The Balfour's Centennial: The Intersection of Arab Nationalism and Neo-Confederacy

Just a few days ago, celebratory events and marches were held in Israel and the United Kingdom in honor of the Balfour Declaration. Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, visited London and attended an event with the British PM, Theresa May. When the Palestinians asked Britain to apologize for the Balfour Declaration, she refused. Despite supporting a two-state solution to the Arab-Israeli Conflict, May stated that the UK would mark "with pride" the anniversary of Britain supporting "the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people." Despite chilly receptions towards the anniversary in past years in Britain, May's government described the 1917 document as one of the most important letters in history. However, protests by pro-Palestinian crowds amassed in Britain and the Palestinian Territories, as Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinian political leaders described the Balfour Declaration as a "crime against humanity," a "war crime," and the source of their misery. Their sympathizers, such as Robert Fisk in The Independent this week, have adopted their positions, ignoring history by presenting the Jews as foreign colonizers with no ties to the land and stating that the Balfour Declaration ignored the Arabs living in Mandatory Palestine. As Netanyahu has stated earlier today, the Palestinians are not moving forward, but looking back over a century, often engaging in racist, dog-whistling language. The Regressive Left and many in the Arab World have an attitude towards Israel, Jews, and Zionists--as well as other non-Arabs in the Middle East--that is similar in nature to Neo-Confederacy in the United States. 
Neo-Confederates are defined by the Southern Poverty Law Center as revivalists of pro-Confederate sentiment in the 20th and 21st Centuries, believing in and promoting segregation of the races; racial (in this case, White) supremacy; homophobia and "traditional" gender roles; and religious (Protestant-Christian) extremism. Neo-Confederacy is a "reactionary conservative ideology" that often overlaps with the goals of other White Supremacists, such as Neo-Nazis and the KKK. Those on the far-right may condemn the toppling of Confederate statues and the taking down of the "rebel flag" as "erasing our heritage." To indigenous peoples and other marginalized minorities, such statements reflect the dominant members of society mourning the days when it was openly permissible to oppress them. While the Confederates lost the Civil War, they and their descendants ensconced their narrative of White Supremacy by means of education, monuments, statues, and Confederate Flags being flown in some states. The presence of these Confederate mementos in our society are used to show marginalized groups "their place" in a hierarchy established by a dominant group--White Americans. Whenever there is a perceived threat to this hierarchy--such as the election of a Black president or the arrival of Latin American immigrants--the Confederate flags reappear. So, too, do they emerge when a leader emerges that is perceived as sympathetic to their cause. In 2017 America, marches by White Supremacists occur more openly in reaction to people of color--along with women's liberation groups and LGBT rights activists--demanding their rights. 
In the Palestinian Territories--indeed, the Arab World more generally--similar sentiment also exists. Arab Nationalism and Islamism alike share nearly identical ideology to the KKK and Neo-Confederacy. Anti-Zionism, widely embraced throughout the Arab World (and non-Arab Islamic countries), is motivated by religious extremism (Islamism) in part, but also by racial chauvinism. Chants of "khaybar, khaybar, ya Yahud"--remembering the slaughter of Jewish residents of the Arabian town of Khaybar by Mohammed's followers due to their refusal to accept him as a prophet--, or "from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free" are similar to the chants of "the South will rise again!" among White Supremacists in the United States. The denial of Jewish history and ties to the land, distortion of the Balfour Declaration and Zionismappropriation of Jewish historynaming of people and shops after Hitler and other anti-Semites, the naming of schools after terrorists, and racist educational systems in the Palestinian Territories all mirror the KKK, Neo-Confederate, and Neo-Nazi movements that have historically been in place in the US and re-emerged in recent years. Such incitement and "diplomatic violence" often results in attacks on Jews (whether or not they support Israel's actions) in other countries, as well as normalizing the conflict within younger generations, rather than trying to build the first steps towards peace with a new generation. 
The Palestinian national movement is, like Neo-Confederacy, filled with inaccurate history, with the ultimate goal of maintaining the regional status quo in terms of Arab racial dominance over all others. Despite numerous genetic, historical, and archaeological studies (as well as claims by Arab and Palestinian leaders themselves) proving that the Palestinians are descendants of Arab conquerors of the Levant from the rise of the Islamic Empire, the claims of Mahmoud Abbas and Saeb Erekat that they are descendants of the Canaanites are designed to try and delegitimize Jewish history in the Land of Israel and our status as the indigenous people in that land. The claim that the Balfour Declaration ignored the region's non-Jewish inhabitants is also nonsense, as it specifically stated that Mandatory Palestine's Arab (Muslim and Christian alike) inhabitants must not be treated with prejudice. Moreover, Britain later backtracked on its promise of all of Mandatory Palestine becoming a Jewish homeland. They severed Transjordan away and gave it to the Hashemite tribe, and later called for partitioning the rest of the territory into two states--one Arab and one Jewish. In other words, the Jews continued losing land that had been promised to them by the British Empire and that they'd had historic claims to. However, the Jewish yishuv (community) in Palestine, by and large, accepted the land-for-peace formula presented by the West. Despite numerous wars and acts of terrorism by the surrounding Arab countries and the Palestinians, Israel still wants the two-state solution, as long as its security isn't jeopardized. Palestinian leaders, however, continue to refuse to acknowledge Israel's right to exist as the homeland of the Jewish people; the status of the Jews as being a national group at all; and previous offers of statehood in 1947, 2000-01, 2008, and 2014. Much as Confederate sympathizers cannot accept that their racist ideology and institutions were (for the most part) destroyed and dismantled after the Civil War and continue to dissipate with each passing year, the Palestinians also cannot accept that their anti-Semitic, xenophobic, and Arab Supremacist institutions and societal norms that largely existed in the era of the British Mandate have also been defeated and diminished. But like the Neo-Confederates, the Palestinians are continuing their attempts at reviving or keeping relevant their narrative of racial supremacy and dominance by means of education, monuments, statues, and rejectionism. Just as White Supremacists cannot accept that minorities in the US (along with women and the LGBT community) have far more rights than they once did (perhaps even equality, on paper), the Palestinians (and Arab World as a whole) cannot bring themselves to accept that they were defeated by a foe they deem as racially and religiously inferior. 
