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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

On Palestinian Arab nationalism

I never fail to be amazed at how Thomas Friedman, who regards his writing as "brilliant," is so clueless.

His latest column shows how no matter how many years he has covered the Middle East, his understanding is still superficial.

I love both Israelis and Palestinians, but God save me from some of their American friends — those who want to love them to death, literally.

That thought came to mind last week when Newt Gingrich took the Republican competition to grovel for Jewish votes — by outloving Israel — to a new low by suggesting that the Palestinians are an “invented” people and not a real nation entitled to a state.

...If the 2.5 million West Bank Palestinians are not a real people entitled to their own state, that must mean Israel is entitled to permanently occupy the West Bank and that must mean — as far as Newt is concerned — that Israel’s choices are: 1) to permanently deprive the West Bank Palestinians of Israeli citizenship and put Israel on the road to apartheid; 2) to evict the West Bank Palestinians through ethnic cleansing and put Israel on the road to the International Criminal Court in the Hague; or 3) to treat the Palestinians in the West Bank as citizens, just like Israeli Arabs, and lay the foundation for Israel to become a binational state. And this is called being “pro-Israel”?
Gingrich announced clearly that he supports a two-state solution. This was reported, albeit snarkily, by Friedman's own newspaper. Apparently, Friedman's three choices are all equally wrong, as are his assertions of what Gingrich "must mean."

In fact, even Friedman seems to know that his position is hypocritical. Note that he is speaking only about the "2.5 million West Bank Palestinians" and not Gazans. He knows that his logic falls apart with Gaza, as Israel did none of the three things he claims it "must" do in the West Bank.

So how can one reconcile Gingrich's statements with a two-state solution?

I cannot speak for him, but his characterization of Palestinians as an "invented people" is correct, as I have shown. They don't even know their own history.

If a group is recognized as a people by both its own members and people outside the group, that is a pretty good indication that it really is a people.

Jews have been considered a nation both by their own people and by others for thousands of years. The earliest possible date you can find for Palestinian Arabs to assert their nationhood is less than a century ago, and even then it was a small minority.

Moreover, for the most part, Palestinian Arab nationalism has not been a genuine expression of a desire for independence. It has been a desire to erase Jewish nationalism. It was true in the 1920s, when the Mufti of Jerusalem in an instant shifted from supporting pan-Syrian nationalism to Palestinian Arab nationalism. It is true today, when "moderate" Saeb Erekat places the "right of return" - to demographically destroy the Jewish state - as exactly as important as the creation of a Palestinian Arab state.

What kind of a nationalism demands that its own people be transferred to an enemy nation?

Since 1948, Palestinian Arabs have become a people of sorts. This is mostly due to the political machinations and mistreatment by the Arab nations and their own leaders, but for sixty years or so they have a shared history. They deserve some rights, and Israel certainly does not want most of them to become citizens.

But by any measure, the Palestinian Arab claim to nationhood is far weaker than that of the Jewish nation. In a way, it can be considered the Scientology of nationalisms - a recent construct that does not deserve the same respect as other more venerable belief systems. Even Friedman seems to be saying that their rights of nationhood stem completely out of the potential danger of them not gaining their demands, not any inherent rights they deserve because of their weak peoplehood.

What Friedman and even much smarter people like Jeffrey Goldberg don't get there is that a lot of daylight between giving them autonomy commensurate with how much they deserve it, and their maximal demands that these pundits seem to accept without protest.

Jerusalem is the most obvious example. If Palestinian Arabs are indeed an invented people, whose documented interest in Jerusalem is less than a hundred years old and even then has directly correlated with Jewish influence in the city (they didn't seem to care about it much from 1949-1967), then their claim to Jerusalem is objectively much weaker than that of the Jewish nation. So, from the perspective of competing nationalisms, why should anyone take their claim on the Old City seriously? On the contrary: their words and deeds show that they deserve to govern none of it, and whatever they manage to control they will use specifically to eliminate any Jewish connection to the city. As recently as last week the mayor of Hebron said that he would ban Jews from worshiping in the Cave of the Patriarchs - a clear indication of how Palestinian Arab nationalism is a negative reaction to Jewish nationalism, not a positive, independent expression of a desire for freedom.

If they do not end up with Jerusalem and its Jewish suburbs, does that make a possible Palestinian Arab state any less real? Does that affect their potential independence? Not at all. But Friedman and the other pundits cannot seem to grasp that the solution is not a choice of "take it or leave it." Arab intransigence does not translate to a valid claim. And fear of terrorism is not a reason to give in to terrorists and their supporters.

Palestinian Arabs can gain local autonomy. Or they can gain independence in a smaller area than they demand.Or they can create a federation with Jordan on parts of the West Bank that is acceptable to Israel.  Or Israel can unilaterally withdraw from specific areas of the West Bank while keeping areas necessary for security. There are options - as long as the world doesn't blindly accept Palestinian Arab propaganda about what the borders of their state must be.

Friedman and the other "experts," however, cannot seem to distinguish between giving Palestinian Arabs a desirable level of autonomy and giving them everything they demand. And their inability to distinguish the two - and to frankly be honest about the shortcomings of Palestinian Arab nationalism - is doing a disservice to real peace.

Because real peace cannot be built on lies.