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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

History is irrelevant: Why Palestinian Arabs can never accept a Jewish State

In the Palestine Papers we find that, already in 2007, the PLO created a memo to fight against the very concept of a Jewish state. It gives a number of reasons, but one stands out:
Recognizing the Jewish state implies recognition of a Jewish people and recognition of its right to self-determination. Those who assert this right also assert that the territory historically associated with this right of self-determination (i.e., the self-determination unit) is all of Historic Palestine. Therefore, recognition of the Jewish people and their right of self-determination may lend credence to the Jewish people’s claim to all of Historic Palestine.
Notice the cynicism on display by the PLO. The actual truth that there is a Jewish people is too inconvenient for them, because if there is a Jewish people then they have the right to self-determination, which conflicts with the Palestinian Arab version of history. So it is better to pretend that there is no such people.

Facts and history are thrown away so that the PLO can strengthen their supposed claims.

A recent article in the Institute for Palestine Studies by former PLO negotiator Ahmad Samih Khalidi takes an even more hardline approach to the topic, and is in some ways even more cynical. It is entitled "Why Can’t the Palestinians Recognize the Jewish State?"

[I]f Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people, then the lands that it occupies today (and perhaps more, for there are as yet no borders to this “homeland”) belong to this people by way of right. And if these lands rightfully comprise the Jewish homeland, then the Arab presence there becomes historically aberrant and contingent; the Palestinians effectively become historic interlopers and trespassers—a transient presence on someone else’s national soil.

This is not a moot or exaggerated point. It touches on the very core of the conflict and its genesis. Indeed, it is the heart of the Zionist claim to Palestine: Palestine belongs to the Jews and their right to the land is antecedent and superior to that of the Arabs. This is what Zionism is all about, and what justifies both the Jewish return to the land and the dispossession of its Arab inhabitants.

Clearly, this is not the Palestinian Arab narrative, nor can it be. Palestinians do not believe that the historical Jewish presence in and connection to the land entail a superior claim to it. Palestine as our homeland was established in the course of over fifteen hundred years of continuous Arab-Muslim presence; it was only by superior force and colonial machination that we were eventually dispossessed of it. For us to adopt the Zionist narrative would mean that the homes that our forefathers built, the land that they tilled for centuries, and the sanctuaries they built and prayed at were not really ours at all, and that our defense of them was morally flawed and wrongful: we had no right to any of these to begin with.

The demand for the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people has yet another dimension. It places the moral burden of the conflict on the Palestinians, and consequently, not only exonerates Israel from the dubious moral circumstances of its birth but makes the Palestinians the historical transgressors. Indeed, by refusing to accept the Jewish claim to the land, we are to blame for what has befallen us: had we accepted Israel’s claim during the Mandate years, the entire conflict could have been averted; we should simply have handed the land “back” to its rightful owners from the time that they began to articulate, at the dawn of the twentieth century, their interest in it as an actual—rather than spiritual—homeland. From this perspective, it is Arab rejection that caused the conflict and not the Zionist transgression against Arab land and rights. This is of course precisely why this Israeli government and its most ardent Zionist supporters want to wrest this recognition from the Palestinians, as it would absolve Israel of its “original sin” and delegitimize the Palestinians’ version of their own history.

Taking this reasoning to its logical (if extreme) conclusion, recognition would give Israel the right to demand a measure of retributive justice. If the Palestinians caused the conflict, they should pay for their “sins”: the Palestinian refugees should not be compensated for their dispossession, and the Palestinian people as a whole should lose any claim to equality or equivalence in any political settlement premised on supposedly painful or generous Israeli concessions.
In both these cases the arguments are simple: If the Jewish people have a right to self-determination in their historic homeland, then it places Palestinian Arabs at a political disadvantage. Therefore, they cannot accept it.

Even if it is true.

Facts are not the currency being traded here. History is optional and can be discarded when inconvenient. The overriding concern is not to find the truth, or even a way to reconcile two narratives - it is to utterly reject the ancient, unbroken Jewish claim to the Land of Israel, no matter what the truth is. And in both these examples, the reasons given are not because Palestinian Arabs have a superior claim to the land - it is because  the [implicitly but clearly] superior, antecedent Jewish claim is incompatible with modern Palestinian Arab nationalistic goals.

In short, the truth is not in the Palestinian Arab interest, so it must be discarded.

(See also my earlier essay on this PLO memo.)