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Thursday, August 11, 2005

Palestinians do not want a state (Ehud Ya'ari)

An Israeli centrist looks at reality.
Do the Palestinians genuinely want a little state of their own? And if so, can they stand up on their own two feet, muster their strength, and shape up for the necessary effort? The answers will soon be in - straight after the disengagement is completed - and they may well turn out to be different than those expected. The Palestinian leadership, it may transpire, is not so keen on the independence that's being offered it, and either way, it may lack the energy required to reach that goal.

Only then will we know whether the call for a Palestinian state within the lands captured by Israel in 1967 is merely a slogan, a battle cry or a real political platform, just a banner to be waved in defiance and to rally support, or a national agenda.

Posing these questions is sure to infuriate many. Is it conceivable that the Palestinians do not yearn, as any other nation would, for a sovereign state? After all, the demand for the establishment of a state in the West Bank and Gaza has been the core of their struggle against Israel, at least for the last 30 years, and the justification for the tremendous sacrifices they have made - thousands killed, tens of thousands wounded and imprisoned, economic disaster, social
collapse.

That all makes sense, but the conclusion does not necessarily fit the facts. And the truth is that under the abundance of familiar rhetoric, not much heartfelt enthusiasm is discernible. There's no doubt that the Palestinians have had more than enough of Israel and the occupation, the hated roadblocks and the economic exploitation. Yes, they want to free themselves from all that. But they are not sure, or at least more and more of them are not convinced, that establishing a little state is the right way to go about it. If the price of the independence of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, even if East Jerusalem is thrown in to the package, is to be fenced out of Israel, with the gates to be opened only when the Jews want them opened, Palestinian feet begin getting cold.

There is no great faith on the other side that there is much chance that a state can be established in the foreseeable future in which one would feel good to be a citizen, or more appropriately, a subject. Despite the flow of foreign aid, average Palestinians cannot look forward to prosperity. They are aware of the great difficulty entailed in overcoming the prolonged anarchy that has become a way of life, they are frightened of the internecine bloodbath that may take place, they are anxious that not only Israel will distance itself from them, in line with its strategy of unilateralism, but that their Arab neighbors too will keep them at arm's length, as Egypt and Jordan have been doing for years.

Therefore, many of my Palestinian acquaintances are asking themselves, what's the use of a state of their own that will become, in their own eyes, a sovereign cage? What's more, they may well ask, wouldn't continuing confrontation with Israel - with all the heavy, daily price to be paid - also offer substantial advantages? Wouldn't burying the hatchet signify reconciliation with too little? If this is so, would it not be better not to disengage from Israel,
and instead to continue holding on to it in a bloody embrace, to fall into its unwilling arms in exhaustion? And the state? The state can wait.

This train of thought has not yet been expressed publicly. Indeed, even Hamas, for whom the little state has never been its heart's desire, declares that it is ready to accept it, although of course not to pay for it with peace or - perish the thought - recognition of the State of Israel. This is also the mood in the ranks of important parts of the Fatah movement. A state? Surely, but only under terms that leave open the option of resuming the conflict - no security barrier, no waiving of the "right of return," no agreement to Israel's retention of "settlement blocs." And, Palestinian leaders of the highest rank say in private conversations, if such a state is not immediately attainable, why, there's no reason to rush.

The bottom line is that there are more Israelis eager to see a Palestinian state than Palestinians who want to part from the Israelis. There are many Israelis, and I am among them, who believe that a two-state solution is much better than the Oslo system of two governments in one country, but the Palestinians prefer the latter system, which gives them a regime and armed forces, but without an agreed-upon permanent border.

This is why in the Gaza Strip - whatever the circumstances of the withdrawal - the Palestinians will strive to preserve a close link to Israel. Instead of trying to turn their backs on the erstwhile occupiers, they will do their best to tie themselves to them. The de facto independence that they will achieve without paying any price will not be used to construct a model of successful sovereignty, but rather a base for the struggle for the West Bank and Jerusalem. They will refuse to see the withdrawal as an end either to the occupation of the Strip or to the terrorist activity emanating from it. Listen to Abu Mazen himself: Israel, he says, is "getting out" of Gaza, definitely not "withdrawing."

Israel's aim is to make the Gaza Strip a foreign country, to cut itself off from it, and to have little to do with it. The Palestinians will resist this, insisting that it is not a separate entity, but merely a mutation of the system of two governments within the same country.
As Bill Clinton famously said, "It's the economy, stupid." The entire reason there are a significant number of Palestinian Arabs today are because most of their grandparents moved into the area in the early 1900s to take advantage of the booming economy in Palestine caused by the Zionists who moved there. Thousands more illegally moved from Jordan to the West Bank in the 1990s in anticipation of the economic fruits of Oslo. Arabs throughout history have shown very little allegiance to nations, moving freely between areas of the Middle East as necessary, wherever they could get jobs to provide for their families.

And it is clear to the ordinary Palestinian Arab that they stand to be in better economic shape while they are under "occupation." Not to mention the medical and educational services provided to them by the "hated" Jews.

This article, however, goes beyond that to the psyche of the "leaders." I would argue that Ya'ari is downplaying some other reasons that Palestinian leaders do not want a state - the fact that Israel still exists and is still a cultural/economic/military powerhouse is always going to bother Arabs who see the dhimmis succeed wildly in areas that they themselves could not. It is a painful blow to Arab pride, and nothing short of Israel's destruction can make them feel better. He touches on the fact that the Arab leaders want to continue fighting Israel but he does not make it clear why it makes sense - economics doesn't explain it, because obviously while a terror campaign is happening, Arabs are not going to be employed by Israelis.

The only thing that explains the absurdity of the Palestinian leaders' seeming cluelessness is the fact that, simply, they hate Jews in positions of power.

Chaim Weizmann said "We'd accept a state the size of a tablecloth." That is how a statesman acts, that is how someone who desires freedom and independence acts. This is not even close to how the Palestinian leadership acts.

Unfortunately, while Gaza will prove that Palestinians do not want a state, the world will take away a completely different conclusion - that the failure of Gaza will be due for some reason to Israel rather than the Palestinians.