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Transfer: Not a Solution

There is a difference between voluntary and involuntary transfer.

A number of historic precedents point to transfer as a viable solution to territorial dispute, provided it is carried out by mutual consent.

In an effort to end the Balkan Wars at the beginning of the 19th century, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey agreed to exchange their minority populations in the Treaties of San Stephano (1878), Constantinople (1913) and Neuilly (1919). However, the major exchange of population (transfer) took place between Greece and Turkey in order that a permanent border could be set between the longtime enemies.

Endorsed by the Treaty of Lausanne (1922) and drawn up by the League of Nations, the transfer agreement fixed the terms by which the international community could restore ties with Turkey, which had been defeated in WWI. One of the major signatories was Elefterios Venizelos, Greece's elder statesman, six times the country's prime minister.

Altogether 1.25 million Greeks from Asia Minor and Eastern Thrace were transferred to Greece, and nearly 500,000 Turks, primarily from Macedonia and Epirus, were transferred to Turkey. This project was organized and supervised by the celebrated Norwegian Arctic explorer Fridtjof Nansen, winner of the 1922 Nobel Prize for his humanitarian activities.

Grasimos Apostolatos, former minister in the Greek government, presently head of The Society for the Study of Greek History, admits in his Annual Report (Athens, 2001) that the project of transferring some 1.25 million Greeks to their ancestral homeland was a painful one, but only such a radical solution could end the conflict. It took a few years for the integration of the displaced persons into the local economy, but the ultimate result was positive, and Greece emerged from the experience stronger and more prosperous.

Henry Morgenthau, the first president of the Refugee Settlement Committee, described the arrival in Salonica of a boatload of Greek refugees from Turkey. "I saw 7000 people crowded in a ship that would have been taxed with a normal capacity of 2000. They were packed like sardines upon the deck - a squirming, writhing mass of human misery." (This has an eerie parallel with the arrival of ships to Israel, bearing waves of Holocaust survivors, including the famous "Exodus," prevented from docking by the British.)

The India-Pakistan venture
The largest population transfer yet was effected when Pakistan split from India on August 15, 1947. Eight million Hindus and six million Muslims were involved, and perhaps a million died in a painful but necessary operation that had broad international support. Despite the enormous number of refugees and the relative poverty of both nations, no international relief organizations were established to aid in the resettlement. (It was a grave historical error that the area of Kashmir, in dispute today, was overlooked, thus leaving a festering wound in the relations between the two countries.)

The refugees resettled, and a new generation grew up considering itself native to its new home - both Indians and Pakistanis having made the pragmatic decision to start afresh. Pakistan's President, Gen. Pervez Musharaf, was one such refugee, having been been born in New Delhi and transferred to Pakistan at the age of four, along with his family.

The idea of "transfer" had been nurtured by leading statesmen even before 1942. Many Western and Arab leaders alike favored transferring the Arab population of Palestine to neighboring states.

In 1927, Iraq's King Faisal I spoke of "Muslim Arab peasants from Syria and Palestine" coming to cultivate the vast expanses of unoccupied Iraqi land.

By 1942, Franklin D. Roosevelt told his Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau Jr., "I would provide land for the Arabs in some other part of the Middle East... There are lots of places to which you could move the Arabs."

In 1945, Herbert Hoover proposed the recovery of some 3 million acres of land in Iraq for the resettlement of the Arabs of Mandatory Western Palestine. "Palestine itself," he wrote, "could be turned over to Jewish immigrants in search of a homeland."

In 1947, Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri Sa'id suggested exchanging the Jewish population of Baghdad for an equal number of Israeli Arabs.

Not a viable solution
In view of the conditions presently prevailing in the region, voluntary transfer by mutual consent is not a viable solution in the foreseeable future for several reasons:

  • The Arab states categorically oppose the idea of absorbing the refugees despite the wide spaces of their domain.
  • A considerable number of refugees insist on returning to their ancestral homes, be it in Jaffa, Haifa, Safed or Tiberias.
  • The term "transfer" has acquired a negative connotation and the international community will not support it.
  • It has absolutely no chance of UN support, unlike the Greek-Turkish project which was endorsed by the League of Nations.
  • A vast majority of Israelis reject the idea.

- The Jerusalem Post, November 20, 2001, Moshe Kohn, quoting International Proposals to transfer Arabs from Palestine 1895/1947, Ktav 1988
- Valuing Palestinian Losses in Today's Dollars, Atif Kubursi
- Palestine Refugees and The Right of Return (Pluto Press, London, 2001)
- The General Situation in Asia and the Far East (UN, Hong Kong and London, 1957)
- The New York Times, August 15, 1947
- Chutzpah (Little, Brown; 1991)

 

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