THE KURDISH EXAMPLE FOR PALESTINE:
For years the Kurds were my favorite lost cause. I do not mean this at all cynically. I gave to Kurdish charities. I wrote about them, and others wrote about them in TNR, too. I bored dinner table conversations about the justice of their cause and the injustice of their oppressors. What the Dalai Lama was to Richard Gere (forgive my pretension), the Kurds were to me. But Tibet is truly a lost cause, having fallen into the grisly grip of the Chinese who will never let go. Never.
But I don't want to compare the Kurds to the Tibetans who have no one but celebrities behind them, and people driving Volvos. I want to compare the Kurds to the Palestinians. This comparison arose in the middle of a public discussion last night with Martin Kramer, a fellow at the Olin Center for International Studies at Harvard University. He and his audience were talking about the United States in the Middle East after Iraq. One of Kramer's points was that the Middle East was about to break down, whether we like it or not. Another was that the "city-state" will be a more common form of government than what it is now. And, in the discussion, it became clear that Kurdistan, whether it had formal independence or not, was a real state and its people were a real people.
So my lost cause was no longer a lost cause. And those who loved the Kurds, but never loved them the most, have also been rewarded for whatever decent loyalty they had and expressed. The fact is that, aside from us lost causers, nobody really wanted the Kurds to have a state, which they did have for less than a year after World War II until the Soviets turned on them and the U.S. did not help. So some people loved the Kurds but everybody got an acid attack when the name Kurdistan was mentioned.
Still, consciously or not, and I believe consciously, the Kurds followed the example of what the Zionists did from the twenties on. For several decades, even under the raging reign of Saddam Hussein, they built an educational system and a health system, they had a working Kurdish government that no one recognized, they paid attention to all of the requirements for civil society. There is a vibrant economy and it is generating serious foreign investment. It is true that, for the last dozen years or so, their ambitious ventures were implicitly and explicitly carried out under the protection of the U.S. Yet it was as if nobody noticed. The international system paid no attention, except to warn that there should not be a Kurdish state. There should not be a Kurdish state. There really should not be a Kurdish state. Yet there is a Kurdish state, and it will get along with Turkey.
Contrast the Kurds with the Palestinians. Everyone is passionate for a Palestinian state. There have been at least two declarations of independence proclaiming it. 120-odd countries have already recognized the state of Palestine. The Palestinians have embassies all over the world, and the world's countries have representation in it. Even the government of Israel wants there to be a Palestine, and three of the previous governments have also expressed support and worked for a Palestinian state. In fact, I suppose I want a Palestinian state, too. But the Palestinians don't have a state, and it's not because Israel failed to give them one or negotiate one with them.
The contrast is startling: no one wants a Kurdish state and yet there is one. Everyone wants a Palestinian state, people are willing to die for it and, what's worse, kill for it. Mahmud Abbas is president of the state, and there is an elected parliament with a designated prime minister and a "unity" government. But let's face it: the state of Palestine simply does not exist. There is even a question as to whether the Palestinian people really exists, except in the realm of conflicted ideology. That is not enough. I'll wager a bet. The Kurds will be represented as a state in international councils long before the people of Palestine stop killing each other.
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