Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Who's Interested in Palestinian Nationalism?

Danny Rubinstein is a classic Haaretz journalist (even though he's no longer there): left-of-center but essentially a knowledgeable professional. He once wrote a biography of Yasser Arafat (he didn't manage to figure out who the man was, but not for lack of trying).

He has a very interesting article in Dissent, forwarded to me by a reader, about the state of Palestinian nationalism. His theses, in a nutshell, is that it's declining. The Palestinians are less and less interested, and in spite of Salam Fayad's efforts, a growing number are turning towards a one-state solution.

One fascinating tidbit he has dug up is that ever more of the Arabs of East Jerusalem are acquiring Israeli citizenship - perhaps 12,000 of them in the past two years.

While Rubinstein's descriptions and analysis are worth your time, his conclusions about the rise of the single-state option are less convincing to my mind. First, because Gaza is out of the equation. In spite of all the chatter about an ongoing Israeli occupation there, Israel doesn't rule Gaza, and the more time passes, the greater the number of Gazans and Israelis who will have no memory of the days it did. There's a recognized border, there's no Israeli presence in Gaza, and there's no likely scenario I can think of that will change that.

A similar dynamic is developing on the West Bank. First, there's a practical border: the fence. Much of it runs along the Green Line, and most of the rest is close nearby. Settlers can be found on both sides, and IDF troops, but a very large majority of Israelis don't cross the fence, and have written off whatever is beyond it. On the other side are Palestinians, who are effectively moving away from Israel. In the old days of the 1970s and 1980s large numbers of them worked inside Israel, spoke some Hebrew, knew Israelis, and of course they all traveled freely throughout the land. But those days are long since gone. The Palestinians beyond the fence and the Israelis behind it are becoming ever less familiar to each other, not more so.

It's true that the presence of the settlers muddies the clarity - but life is often muddy. The logic of the situation is that the present dynamics will somehow reinforce themselves, not that they'll get rolled back and keep on rolling all the way to disbandment of Israel. Sometimes muddy realities stay muddy for centuries without ever clearing up.

Finally, there's Jerusalem. The fact that the Palestinians of East Jerusalem are not enthusiastic about losing all the advantages of living in Israel in order to be part of Palestine is one of the best kept secrets in the world, though it's simple human nature. What happens, however, if significant numbers of them really do acquire Israeli citizenship: can't Israel then claim that the majority even of East Jerusalem is populated by Israelis, and thus must remain united?

If it were up to me, I'd find a way to dismantle the settlements beyond the fence, or at least the smaller and further-flung among them; I'd lope off the parts of East Jerusalem that could easily be renamed as Ramallah South; I'd encourage the uprooted settlers to move to East Jerusalem; and yes, I'd enable the remaining Jerusalem Palestinians to acquire Israeli citizenship. But, as I often say, that's just me.


Barry Meislin said...

Keeping in mind the following:

1. Since Israel (for the most part) has refused and continues to refuse efforts to destroy it, it must therefore be destroyed.

2. Although Israelis (for the most part) are cognizant of the Palestinian tragedy, they are also cognizant (for the most part) that the reason for this tragedy lies in the Palestinians' (and their so-called friends) lack of ability (in 1948, 1967, and in between, and up to the present) to erase the Jewish State. Hence, while most Israelis were therefore willing to make a deal that would create a Palestinians state (and end Palestinian suffering), no deal that they could offer would be able to give the Palestinians everything they wanted (which was, and is, the erasure of Israel). Thus the Palestinians must now stress for all its worth that Israel is responsible for the absence of peace, since Israel refuses to be erased. Essentially, the Palestinian position is (like #1 above): Because Israel (cravenly!) refuses to disembowel itself, the Palestinians are left with no choice but to demand that Israel be disemboweled.

And this is what passes for a sensible and realistic negotiating position in the Middle East.

And no, this is not a joke.

RK said...

I'm glad you blogged about this article. Coincidentally, I happened to ask you for your comments about it in your June 14th post below, though I expect you didn't see it.

My question there was, do you see this move by East Jerusalem Palestinians as a sign that they're abandoning their traditional political quietism? (They can already vote in municipal elections, of course, but very few of them do.) Surely that would change the dynamics of Jerusalem municipal politics somewhat: Imagine what the Silwan flap would have looked like if the opposition to Barkat's plan came from more than just Meretz.

Finally, it doesn't seem like the situation in the West Bank is as stable as you say it is. It's true enough that in contrast to the "settlers run the show" narrative you sometimes hear abroad, the centrist consensus in Israel will happily buck the settlers on security matters, like the disengagement or the fence. But absent some major initiative of that sort, the settlers have managed to manipulate the political system to allow incremental expansions, or at least to preserve a status quo that is (I hope we can agree) often heartbreakingly unjust to the Palestinians (and sometimes to the settlers). Clearly some muddy situations are stable (Cyprus), but this isn't one of them.

