The latest debate: Do the Palestinians (in the West Bank at least) really want a state?

The latest issue takes the “Two-State vs One State” solution even further. It is a debate that has so far taken place mostly among a few intellectuals, puzzled at some of what would otherwise appear as truly incompetent behavior of the Palestinian Authority, and the apparent near-collapse of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

Now, it has been seized upon — largely for its lurid appeal (it’s sensational, runs against official positions, appears to be based on deep insights, and, it sells) to propagandists — by some of the Israeli and pro-Israeli media crowd.

Do Palestinians (at least those in the West Bank) really want a State?

Now, one writer in the Jerusalem Post (he’s Shmuel Rosner, based in Washington), has written — reviewing articles written in recent months — that the question of the moment is: “Do Palestinians really want a state”. And the answer, he wrote, is this: “In sum, two years ago, an open question, more recently, no, no and no“.

Rosner then went on to mock a comment by Ed Abington, former US Consul General in Jerusalem and former adviser to the Palestinian Authority, who, Rosner wrote: ” has commented yesterday on my link to these new articles with this sarcastic massage: “I’m sure Kaplan and Grygiel are right; most Palestinians would prefer to live under Israeli occupation forever than accept responsibility for running their own affairs. Duh“.

Yes, Duh. Because the Palestinians do want a state. The question for them is, what kind? And, of course, there is no real debate on the Palestinian political scene that might illuminate the issues on there side — they are too busy looking over their shoulders, worrying about what their enemies and rivals would say. So, instead of hashing out the issues amongst themselves, the Palestinians are just developing their critique of Israel.

There have been no real intellectual advances, of course.

Meanwhile, the Palestinian stasis is calling their wish to have a state into question.

Rosner summed up the arguments — most recent first, and which, as it can be seen, all involve some form of mocking and/or disparagement of the Palestinians — in his two postings here and here. Here are his references (with additional excerpts added by myself):

Robert Kaplan in the Atlantic:
The statelessness of Palestinian Arabs has been a principal feature of world politics for more than half a century. It is the signature issue of our time. The inability of Israelis and Palestinians to reach an accord of mutual recognition and land-for-peace has helped infect the globe with violence and radicalism—and has long been a bane of American foreign policy … Obviously, part of the problem has been Israeli intransigence. Despite seeming to submit to territorial concessions, one Israeli government after another has quietly continued to bolster illegal settlements in the occupied territories. The new Israeli government may be the worst yet … The prospects for peace under this government are fundamentally bleak. And yet this Israeli government faithfully represents the Israeli electorate, which is in utter despair over the impossibility of finding credible partners on the Palestinian side with which to negotiate … But there is a deeper structural and philosophical reason why the Palestinians remain stateless—a reason more profound than the political narrative would indicate … [Then, Kaplan builds on an argument developed in an essay by someone else, which was not specifically about the Palestinians, and goes on to postulate that]: “Instead of actively seeking statehood to address their weakness, as Zionist Jews did in an earlier phase of history, groups like the Palestinians now embrace their statelessness as a source of power … [A] state is a target that can be destroyed or damaged, and hence pressured politically. It was the very quasi-statehood achieved by Hamas in the Gaza Strip that made it easier for Israel to bomb it. A state entails responsibilities that limit a people’s freedom of action. A group like Hezbollah in Lebanon, the author notes, could probably take over the Lebanese state today, but why would it want to? Why would it want responsibility for providing safety and services to all Lebanese? Why would it want to provide the Israelis with so many tempting targets of reprisal? Statelessness offers a level of ‘impunity’ from retaliation”. This article can be read in full here.

