villages?

President Barack Obama said in June 2011 that a "lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples: Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people."

Now, John Kerry faces the tall task of implementing this well-intentioned principle without planting a Palestinian time bomb in the West Bank.



The Moscow Missile Mystery

Is Russia actually violating the INF Treaty?

In December 1987, Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signed the treaty on intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF), a landmark agreement that banned an entire class of U.S. and Soviet nuclear weapons. The agreement put the brakes on a spiraling arms race, but this week brings worrying news that -- just over two decades later -- Russia may be actively going back on its word. Questions have arisen as to whether Russia has tested missiles in violation of the treaty's terms, most recently in a Jan. 30 story in the New York Times. Some claims are spurious; others appear more serious.

If Moscow has developed a prohibited INF missile, it will have implications for U.S.-Russia arms control. But it will have even more important implications for Russia's relations with its neighbors in Europe and Asia, including China.

The INF Treaty banned all U.S. and Soviet land-based ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (300 to 3,400 miles). When the treaty's reduction period concluded in June 1991, 846 American and 1,846 Soviet missiles had been eliminated, as well as their associated launchers and other equipment. The treaty's intrusive verification measures pioneered provisions incorporated into the 1991 Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I).

There have been periodic charges -- often made by critics of the Obama administration's arms control policy -- that Russia has violated the INF Treaty's terms. (Russia took on Soviet treaty obligations after the USSR's collapse at the end of 1991.) Up until now, most charges have focused on the RS-26 ballistic missile. Those charges have no basis.

Critics have expressed concern that the RS-26 has flown to intermediate ranges, which apparently it has. But the Russians have also tested the RS-26 to ranges greater than 5,500 kilometers. That makes it an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) subject to the limits of the 2010 New START agreement. New START defines ICBMs as land-based ballistic missiles "with a range in excess of 5500 kilometers," whereas the INF Treaty bans land-based missiles with ranges "in excess of 500 kilometers" but "not in excess of 5500 kilometers." These definitions clearly make the RS-26 an ICBM.

It is a simple fact of physics that an ICBM can be flown to a range of less than 5,500 kilometers. When concluding the INF Treaty, the Reagan administration well understood that fact. Indeed, U.S. officials assumed that the Soviets would plan to use some of their ICBMs against time-urgent targets in Europe and Asia as they eliminated their INF missiles.

Less information is available regarding a more recent charge, that Russia has tested a ground-launched intermediate-range cruise missile. This appears more serious. Acting Undersecretary of State Rose Gottemoeller told NATO allies in mid-January about the missile and U.S. concerns, which Washington has been raising with Moscow -- thus far, apparently, to no satisfactory end.

Barack Obama's administration appears reluctant to call this a treaty violation, at least publicly. It may wish to allow more time to resolve the question, or push Moscow on other matters. Such issues have been settled in the past, often through private diplomacy. The Reagan administration for years pressed its concern that a large phased-array radar system in central Siberia violated the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty; the Soviets ultimately agreed to tear it down.

It is little secret that some quarters in Moscow have long had objections to the INF Treaty. In February 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed concern that Russia and the United States were barred from having INF missiles while other countries could have them. At the same time, Sergei Ivanov, then minister of defense and now chief of Putin's presidential administration, called the INF Treaty a mistake. More recently, however, Russian officials have seemed more comfortable with the treaty. In May 2012, the chief of the Russian General Staff explicitly ruled out withdrawal.

If the charge regarding the ground-launched cruise missile is true, it will have implications for U.S.-Russia arms control, bringing into question Moscow's good faith in meeting treaty obligations. Capitol Hill critics wasted little time in using the New York Times story to challenge the administration's entire approach to arms control, even with regard to the Iran nuclear deal and arrangements to destroy Syria's chemical weapons. While there may be a serious compliance issue regarding the INF Treaty, the sides appear to be smoothly implementing New START. The Russians already meet two of the treaty's three limits on strategic forces -- even though those limits do not kick in until February 2018.

An INF Treaty violation would add yet another problem to a broader U.S.-Russia agenda that already has its fair share of problems. It is an issue that the administration nevertheless has to pursue seriously, as it apparently is doing with Moscow.

An intermediate-range cruise missile would have more important implications for Russia's neighbors. Such a weapons system would be explicitly designed to hold at risk and strike targets in Europe and Asia.

Russia's relations with Europe have soured recently, as concerns have grown over Putin's authoritarian tendencies, Moscow's aggressive behavior in the post-Soviet space, and the monopolistic practices of energy giant Gazprom. The Jan. 28 EU-Russia summit was cut to just three hours. EU leaders -- including in Germany, which traditionally has strived to maintain a friendly relationship with Russia -- will hardly welcome the prospect of new Russian nuclear weapons targeting their countries.

A Russian intermediate-range cruise missile would raise concern in Asia as well. It could cool the recent warming trend in Russia-Japan relations. And it would do little good for Russian relations with China. Beijing often plays the role of Moscow's partner on international questions and never appears on the official Russian list of security concerns. But few things worry the Russian leadership more than the growth of the Chinese economy and the concomitant buildup of Chinese military power. Indeed, if there is a new Russian missile, Beijing's rise may well be the motivating factor.

New intermediate-range nuclear arms would spark concerns among all of Russia's neighbors, especially as the Russian military already has some 4,500 nuclear weapons -- well more than 10 times the number of nuclear weapons that any country (other than the United States) has. Moscow will not have an easy time explaining this. If the reports of the new cruise missiles are true, the Russians are buying themselves more than just a new problem with Washington.