If peace doesn't work, there's plan B

Ilan Charsky, a lawyer who helps clients apply for Polish citizenship.

TEXT OF STORY

KAI RYSSDAL: The White House is trying hard to lower expectation for its Middle East peace summit. The national security adviser said yesterday that President Bush won't be offering any of his own ideas. The president will open the summit in Annapolis, Maryland tomorrow morning with a big speech.

There have been road maps for peace before that have ended in diplomatic cul-de-sacs, or that were derailed by violence. Which makes peace perhaps the most elusive commodity in Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Daniel Estrin reports from Tel Aviv that some Israelis have decided violence makes it worth paying for a plan to get out.


NEWS CLIP: The countdown to Israel's destruction has begun, according to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad . . . injuring scores of soldiers, they are preparing for an Israeli military operation.

DANIEL ESTRIN: This is the kind of doomsday script that could make the ultimate reality show. In fact, there's an upcoming TV series called "HaTarkhish, the Scenario." It poses hypothetical disaster situations, and there are certainly no shortage of those here. The show asks experts how to respond, or flee. Ilan Charsky is a lawyer who helps Israelis apply for Polish citizenship. The show's producers asked him how he, or his clients for example, might escape if they were given 48 hours notice of an Iranian nuclear attack.

ILAN CHARSKY: At least my clients will run to their desks, pick up their Polish passports, jump into their cars and will drive as quickly as possible to the Ben-Gurion Airport.

OK, this is the extreme scenario. It makes good prime-time TV. But it's also jump-starting a serious passport business in Israel. In the past four years, Jews who had fled European countries during World War II, have been taking advantage of E.U. rules to get their citizenship back. That applies to their children, and grandchildren too. One out of five Israelis meet the requirements, and tens of thousands are jumping at the opportunity. And that means more business for Charsky.

CHARSKY: People come here and say, "My daughter wants to spend a couple of years in London. Maybe she'll be a waitress there. Maybe she'll work in Marks and Spencer, make a little money. Will come back. Will marry." It's a global world today. So it's nice that people have this opportunity. It's really nice.

But immediately after the 2006 Lebanese-Israeli War, Charsky noticed a 150 percent jump in new clients, and they're still pouring into his office.

HAGAI STROHWEISS: We are the minority in this region, and you never know what will be the future.

Hagai Strohweiss is Charsky's client. He started the paperwork before the war with Lebanon, and he says he's not panicked. He's just covering all the bases for his children.

STROHWEISS: If I can give them a kind of insurance policy, you can call it, a second home, if you can call it, that they can leave, go to university as equal citizens, why not? You have to be ready. You always have to have plan B. Whether it's a war or not. This is plan B.

Not everyone succumbs to catastrophic thinking. Hagar Bar-Yosef, a 24-year-old law student, is waiting to hear back about her Hungarian citizenship. For her, there's no rush.

HAGAR BAR-YOSEF: The purpose of getting a passport is just, maybe in the future I will have, if I will want to work or to study. But there's no need to get in panic. We've been through all, so we're going to be OK.

Hagar is keeping her cool, but Charsky's newest clients are preparing themselves for the worst.

CHARSKY: The reasons that they are coming today are very, very painful for me. I love this country very much, and I wish that all this apocalyptic feelings, whatever, will become just bad dream.

Families are shelling out about $5,000 for "plan B," which means business is booming. But Charsky is the rare lawyer who wishes he had a shorter client list.

From Tel Aviv, I'm Daniel Estrin for Marketplace.

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