08 March 2007 - Towards a positive Palestinian nationalism
Here’s another extract from my draft article on “a positive Palestinian nationalism” for New Society. I realize this is going to set the cat among the pigeons, particularly the bit about capturing the spirit of the first intifada. I invite all and sundry to savage my reasoning and my conclusions below. I’m hoping that several bouts of harsh criticism will help me make this a better and more useful article.
What, then, would a positive Palestinian nationalism look like? It needs a concept of Palestinian self-determination, elements of which can already be found in several fundamental texts. The Draft Constitution of the State of Palestine, last updated in 2003, defines the Palestinian state by the borders on the eve of June 4, 1967 with a capital in Jerusalem and a right of return limited to the West Bank and Gaza.
The Draft Constitution provides for a “parliamentary representative democracy,” and establishes Islam as the official religion with tolerance for “Christianity and all other monotheistic religions.” It therefore addresses the internal character of the state and its institutions at the same time that it stakes out a negotiating position that is not too far from what a final settlement to the conflict would look like.
It is a good start. The problem is that the Palestinian Authority is currently ruled by Hamas, an organization whose beliefs and behavior contrast sharply with the ideas and goals expressed in the Draft Constitution. The Hamas Covenant explicitly calls for Israel’s destruction, and for jihad—not only against Israel but also against “Judaism and Jews,” as well as international civic organizations such as Rotary.
In practice, both Hamas and the previous Fatah government have incited, supported and tolerated attacks against Israeli civilians, flouting the Draft Constitution’s call for peace and condemnation of terror. In the same way, the Palestinian Authority has ignored the Draft Constitution’s broad provisions for human rights and has often engaged in torture and other human rights abuses.
What is necessary for a successful Palestinian national vision is therefore not another document but a new ethos, a practical expression of “auto-emancipation” that lays the cultural and institutional foundations for Palestinian statehood independently, in spite of the internecine strife among Palestinian factions and regardless of the diplomatic wrangles with Israel and the international community.
Arendt noted that many of the most important achievements of Zionism were carried out quietly, beyond the overt attempts at statecraft: “Although the Jewish workers and farmers had an emotional awareness of the uniqueness of their achievements, expressed in a new kind of dignity and pride, neither they nor their leaders realized articulately the chief features of the new experiment.” That is not to say that the early efforts of these workers and farmers were apolitical; indeed, they were the only true political acts, dealing with reality and not utopianism.
Something of this spirit seems to have existed during the first intifada. The word itself literally means “shaking off”; it referred not only to the uprising against the occupation but also to a spirit of self-reliance. It was a radical departure from the ineffectual utopianism of Arafat and the PLO; indeed, the PLO leadership in Tunis had been taken by surprise when the intifada began and struggled to control it.
The first intifada was also relatively non-violent in character, and pragmatic in that its leaders pushed Arafat to accept the principle of statehood in the West Bank and Gaza. Critically, it awakened the consciences of Israelis to the reality of occupation. What is needed is a national effort that re-animates that spirit and applies it to the practical tasks of nation-building—creating institutions and nurturing enterprise.