There is a tantalizing parallel between what the Jews did in the first century, and what the Palestinians did in the 20th century.
We know of two violent confrontations between groups of Jews in ancient times. One led to the story of Hanukah, when Mattathias Maccabee killed a Jew who was acting like a Greek. That tale of national heroism did not end well, when the descendants of Judah became Hellenist while they ruled, turned the rabbis against them, and resulted in the Books of Maccabees remaining outside of the Hebrew Bible.
The second civil war was even more traumatic for the Jews. As recorded by Josephus, who became participant in two of the three sides as well as historian, it set Jewish fanatics against Jews who identified with and behaved as Romans. It produced the more complete Roman takeover, the destruction of the Temple, and much of Jerusalem. A second attempt at rebellion half a century later led to the Massada story and even more thoroughgoing destruction of Jewish communities, then close to two thousand years of Jewish dispersion, passivity, suffering, and ultimately the Holocaust, World War II, and the creation of Israel.
The Palestinian parallel appears in several Arab/Palestinian rejections of first British, then Israeli and American efforts at providing the Palestinians with less then the whole cake demanded.
As in the case of the ancient Jews, the result was destruction of numerous Arab/Palestinian settlements, and extensive dispersion.
The major migration occurred in 1948, with lesser movement in 1967, and continued migration of individuals and families who seek better opportunities elsewhere. Included within the continued movement is that of Christians, who find themselves oppressed not so much by Jews as by Muslims in what had been Christian-dominated communities of Bethlehem, Ramallah, and East Jerusalem, as well as smaller villages in the Galilee.. A Israeli Arab is currently exhibiting photographs of Palestinian families who had earlier moved to Syria, and have been caught up in the civil war and find themselves as part of another migration, this time along with many other Syrians of several ethnic communities, and with other Arabs, including some who call themselves Palestinians, from Iraq onto Europe.
The local Arabs who fought the Jews alongside Egyptians, Jordanians, Lebanese, Syrians, and Iraqis in 1948, and afterward now identify themselves as Palestinians. The national identity works politically on the international stage, even though it has not overcome greater loyalties to family, extended family (hamula), tribe, village or town. Political splits and those based on competing views of Islam are especially prominent, and underlie the geographical division between the West Bank and Gaza. The "Palestinian diaspora" has weakened as a source of support with the chaos in Syria and Iraq, the ascendance of Hezbollah in Lebanon, and antagonism from Gulf States due to the poor choice of the Palestinians when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait.
The Palestinian national movement may be stronger among western leftists than among the Palestinians themselves. The leadership by Fatah in the West Bank is propped up by Israeli security personnel against the inroads of Hamas and other religious extremists. Mahmoud Abbas does poorly in Palestinian opinion polls, and the jockeying among possible successors has produced at least as much bitterness as anything approaching unity.
The Balfour Declaration, the Holocaust and the collapse of the British Empire did not make for a smooth transition to Israel. Political rivalries and some warfare marked the pre-State period. The episode of the Altalena was a positive culmination, with the submission of the weaker to the stronger, and a gradual diminution of bitterness with the dying out of the pre-State fighters. Now a weaker Likud is leading a right of center coalition that relies on the support of religious Jews against an even weaker version of the Labor Party that was dominant until 1977.
What benefited the Jews, and what is so far not on the Palestinians' horizon, are the shocks to international order equivalent to World Wars I and II, the movement of Jews from Europe and the Middle East to provide a substantial population in Israel. The Palestinians seem stuck with disunity and occasional warfare like the Jews experienced two millennia ago. The Palestinians have not had anything like the Altalena to solve the problem of internal conflict, and fall short of the international support for a homeland that came for the Jews as a result of the Holocaust..
While the collapse of the British Empire may have been crucial for the creation of Israel, the Palestinians find themselves going against an Israel gaining strength.
What's coming is anyone's guess, but it doesn't look good for the Palestinians. For the time being at least, we can bet on a continuation of a fluid autonomy on the West Bank, the extremism of Gaza's leadership and Gazans' dependence on humanitarian aid and imports that come from Israel.
Several uprisings against Israel in the West Bank and futile waves of attack from Gaza have ended badly.
The Palestinians' leadership is the worst enemy of the people. Those in power or close to it show no sign of accommodating themselves to the Israel that exists. The lack of movement from demands to turn back history has gone nowhere. Investments in tunnels instead of using considerable amounts of international aid for reconstruction or social services may bring Gaza to another confrontation. The last time the incidence of Palestinian casualties was some 40 times that of Israeli casualties, and more rubble alongside rubble not dealt with since earlier confrontations.
International efforts under the banner of BDS rely on overseas Palestinians, western leftists, students and academics, including some Jews, who may amount to fewer individuals than the 100,000 or so Palestinians whose livelihood depends on work in Israel. Anti-Israel resolutions from the UN under Obama may diminish under Trump. The entire campaign to delegitimize Israel and boost the Palestinians has paled under the greater impact of chaos among Muslims, and the cooperation between Sunni governments and Israel against Iran and its Shiite partners.
One should never say never. There have been several efforts to stir things toward an accord, against the background of detailed accommodations with Palestinians and cooperation between Israel and Sunni governments against Iran and its partners. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Jordan have taken part in discussions. However, they have so far come against 1500 years of Islamic theology, and 70 years of incitement and hateful education among the Palestinians.
Anyone with a solution for Palestine we haven't heard before, and other comments, are welcome.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Hebrew University of Jerusalem