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Monday, March 03, 2008

Do the Palestinian Arabs want an independent state?

The world media often portray Palestinian Arab terror as a manifestation of their desire for "independence." It is perhaps natural that, in the Western world, such calls are met with sympathy, as independence is often used as a synonym for "freedom."

The only problem is that the desire for independence is not very strong among Palestinian Arabs.

In the 2006 PA elections, Hamas won a plurality of the vote and a majority of the seats in the PA parliament. Hamas, like all Islamist movements, does not call for Palestinian Arab independence, rather it calls for a pan-Arab Islamic 'ummah. Israel's existence on what Hamas considers holy Muslim land is the biggest obstacle to such unified Muslim nation; as such its first job is to eliminate Israel. But the point isn't to establish a state there except as perhaps an interim step; its goal, as part of the Muslim Brotherhood, is to overthrow all secularist Arab governments to create a large Islamic nation. This is what it calls "nationalism" in its charter.

On the other side of the spectrum, the recent death of George Habash gave us all a reminder that the goal of his Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine was, for most of its existence, dedicated to socialist pan-Arabism, not to Palestinian Arab nationalism.

As recently as two weeks ago, the perennial threat of Palestinian Arabs unilaterally declaring independence was brought up by DFLP head Yasser Abd Rabbo, but Abbas' reaction to the idea is instructive:
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ruled out on Wednesday any unilateral declaration of statehood in the near future, responding to an aide's call to take the step if peace talks with Israel continued to falter.

"We will pursue negotiations in order to reach a peace agreement during 2008 that includes the settlement of all final status issues including Jerusalem," Abbas said in a statement.

"But if we cannot achieve that, and we reach a deadlock, we will go back to our Arab nation to take the necessary decision at the highest level," he said, without mentioning any options.

It will be remembered that the PLO at its inception was not interested in an independent Palestinian Arab state either, and of course during the Jordanian annexation of the West Bank there was essentially no interest in an independent Palestinian Arab state on Arab territory (except for the factions that advocated the overthrow of Jordan.) The 1968 Palestinian National Charter pointedly did not call for an independent state, rather "self-determination." Abbas is continuing on in that tradition by saying that even a unilateral declaration of independence can only be taken with approval of the larger "Arab nation," a mythical construct that most Arab nations pretend allegiance to in their own constitutions, and his words today are echoes of those in that 1968 Charter.

While the tactics have changed, it is hard to escape the conclusion that even current calls for an independent Palestinian Arab state are not so much for the ideals of freedom and independence as for a stage towards the destruction of Israel. And if you add together the votes tallied for various parties in the 2006 PA elections, it appears that a majority of Palestinian Arabs themselves voted for parties that do not advocate - or only recently pretend to advocate - an independent Palestinian Arab state.

And even those who would disagree with this analysis must admit that Gazans have overwhelmingly supported the anti-nationalist goals of Hamas, and the current escalation of hostilities from Gaza are purely meant to hurt Israel, not to advance the cause of Palestinian Arab independence nor to build an independent state.