My son has often accused me of trusting the Palestinians and therefore being naive. But he is wrong. I have no doubt but that the Palestinian leadership wishes that all of Israel were part of Palestine and all the refugees on all their generations were returned to their (no longer existing) villages. That’s not where the difference between us lies. It’s not a matter of naiveté.
Many years ago, A. B. Yehoshua wrote that the difference between the liberal and the conservative viewpoint is that liberals believe people can change. This is but one of the differences, although a good dash of skepticism should probably be mixed in our cocktail of hope when describing a people who has been fed hatred for Israelis and Jews and the promise of return for nearly 70 years. Those in the refugee camps have been kept miserable so that their misery was not only proof of the cruelty of the lsraelis/Jews, but an example of a squalor to be redeemed by returning to the land and the iconic olive tree.
There are two other main differences between us, one pragmatic and one ideological. The first, the pragmatic, is that the Palestinians are in a win-win situation. The Palestinians can sit where they are with as corrupt a government as they wish, and, in the end, if Israel will continue to absorb more of their lands, there will be so many Arabs within Israel that Israel will no longer be a Jewish state, that is, a state where the majority are Jews. It is important to emphasize here that my definition of Israel is that a majority of Jews makes it a Jewish state. There is no religious imperative in my definition. Others have different definitions. There are arguments, as well, with these statistics, but to my mind, they are not important and certainly not essential. The longer Israel occupies the West Bank, more and more Arabs without any voting rights will fall under its jurisdiction. This will inevitably lead to apartheid – although to be honest, there is apartheid rule in the West Bank already even if most of the more obviously discriminatory aspects of apartheid are absent. If one wishes to be precise and to avoid the loaded word apartheid, it is probably more accurate to describe the situation as an Israeli colonization in which the Arabs have no voting rights.
But at this point, I’ve entered the fractious realm of ideology. My son, and others, would claim that the occupation is not an occupation. The Palestinians are not and never were a people. You cannot occupy a land that did not belong to anyone. The last occupiers were the Jordanians, and the Jews have greater claim than any other people, especially the so-called Palestinians, who are a recent creation.
The Palestinians, indeed, are a recent creation, despite attempts to claim otherwise. It’s probably true that a sense of national identity among the general populace, and not merely among the intellectual and political elite, began with the Nakba, the catastrophe, the defeat that is celebrated in Israel as the War of Independence.
The novelty of a Palestinian identity, however, does not make it illegitimate without claims for land. At the end of WWI, when the West divided up the Middle East, there were at least six times as many Arabs in Palestine, which included Jordan then. The Arabs were the natives. The Jews, despite their legitimate nationalist claims, were intruders. That status (even considering the numbers of Arabs who emigrated into Palestine) could never change.
The paradigm here is the creation of nations in Africa and the break-up of western imperialism. Africans learned nationalism from the West. Leaders (intellectuals, the wealthy, and, in Arab states, often Christians) led rebellions. Usually, a general feeling of nationalism began during the rebellion (with the colonial power strengthening that feeling through oppressive responses) and increased on victory – often only to dissipate into tribal disunity afterward.
The difference between Palestine and Africa – Kenya, Uganda, Algeria – is that the national feeling rose out of defeat and, to a great extent, under manipulation by the Arab powers, who deliberately kept Palestinians stateless. My son would say it’s an artificial nationalism created deliberately against Israel. And to some extent it is. And like its Colonialist forebears, Israel’s activities in the occupied territories only further the Palestinian nationalist cause.
However, Palestinian nationalism is a fact. Dismissing it because it is unjustified reminds me of those Arabs who would claim that Jews are members of a religion not a people and therefore have no right to a homeland. Besides, as I have written, Palestinians had every right to expect some sort of national state after WWI.
There are of course three other considerations. The Palestinian “problem” is as one says in Hebrew “kotz b’tachat,” a pain in the ass – not necessarily for Israel, which has created a situation in which it can often ignore the distress of occupation but for Arab nations around Israel that are interested in openly doing business with the state. The Palestinians have become the cause célèbre in the Arab world. Everywhere in the Arab – and Muslim world – Israel is known as the cruel oppressor, the horrible monster created by the West.
The second relates to how Israel is viewed in the Western world. The longer Israel holds onto the West Bank and isolates Gaza, the more conclusively it appears as a colonialist oppressor and loses the legitimacy it had as the realization of Jewish national hopes.
The third is antisemitism. The open issue of Palestine encourages antisemitism. The Jews are part of a conspiracy controlling the United States and certainly its newspapers. It’s only because of their devious successes that they were able to rob the Palestinians of their homeland.
There is, however, one addendum I would like to add. To a great extent, the Palestinian national identity was not created by Palestinians in Palestine but both by those who were in exile and other nations. I visited Bethlehem – as the guest of someone high up in the Fatah – don’t ask how – and there I learned that the country is run (as my son knows) by clans and gangs, and connections. The Palestinian authority for example, hasn’t been able to collect taxes from the Daheisha refugee camp. The camp simply refuses and the authorities are too afraid to enter. If you park your car illegally, whether you get a ticket depends on who you know. This holds true if you park your car legally as well. There is a great deal of pretense in the claim of a Palestinian state. On the other hand, their suffering under the occupation is real, and it is the occupation that is making Palestinian nationalism more legitimate every day.
More can be written. The Israeli right will ask – what about military considerations? An independent state can build an army and attack whenever it wishes. That’s the subject for an expert in foreign affairs – not for me. The current situation is intolerable.