“This needs to be big enough to make a real difference and get at the heart of the problem” US Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson [Times Online 20 September 2008] - The Paulson Prognosis
The threat of a world economic meltdown does wonders in helping concentrate the mind on how to resolve the intractable 130 years old conflict between Arabs and Jews over a piece of land once called Palestine that today comprises two sovereign States - Jordan and Israel - and two tiny slivers of land that currently belong to no one - the West Bank and Gaza.
It has taken a roller coaster week of unprecedented turmoil, crises and upheaval for Governments, their central banks and stock exchanges to realise that unquantified wads of money - not just pocket money - had to be thrown at resolving - and thereby avoiding - a world financial crisis that threatened outcomes last experienced in the Great Depression 80 years ago.
Finding the vast amount required - estimated to eventually exceed US$ 1 trillion - was not seen as being an option or even negotiable but as an absolute essential to ending the crisis for one simple reason - the alternative of risking a world recession and global shutdown could simply not be countenanced.
United States Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson was the one to successfully deliver this unpleasant - but totally necessary - prognosis.
The unresolved Arab-Jewish conflict with its sinister overtones of possible nuclear war and surging oil prices threatens the health of the very world economies and societies that today only continue to survive because of the Paulson Prognosis.
Billions of dollars have already been spent over the last 60 years - as a consequence of the war in 1948 between Israel and six invading Arab armies - in perpetuating the only refugee crisis in the world that apparently appears incapable of resolution by resettlement and rehabilitation.
The cash budget for 2008 approved by the General Assembly of the United Nations for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) is a staggering US$ 541.8 million. Preservation of refugee status - not its elimination - remains a cardinal tenet of its continued and privileged existence.
Since October 2000, UNRWA has launched Emergency Appeals to the donor community to fund the Agency’s Emergency Programmes in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. From October 2000 until December 2007, the Agency received a total of US$826.6 million in pledges, which was less than two-thirds of the amount requested. In December 2007, UNRWA launched an appeal for US$ 237.7 million to cover the cost of its emergency activities in 2008. In May 2008 the requirement was revised and increased to US$ 263.4 million. Against 2008 Appeal UNRWA received US$ 128.3 million in pledges as of 31 May 2008. [http://www.un.org/unrwa/finances/index.html]
Additionally billions of dollars - US$7 billion pledged in Paris alone in December 2007 - have been spent by the international community since 1993 in a concerted effort to create conditions for a new Arab state to be established between Israel and Jordan, to resettle and rehabilitate there those Arabs made refugees in 1948 and their descendants and to end the state of war between Israel and its Arab adversaries.
This money has been misappropriated, badly spent, poorly directed, irresponsibly controlled and has not had the slightest impact in achieving any of these objectives - which remain as unattainable now as they have for the last 60 years.
The uncertain nature of Iran’s current nuclear program, its threats to eliminate Israel and Israel’s refusal to become a sacrificial lamb constitute a potent cocktail that could well risk a world nuclear meltdown on a scale that would make this past week’s threatened economic meltdown pale into insignificance.
Can the international community continue to stand by and take the risk that this will not happen - possibly as early as within the next six months?
As we have seen this past week, events can take a very sudden turn for the worse after a slow period of gestation - which in hindsight probably justified action being taken far earlier, with less fallout and at possibly much less cost than had to be found this week to ensure the world’s economic survival.
President Bush’s Road Map was a sincere and well intended attempt to resolve the Arab-Jewish conflict. Its failure to get to first base after six years of trying has proved it to be totally ineffective as a cure. The writing has been on the wall for at least four years but the international community has closed its eyes, allowed the conflict to deteriorate and the rhetoric to increase.
It is abundantly clear that a huge amount of money needs to be strategically targeted and urgently spent to make a real difference by getting at the heart of the problem before it once again suddenly degenerates into outright war with possible nuclear as well as economic consequences world wide as its legacies.
The Security Council of the United Nations needs to unanimously resolve taking the following steps to resolve the conflict as a matter of grave urgency:
1. Setting up an international claims tribunal with sufficient funds to process and pay all claims made by
(a) Arabs from Palestine and Jews from Arab countries who became refugees as a result of the Arab - Israeli War in 1948 - and their descendants.
(b) Current host countries in resettling and rehabilitating those refugees now living within their national boundaries and closing down and demolishing any existing refugee camps.
2. Declaring that any claimed right of return by any refugee or his descendants to his original country of origin is deemed abandoned on settlement of his claim.
3. Immediately dissolving UNWRA and transferring its budget and responsibilities to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
4. Establishing an International Boundaries Commission to redraw the international boundaries between Jordan, Israel and Egypt with the participation and joint consent and approval of all three countries to such new boundaries.
The old saying - “when life gives you lemons - make lemonade” - is surely one that the international community should heed at this point of time. It is going to be a very expensive drink indeed but its cost pales into insignificance compared to the medicine that awaits us if we don’t.