Have you read Noam Sheizaf's piece on the rise of binationalism on the part of some Jabotinskyite fossils on the right? (Hebrew, partly translated into English). A lot of older settlers are precisely troubled by the phenomenon you describe: before the First Intifada, they used to mix with Palestinians in their villages, and not any longer.

RK said...

By the way, you often see people claiming that it's the East Jerusalem Palestinians' own fault they're disenfranchised, sometimes lose residency rights, etc., since they had the chance to take Israeli citizenship. Well, obviously this is what they're afraid of: "can't Israel then claim that the majority even of East Jerusalem is populated by Israelis, and thus must remain united?"

In my opinion, if East Jerusalem was to be annexed, the East Jerusalem Palestinians should have been granted citizenship with no discretion to reject it on their part. That way, they wouldn't have to fear waiving their political aspirations.

4infidels said...

Woody Allen had a joke about "Dissent" magazine merging with "Commentary" magazine.

The new magazine was to be called "Dysentery."

Lee Ratner said...

Meh, a one-state solution wouldn't work for too many reasons to list. The most obvious problems is that the theoretically inclined Jews and Muslims would be in a continual war with each other for obvious reasons.

Another reason the one-state solution won't work would be the Arab League and the OIC. Many Arab citizens of Israel-Palestine would want Israel-Palestine to join these organizations for union with their fellow Arabs or Muslims. Jewish citizens of Israel-Palestine would be less than enthusiastic about this because their wouldn't be corresponding Jewish organizations for Israel-Palestine.

The fights over school curricula in history and literature courses would be legendary. There would be fights over what holidays the government offices should be closed on. There would be fights over the Jewish immigration to Israel-Palestine.

There are simply too many issues to for a one-state solution to work.

Barry Meislin said...

Since the goal of the "one-state solution" is to eliminate Israel, such a solution would work extremely well.

Yitzchak Goodman said...

They're Post-Palestinians.

Jcenter said...

The Palestinians have totally rejected an Israeli plan to recruit the EU to build power stations, desalination stations, and sewage treatment plants for Gaza.

Sami Abu Zuheiri , a Hamas spokesperson, argued that Israel, "the occupying country," must continue to provide for Gaza's needs.

Hamas, which took pride in liberating Gaza from the Israeli occupation via Jihad, is struggling with all its might to preserve the "Israeli occupation" and obligate Israel to continue transferring supplies to an entity that avowedly declares that it will liberate all of Palestine, liquidate the State of Israel, and kill and expel its Jewish inhabitants.

Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan D. Halevi is a senior researcher of the Middle East and radical Islam at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

Anonymous said...

from a German point of view I'm deeply concerned about my co-citizens, should peace break out.

whom are the nutters going to love and idolise and apologize for if their beloved I/P goes away? Depriving them of their favourite Lollypop may create severe bouts of tantrums, depression and all kinds of other mental health syndroms until, that is, they'll have overcome the last PC-hurdle and come back to good ol' unadulterated anti-semitism. That of course will be especially difficult for those whose mind needs many steps mind-boggling arguments to be goaded into doing any thinking at all.

Hamas' insistence on keeping Israel in the game is rather clever. The more sources your revenues stem from, the easier it is to siphon stuff off. In that context, do they have any complaints about the monthly payments of Kindergeld? (for each child up to 18?) by Messrs. Int'l which seem so conducive to increasing the "demographic" problem i.e. the claim of over-population of Gaza?


Lee Ratner said...

Barry Meislin, a one-state solution will eliminate Israel less than you think it would. Nearly six million of the states new inhabitants would be Jews and would collectively insist on many things. One would be that Israel remain the name of the new state or that the new state would be called Israel-Palestine. There would also be widespread support and demands for Hebrew remaining an official language, the Law of Return remaining in place or at least very strong preferences for Jewish immigration to the new state, for teaching Jewish history and literature in schools, etc. At best for the Palestinians, a one-state solution would result in a bi-national state with strong Jewish tendencies.

The actual result would be a constant, simmering civil war as multiple visions of the state clash violently.

NormanF said...

In the absence of peace, the status quo will hold for a long time. All the alternatives exact high political and security costs and no one in Israel really wants to pursue them. Israel will annex the settlement blocs and the Jordan Valley without an agreement and leave the Palestinians the rest. Israel wll be terminating its military occupation of the Jews of Yesha just like it terminated its military occupation of the Palestinians. True, it will be a messy civil conflict with the Arabs that will go on for a long time but there are conflicts in this world that defy an easy solution.

Barry Meislin said...

Oh, you mean sort of like Lebanon in the glorious 70s.

Well, that's certainly reassuring.

(I especially like the part about "multiple visions".)

Empress Trudy said...

The real question is "Are Palestinians even interested in anything at all?" I mean other than squatting in the dirt and screaming for something or other?

Lee Ratner said...

Thats why I said in my initial post that a one-state solution would be a disaster, too many conflicting desires and factions on both sides to make it even work slightly.