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Healing Palestinian wounds

The United States has appointed outgoing World Bank President James Wolfensohn as a special envoy to the Palestinian Authority, to help it build the economy of a future democratic state that will live peacefully alongside Israel.

Wolfensohn’s appointment – he begins work June 1, the day after he leaves the World Bank – is an important signal to the world, especially the Arab world, that President George W. Bush is determined to pursue the cause of Middle East peace by offering real solutions.

Just as he did in Afghanistan and Iraq, Bush can take the lead and orchestrate a coalition that will this time declare economic war on the Palestinian refugee problem and solve it once and for all.

Israel has shown the world how it can look after its own, taking in some 800,000 Jewish refugees from the Arab countries and absorbing over a million Jewish immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

It’s time to tell the Arab countries that have kept Palestinians in “refugee” camps for 60 years that they must take the opportunity to end this human tragedy by helping the Palestinians to take care of their own. All that is needed is for the right amount of money to go to the right people.

To this end, an economic summit should be held with the goal of raising the money to build housing, hospitals, schools, and to create jobs in the Palestinian Authority territories. With the world now paying over $50 for a barrel of oil, the Saudis and other oil-producing Arab states have untold billions in windfall money to contribute to the cause. It is time to build Habitat for Humanity communities for Palestine’s people, and shut down the refugee camps.

The money has to be managed and monitored by the parties who donate it. Fostering economic stability in the Palestinian Authority will go a long way in providing the foundation for democratic life.

The world must not allow the Arab countries to play the Palestinian refugee card anymore. For 60 years, Arab policy has been to keep Palestinians as refugees, denying them the right to citizenship even though generations of Palestinians have been born in camps in every Arab country. To this day, the Arab League opposes settling homeless Palestinians from the Gaza Strip in homes to be abandoned this summer by Israeli settlers.

When will the Arab nations accept responsibility for caring for their own? Their only use for Palestinian refugees is as a weapon to destroy Israel demographically, by flooding Israel under some phony “right of return” – as if they had the right to outnumber Israel’s Jews and thereby destroy it as the Jewish state. Palestinian rights cannot come at the expense of Israel’s right to exist.

The first priority of the Palestinian Authority under Chairman Mahmoud Abbas is still the total cessation of violence. Unless he succeeds in consolidating power based on the rule of law – which requires dismantling the terrorist infrastructure – there can be little hope for Palestinian democracy. However, unless the Palestinian Authority gets the aid it needs, the second democracy in the Middle East after Israel will be stillborn.

A further danger exists in that, if the crisis of the Palestinians continues to be ignored by their fellow Arabs, a vacuum of terrorism will be created that the Iranians, through Hezbollah, and al-Qaida will rush to fill, along with Palestinian groups. Such resurgent terrorism could engulf the entire region and have worldwide repercussions. The time is past when Arab despots could use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as an excuse for the misery of their own people. It is time to follow America’s lead and solve the problem.