The issue goes beyond just the Palestinians, however. The Arab World as a whole has for decades tried to maintain the regional racial hierarchy, with Arabs at the top and everyone else far below. In the case of Sudan, there was genocide against the indigenous Black African groups who have inhabited the region for millennia, since before the Arab Conquest and the introduction of Islam to the region. In the case of Kurdistan, there were the Arabization campaigns by Saddam Hussein and the Assad regimes in Iraq and Syria, aimed at stripping the Kurds of their culture and denying them citizenship, the use of their language, and their traditions, as well as genocide. The Arab World's opposition to an independent Kurdistan--including among Palestinians--stems in part from the solidarity of many elements of Kurdish society with Amazigh (Berbers) and Jews, fellow indigenous peoples of the Middle East who had ancient and thriving civilizations before the Arab Conquest and the destruction it brought to the Levant and North Africa. The celebration of Saddam Hussein by Palestinians--culminating in the erection of a statue of him just last month in Qalqilya--is yet another example of Arab chauvinism. Hussein was notorious for his genocide in Halabja of the Kurdish people, as well as his racist views and statements towards Persians and Jews and the belief in the superiority of the Arab people over all others in the Middle East. In fact, part of the reason for Hussein's war against Iran in the 1980s was that he could not stomach the thought of Khuzestani Arabs living under the sovereignty of Persians, an ethnic group widely seen as "un-Islamic" and "lesser" in the Arab World. The racist structure of oppression in North Africa by the Arab ruling class against the indigenous Amazigh population, including Morocco's refusal to grant independence to Western Sahara, is yet another example of institutionalized racial supremacism in the region. 
In my graduate program (Arcadia University's International Peace & Conflict Resolution Masters program), one of the required classes I take is called Foundations of Conflict Analysis. Just the other day in this class, we discussed power & privilege, and how they often are synonymous. However, sometimes those who hold the power do not have privilege when it comes to the bigger picture; and sometimes those with privilege do not wield much power. The case of Israel and the Arabs is an interesting one in this regard. Often, the international community (particularly left-leaning groups) view Israel as the more powerful, and thus, more privileged party in the conflict. Thus, they must be the ones to make more concessions and have more power to make peace. Like everything in the Middle East, it isn't that simplistic. Israel is the most powerful country in the region, and the Palestinians are the far weaker party. However, since they fall under the Arab umbrella, they have more privilege in the region as a whole, as the Arabs--after the Han Chinese--are the world's largest ethnic group. They wield more influence and power in the diplomatic arena (partially because of their oil resources), such as the United Nations, than Kurds, Israelis, or any other group in the Middle East. In other words, bringing peace to the Middle East is far more complex than simply ending the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis, and one cannot necessarily expect peace to blossom in the region by just pressuring Israel to make concessions. It is natural for Palestinians to mourn the suffering they endured as a result of the 1948 war, and it shouldn't be dismissed out of hand. Similarly, neither should it be ignored that it didn't have to be this way, and that the Palestinians launched pogroms against the Jewish communities existing in Mandatory Palestine and pressured the British to turn away thousands of Jewish refugees from the territory during the Holocaust--condemning untold numbers to the gas chambers merely because of entrenched Arab xenophobia. Israelis and Palestinians will never agree on everything, hold the same political views or narratives, or even love each other collectively. However, recognizing the narrative of the other side--although not necessarily agreeing with it--is a good way to move forward. Instead of asking Britain to apologize for writing the Balfour Declaration and threatening to sue the UK for a century-old document, the Palestinians would be better off accepting the situation as it is and moving forward to recognize Israel and negotiate a peace deal for their own country. This starts with the painful but necessary step of accepting the Jews as the aboriginal people of the land and recognizing their right to their own country in the land, even as the Palestinians seek a state of their own alongside it. 
Ultimately, though, peace cannot flower and thrive in the Middle East without the Arabs recognizing and accepting that the Middle East does not belong to them (or anyone). There are other peoples in the Middle East who have predated Arab presence in the Levant, North Africa, and Mesopotamia, who also have the right to live in peace and have self-determination. As long as racial supremacist structures are maintained, whether in the US or in the Middle East, there can never be peace or coexistence.