Here's the first in what will probably be a series of reflections as we approach the Arab-Israeli-American event at Annapolis, later this month.
About a week ago Haaretz had a rather startling article by Danny Rubinstein about the Palestinian national movement. Unfortunately, so far as I can determine, no English version was ever posted at their website. (Here's the Hebrew original). Rubinstein is one of those knowledgeable, Arabic-speaking, left-wingish Israeli journalists that Haaretz likes to employ, and I like to read because they're informative, tell us things we otherwise probably wouldn't have known, and generally speaking don't allow their politics to blind them to the reality they're reporting on. Rubinstein once wrote a biography of Arafat, and if memory serves, he didn't pretend to have understood what the man was about.
The thesis of the article cited here was that the Palestinian national movement is, if not dead, then dying. Part of this is the disappearance of the nationalists, who have either died, or given up and left, going back to more comfortable lodgings in Jordan, Egypt, or the West. Abu Mazen, one of the remaining figures, is a powerless figure of popular derision, says Rubinstein. The Jordanians are retaking institutional positions in the West Bank they had abandoned in the 1980s and 1990s. Hamas, anyone?
None of this is to say that the Palestinian issue is disappearing, only that the possibility of the Palestinians getting their act together as a national entity (=state) is diminishing.
One reason Rubinstein's piece resonated with me was that I'd already heard it. I recently read Hillel Cohen's "The Rise and Fall of Arab Jerusalem 1967-2007", (Hebrew), The Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, 2007. (Yes, Cohen is another one of that same group, tho he doesn't generally write for Haaretz). The book goes into lots of (interesting) detail about things happening in the Arab sections of Jerusalem, but the outline is the same: In the 1980s it really looked like East Jerusalem was the de-facto capitol of an inevitable Palestinian state, but this has changed completely since the collapse of the Oslo process. On the one hand, Israel's power has proven greater than that of the Palestinian institutions, many of which are no longer in town because they were forced out, or because the Israeli security measures and above all the barrier, cut Arab Jerusalem off from the West Bank. On the other hand, the Arabs of East Jerusalem themselves are making choices of their own: most of them did not join the 2nd Intifada in any meaningful way (tho Cohen details the actions of some murderous cells that did), and as the gap in levels of income between East Jerusalem and West Bank grow, there is ever less enthusiasm for being part of the West Bank. It isn't even solely a matter of economics: the chaos in the West Bank these days may be a far cry from that in Gaza, but seen from East Jerusalem life in the PA doesn't look so good.
Cohen also warns that none of this means the Arabs of East Jerusalem have embraced Zionism or wish to be Israeli patriots. But they're waiting, and in the meantime, they're drifting away from the West Bank, and their aspirations for the future are apparently ever less clear.
Remind me some day to propound my ironic theory whereby the further Palestinians are from Israeli rule, the worse off they are.