Thinking the unthinkable: What if the Palestinian Arabs don’t want a state of their own?

As a state, the Palestinian cause would become a memory in international diplomacy.

February 24, 2016 11:16
4 minute read.
A Palestinian man hangs a Palestinian flag atop the ruins of a mosque

A Palestinian man hangs a Palestinian flag atop the ruins of a mosque, during a snow storm in West Bank village of Mufagara. (photo credit: REUTERS)

In the July 1978 issue of the prestigious journal Foreign Affairs, under the headline, “Thinking the Unthinkable: A Sovereign Palestinian State,” Walid Khalidi argues a case for a Palestinian state as a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Paraphrasing that headline, let us try to argue the case for the unthinkable: that the Palestinian Arabs, at least as for now, do not want a state of their own.

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What if the Palestinian Arabs do not want a state of their own? What if the widely-held premise about Palestinian aspirations is wrong? That the Palestinian Arabs do not want a state of their own is a statement that may appear as a contradiction in terms. Still, let us elaborate on it. Let’s argue this case to its ultimate conclusions.

The Palestinian Arabs have received a prominent place in international diplomacy, rarely accorded to stateless people.

There is hardly a United Nations General Assembly resolution hostile to Israel that does not muster an overwhelming majority of votes. A resolution which is highly critical of Israel can be expected to be endorsed in most international organizations.

Any incident that occurs which involves the Palestinian Arabs and Israel features prominently in most international news networks. The Palestinian Arabs are usually portrayed as victims in their protracted conflict with Israel. Further, the leaders of the Palestinian Authority are received by most world leaders as welcome guests.

No non-state entity has ever received so much support in so many international organizations as the PA has. The Palestinian plight, even where the more extreme factions are involved, such as Hamas, gets much international backing accompanied by censure of Israeli policies.

Any attempt by Israel to defend itself against violent attacks perpetrated on its civilian population only helps to enhance the image of the Palestinian Arabs as victims, as has happened on numerous occasions.

The Palestinian cause has received an unequalled degree of attention and support.

The assumption would be that the Palestinian Arabs prefer to be international stars, playing the role of eternal victims, who can always blame Israel for all their problems – real and imaginary. Now, let me ask you: why on earth would the Palestinian leadership, whether in the West Bank or in Gaza, wish to discontinue the present situation? Why would it ever want to set up a state? Establishing a state means assuming responsibility. It also means that the people living in it are no longer seen by the outside world as victims of an external power. There is a limit to the extent to which blame can be apportioned to an outside factor for the emerging problems.

As a sovereign state, outside economic aid and diplomatic support would be as much a result of how its leaders govern as of the self-portrayed image of weakness.

As a state, the Palestinian cause would become a memory in international diplomacy.

A Palestinian state would be just another state. Any success accrued to it would be a corollary of its own efforts, and not merely of the pity and sympathy it is able to elicit from international public opinion.

A Palestinian state might be just another Gabon (with all due respect to it). Why would the Palestinian Arabs, now accustomed to being persona grata world-wide, wish to become just another Gabon? The Palestinian agenda in the international arena might get the attention accorded to that of a country like Guatemala (with all due respect to it). Why would the Palestinian Arabs, who are used to having a cause which is in the limelight of international diplomacy, wish their agenda to descend to the level of a country such as Guatemala? When Israel withdrew its armed forces and its inhabitants from the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian Arabs could have established an entity enjoying ample outside aid and support. Gaza could have become a model of economic development and social progress for a future Palestinian state. It didn’t. Gaza was transformed into a major terrorist base. Within the Palestinian political camp, a brutal campaign by Hamas against Fatah took place, helping Hamas establish an Islamic dictatorship.

Strife and hate persevered over peace and progress.

For Hamas, the objective of eradicating Israel from the face of the earth was more important than establishing a model entity in the road to full statehood.

The West Bank, which is still ruled by the PA, has not experienced a similar fate to that of Gaza due primarily to the presence of the Israeli security services.

Otherwise, the leadership of the PA might have been brutally killed, as their Fatah brothers were in Gaza.

It might be argued that an independent Palestinian state could have been established in the West Bank and Gaza had the Palestinian Arabs been willing to reach a fair and balanced compromise with Israel. The late Egyptian president Anwar Sadat and the late Jordanian king Hussein have shown clearly and unequivocally that once the Israelis are convinced of their enemies’ sincere wish to live in peace, public opinion suddenly supports compromises hitherto deemed to be unacceptable.

So, maybe the obstacle to an agreement is in essence the refusal of the Palestinian Arabs to have a state of their own, and not only to live side by side with a Jewish state? Contrary to what we were led to believe, the Palestinian Arabs perhaps prefer to remain under the international spotlight, as stars in the diplomatic arena, portraying themselves as permanent victims of Israeli oppression and enjoying unprecedented backing world-wide. They do not wish to leap into the unknown. They are not willing to assume sovereign responsibility, with all the difficulties that it entails.

Maybe, after all, the Palestinian Arabs prefer to be a central cause in international diplomacy rather than run the risk of becoming a marginal state?

The author is lecturer in the Diplomacy Studies Program at Tel Aviv University.

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