Scene from reenactment of November 29 celebrations 311.
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)
On November 29, 1947, when the UN General Assembly, in a 33-13 vote, supported the creation of a Jewish and an Arab state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, Israel was already a fait accompli. Resolution 181 essentially gave international recognition to what was already a fully operating Jewish sovereign entity.
In the decades preceding the UN resolution, Jews who arrived in Palestine, first under Ottoman rule and later under the British Mandate, channeled unfathomable energies into turning rough terrain into viable agricultural land, draining the swamps of the Hula Valley and building a chain of settlements. Slowly but steadily, through years of hard work, self-sacrifice and determination, the Jews of Palestine transformed a desolate, unproductive landscape into a series of crop fields, fish ponds, fruit groves and pastures for sheep and cattle. In parallel, Tel Aviv quickly became a bustling city with small businesses and fastgrowing industry.
Leaders of the Yishuv, the nucleus of what would become the renewal of Jewish sovereignty in the Jews’ historic homeland after nearly two millennia, set up a labor union, an education system, health services and a governing body.
The Jewish state-in-the-making even had its own military – the Haganah – which, as Tel Aviv University historian Anita Shapira has shown in her book Land and Power, was not the result of a fundamentally bellicose Jewish culture, rather a reluctant and incremental reaction to Arab violence that went against Jewish sensibilities.
The Jewish people’s meticulously planned push for statehood, imbued with pressing urgency in the wake of the Holocaust and the tragic plight of Jewish refugees after the war, contrasted sharply with an emerging Palestinian nationalism.
From its very inception, the Palestinian national movement, born as a reaction to Jewish immigration to Palestine, seemed less concerned with carving out a state for itself than with foiling the Zionist enterprise.
While Zionists were busy building, Palestinians – under the leadership
of the ruthless and anti-Semitic Haj Amin al-Husseini – devoted their
energies to pointless economic strikes (that hastened the Jews’ economic
self-sufficiency), violent uprisings (that sparked devastating British
retaliations) and debilitating infighting.
Channeling most of its energies toward hatred and destruction, the
Palestinian national movement failed to prepare its people for
statehood. During the years of Ottoman rule and the subsequent British
Mandate, the Palestinians failed to create political parties and did not
set up basic public-services or institutions of self-government.
It seemed a national movement bent solely on selfdestruction that cared
little about self-realization. The same sort of destructive behavior
continued after the establishment of Israel.
In recent years, the Palestinian Authority has slowly but haltingly
begun building pre-state institutions of governance, most notably under
the leadership of Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who has been touted as a
Palestinian version of David Ben-Gurion.
Focusing on “creating facts on the ground,” Fayyad has improved
Palestinian taxation, infrastructure and economic development.
Transparency was introduced into a notoriously corrupt PA, facilitating
the creation of American- trained and -funded security forces.
But Fayyad and what he stands for lack support in the Palestinian street
(his Third Way list received 2.4% of the votes in the 2006 legislative
elections). And Hamas continues to demand his resignation as a
pre-condition for a reconciliation deal with the PA.
Even the PA’s unilateral UN bid for statehood, which has mistakenly been
compared to the Jewish people’s successful UN campaign 64 years ago,
seems more like the continuation of the Palestinians’ destructive
strategy. The aim appears to be the creation of a Palestinian state
encompassing the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip without
making peace with Israel or forfeiting any Palestinian demands,
including the right of return for refugees.
Unfettered by a peace treaty reached through dialogue, this mini
Palestinian state would be free to continue its struggle against Israel.
Instead of focusing on their battle against the Jewish state,
Palestinians should concentrate on completing the unfinished job begun
by Fayyad. PA President Mahmoud Abbas recently admitted that his people
had made a “mistake” when they rejected Resolution 181. It’s about time
that Palestinians learn from Israel and put an end to what Abba Eban
referred to in 1973 as the Arabs’ self-defeating tendency to “never miss
an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”