08 March 2007

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.


At 1:44 PM, Blogger Thermblog said...

Your sentiments are fine but I think all discussions of Israel vs. Palestine need to take into account the reality that it’s really Israel. Vs. the Arab and Muslim world.

In this broader context, there has always been the problem that war against Israel is recognised as a natural position by the Arabs/Muslims AND much of the outside world. I support this by pointing out that those attacking Israel have suffered no retribution at all from the U.N.

Since the 1st Intifada, much has changed. The once secular Palestinians are now quite Islamic. Antisemitic education and propaganda all over the Arab world has continued and possibly increased. In a very recent survey, Palestinian attitudes towards the right of Israel to exist were measured by age. Among the younger ones 100% were against it, rising to about 15%. This is a sign of how the propaganda has worked.

We also see talk in Egypt of renouncing the peace treaty and there was much encouragement in the Arab world following last summer’s Lebanon War. One can draw the conclusion that peace with Israel (by any parties) would be just expediency and might end up being viewed as a hudna. This week King Abdullah of Jordan addressed the US Congress with a typical old-style “blame only Israel” speech. Abdullah (to my disgust) also condemned Israel’s new bridge at the Temple Mount. Abdullah is regarded as enlightened!

Pakistan now has nuclear weapons and other Islamic states nearly got them and probably will soon have them. Russia and China are supplying sophisticated weaponry to Israel’s enemies just like during the Cold War. The 1967 borders were never militarily defensible. This is a point that armchair critics never understood. The situation is worse today because of these newer weapons. To talk of going back to those borders is like suggesting suicide.

Meanwhile Muslim influence in the west has grown enormously. Most universities have Palestinian Societies and they are not advocating a two state solution. You may have to read between the lines of their charters but it’s there.

The Gaza pullout was supposed to result in some self sufficiency but it has not because Hamas is plainly preparing for war.

So, yes, peace cannot happen without a major shift in Palestinian raison d’etre but I feel it would be intellectually dishonest to write a paper like this without acknowledging the massive negative currents surrounding this conflict.

At 11:36 PM, Blogger Joel said...

Thanks very much for your criticism. Keep it coming. On the subject of Islamist geopolitics, check out the following article, which was sent to me yesterday:

Islamism and Terrorism


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