Rosner, who (being in the US, might be more aware of this) wrote that the question is, “Do the Palestinians really want a state?”, summarized Bradley Burston in Haaretz as writing: “rather than just the flag they already have and the representative at the United Nations they already have, and the righteous indignation that they have in spades”? But, Burston also wrote this, significantly blaming the Palestinians alone for the Second Intifada, and therefore (his argument says) for turning the entire Israeli political scene so bitter and demanding): “Do Palestinians really want a State? At first blush, the question seems preposterous. The Palestinian people have voiced their acute desire for an independent state since the day, whatever it may have been, that they became the Palestinian people. In fact, until recently it seemed that nearly the whole world, Eastern and Western Europe, the entirety of Asia and Africa, many of the nations of the Americas – everyone, that is, except for the United States and Israel – wanted there to be an independent Palestine. In time, even Israel and Washington came around. In a surreal turn, Ariel Sharon, the mantra of whose ashram had long been “Jordan is [the real] Palestine,” announced his support in 2003 for the U.S.-sponsored road map peace plan, which provided for, though would fail to deliver, an independent Palestinian state by 2005. But even as Sharon rammed the road map through the cabinet, the cause of Palestinian statehood was being undermined – by the Palestinians themselves … As Arafat stood by, losing his place in history even as he sought to keep his place among the Palestinians, bomb after bomb after bomb distanced Palestinians from the state they nearly had, could already have had, should have had, by the end of the last decade. The Palestinians, still shrouded in the self-pitying, self-adoring arrogance of the truly humiliated – the same arrogance they so fiercely hate in the Jews – are still busy proving what a victory the Intifada was. Yet the real proof of the outcome of the Intifada lies in the change in Hamas declarations. For the first time, they have begun to speak of a demand for an Israeli return to the 1967 borders, as opposed to a Jewish withdrawal to the Mediterranean and beyond. If nothing else, the reference to the 1967 borders demonstrates the danger to the Palestinians that the world will come to accept the Sharon-Bush vision of West Bank settlement blocs as part of Israel. Thanks to the Intifada, Palestine is shrinking before the Palestinians’ very eyes … Today, the question of whether the Palestinians can take the steps necessary to maintain a state – that is to say, whether they really do want a state, rather than just the flag they already have and the representative at the United Nations they already have, and the righteous indignation that they have in spades – remains an open question. If they would rather demand the right of return until the end of time, rather than accepting some formula that amounts to a lesser gain, and with it, a Palestinian state, then the question is answered. If they would rather insist on the right to violent resistance against Israel – allying themselves in the minds of others, if not in their own, with terrorist movements that bedevil civilized countries worldwide – rather than a renunciation of armed struggle and entrance into the community of nations, then we have their answer. If they insist on a one-state solution, then it is a one-state solution that they will get, and that state will be Israel. Today the question of what the Palestinians really want, and whether what they really want at this point is a state, is being asked more and more … Do the Palestinians really want a state? What they have told us in deed and in word is ‘Yes, but on our own terms’. They either mean that or they don’t. If they do, I’ll wager that they’ll have themselves some form of a state by somewhere around 2028. Forty years bumbling and blustering and procrastinating their way through the wilderness. My guess is that they’re smarter than that, though. They’ll do as Lenny Bruce once bitterly quipped: ‘Be a man – sell out’. They’ll do what we do. Lie to themselves, swallow the compromises they can’t disguise with feints of word and gesture. I wish them luck. They’re going to need a lot more of it than they’ve had ’til now”. This can be read in full here.

Josef Joffe in The Wall Street Journal – this, not surprisingly, is a sophisticated and well-written argument based on the premises of the Israeli right-wing, particularly the Likud, but also including Kadima. Joffe says the problem is that Palestinians elected Hamas (the obvious flaw in this point is that voters in the West Bank also elected Hamas, but never mind) in the wake of Israel’s (in his view) entirely benevolent “disengagement” from Gaza, which (in his view) offered the Gazans, at least, a chance of having their own state (despite Israel’s continuing control over Gazan sovereignty). But, according to Jaffe’s argument, the real and main issue is Iran — and, like the Israeli political echelon, he exhibits no sense of perspective, he does not view Israeli intents to suppress any effort of Iran to assert regional leadership as part of the problem. No, Iran is completely to blame. Joffe writes: “It was Kassam time, with Hamas firing the missiles and Israel tightening the blockade. This is known, in the media vernacular, as a “spiral of violence.” But if the missiles were the answer to the blockade, why did Hamas target the border passages and the power plant next door that supplied Gaza with electricity? So much irrationality makes perfect sense if we posit a different strategic game. Hamas’s object is provoking Israel to prove that it doesn’t care about the consequences. Indeed, it wants bad things to happen to its own people. This will mobilize the ‘Arab street’ and the world’s media against Israel while demonstrating its absolute imperviousness to pain and threats of more. ‘Bring it on’, is great for Hamas’s credibility, pride and honor, but for the purpose of statehood, it would behave very differently. It would wheel and deal, cajole and dissimulate. It would play quid pro quo, not Kassams against F-16s … [But] double-statehood is not their No. 1 priority. They want it all, and if they can’t get it, they would rather nurse their honor, pride and sense of righteous victimhood than engage in the sordid business of compromise. At any rate, the simple two-state solution is now off the table. Most Israelis (minus the settlers and their supporters) have come around to two states. But never again will Israel vacate territory (as in Gaza) without making sure that it won’t turn into a strategic springboard against the heartland. Never again will Israel relinquish control over a border like the Philadelphi Corridor that served as entry point for Iranian missiles into Gaza. It will insist on a strategic presence in the Jordan Valley. Nor can Israel yield military control over the West Bank. What a twist of fate. Today, it is the Israeli Defense Force that guarantees the survival of Fatah and President Mahmoud Abbas against Hamas, Jihad and their Iranian sponsors. Here is the bitter irony. Fatah might want to make peace, but doesn’t have the power to deliver; Hamas has the power, but it doesn’t want peace, dreaming about a ‘final solution’ that wipes Israel off this part of the map … The upside is that today Palestine is less than ever the ‘core’ of the Middle East conflict. The real issue is Iran and its reach for regional hegemony. The conventional wisdom has it that peace for Palestine would weaken Tehran’s mischief potential, robbing it of a rallying point for the Arab masses. Actually, it is the other way round. Iran will use its power, through its proxies, to demolish whatever deal might be hashed out by Israel and the Palestinian Authority. For Iran’s game is not a two-state solution, let alone peace. Rather, its object is to intimidate America’s Arab supporters and to eliminate Israel as America’s strongest regional ally. So for the Obama administration, Israel/Palestine has become an intractable sideshow on a vastly enlarged stage that extends from Haifa to Herat”…This argument can be read in full here.

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