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Instant peace in the Middle East

Three years ago, House Majority Leader Dick Armey; (R-Texas); said on MSNBC’s Hardball that the Palestinians should be expelled from the occupied territories. He was happy with the idea of a Palestinian state, as long as it wasn’t in Israel. There are, he pointed out, “many Arab nations that have many hundreds of thousands of acres of land,” and they should give some to the Palestinians.

This seems like the perfect solution, creating a homeland for the Palestinians and removing their proximal threat to Israel. The only flaw in Armey’s idea is the burden it places on the Arab states. After all, most of these countries are small, dry and desolate, with burgeoning population problems of their own—they’re scarcely in a position to absorb millions of Palestinian refugees. So I’ve come up with a modest proposal of my own.

Let’s resettle the Palestinians in South Dakota.

Now at first glance this seems a little impractical, I admit. South Dakota after all has a miserable climate, dropping to -30 degrees in winter and climbing to 110 degrees in August. Much of it is dry and barren. But in fact it’s not half bad compared to the Occupied Territories. The average rainfall is 20 inches a year, nearly twice that of the West Bank. The soil is fairly fertile, there are permanent rivers and more than a million acres of Ponderosa pine forest.

Now I’m not suggesting turning the whole state (population 800,000) over to the Palestinians—that would be ridiculous. Just the east bank of the Missouri, from the Black Hills to Pierre. That’s 150,000 square miles of frontier, bigger than Israel, Lebanon, Jordan and Syria combined. Those countries have a combined population of 33 million, but north/west South Dakota is essentially uninhabited—a handful of small towns, maybe 20,000 people in all. Plenty of room.

Of course, we still have to transport 4 million Palestinians there. The United States currently gives Israel $3 billion every year in foreign aid, so that’s our budget. After some bargain-hunting on Orbitz, I found that $3 billion will buy 4 million one-way tickets (low season) from Tel Aviv to Rapid City, many of them reduced child (2-14) fares. The Palestinians would all have to change planes in Minneapolis/St. Paul, but that’s a small price to pay for peace. I’ll bet with block bookings one could get some excellent discounts, so the relocation would probably come in under budget.

The money saved on air fares would then be enough to supply every Palestinian man, woman and child with either an axe, a shovel, a mule, or a bag of seed corn (their choice). There’s plenty of unused forest; they could get to work making log cabins right away, hardworking pioneers carving homesteads from the wilderness.

But wouldn’t Israel’s economy be crippled by cutting all U.S. foreign aid for a year? Not necessarily; remember, most of that money is spent on military hardware to suppress the problem we’d be removing. Israel would still have the fourth most powerful military on Earth (plus nukes!). They’ll make do for a year.

Setting up a vibrant, growing state next to South Dakota would invigorate its flagging economy—losing some underused territory would be a small price to pay for solving the Palestinian problem forever (after all, there’s no chance of them all moving back!). A few South Dakotans would need to be relocated for this promised land to be achieved, but the number wouldn’t really be that significant. It’s not like those reservations are their original tribal lands—how attached to them could they be? Maybe they could even find jobs in the Palestinian Free State of Dakota, commuting in each day. That would be swell.

Yes, South Dakota isn’t the Jordan Valley. Sure, we’d all like to live where our ancestors did. But as Dick Armey pointed out, “Most of the people who now populate Israel were transported from all over the world to that land, and they made it their home.” If they could do it, why can’t Palestinians?

Mike Dickison is a graduate student in zoology. His column appears other Wednesday.  


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