Israel and the Palestinians: Might a different perspective help? Part II

The Palestinian state that cannot be; the Palestinian canton that might.

Benjamin Ze'ev Herzl (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
Benjamin Ze'ev Herzl
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The anniversary approaches.
Some 50 years ago, Israel astonished herself and the world.
The world moved on. Israel could not move on; where would it go? Now, as the anniversary approaches, those who churn out “How to talk about Israel” guidance and compendia are busily providing us with “How to talk about the Six Day War.”
Same old same old, with predictable results. You won’t convince our enemies. Our friends don’t need it.
And those in the middle with honest doubts, who would like to support Israel more ardently once again – well, let’s just say that they’re smart enough to know when an agenda’s being pushed under the words “truth,” “facts” and the rest of that vocabulary of inept manipulation.
Let’s try something else.
This month, I’m finishing a twoparter on how to talk about Israel (to receptive people, especially Americans) in a way that bypasses the standard hurling of preformatted messages. Yes, there’s a whole lot of anti-Israel dreck out there. Trying to refute it point-bypoint guarantees audience MEGO: My Eyes Glaze Over. Complaining about distortion and falsehood is worse. You won’t get any corrections or apologies; you will get a reputation as a boring, insufferable kvetch.
Quickie recap: According to British statistics, the non-Jewish population of Palestine doubled between 1923 and 1943. This meant that Zionism did not simply impose itself on a somnolent native population.
Lots of people were coming in from lots of places, and it is reasonable to assume that at least some of them were fervent Arab nationalists who noticed how successful nationalism had proven in Europe.
Alas, there was no serious Palestinian leadership. The Grand Mufti’s thugs had conducted a decades-long reign of terrorism that had less to do with Zionism than with eliminating real and potential rivals. As war approached, too many of the effendis fled – too many of whom, perhaps, had sold out their brothers along with their lands and didn’t care to risk possible payback. Meanwhile, the Arab League had absolutely no desire to see an independent Jewish or Arab state; they wanted to carve it up. And none has ever shown any real interest in resettling the refugees in their own countries, or anywhere else.
Then came May 14-15, 1948, and an astonishing thing that the world failed to notice. Israel could have treated every remaining Arab as an enemy alien.
Instead, Israel made them citizens.
Israeli Arabs have yet to attain full citizenship, but in wartime affairs the standard is not perfection. The standard is the alternative.
Now to the present, and how little things have changed.
Is there a Palestinian people? Those who deny it might consider Herzl’s dictum: “We are one people – our enemies have made us one without our consent, as repeatedly happens in history.” It has happened again.
But are the Palestinians really one people, politically? For 70 years, their lived experiences have been as different as, say, the difference between an Arab middle-class professional living in Jerusalem and a fourth-generation inhabitant of a refugee camp or some squalid ghetto in Lebanon. Could they live together? Would they even want to? Impossible to tell. They cannot speak freely.
Not to us.
Meanwhile, it’s impossible to avoid concluding that neither the Netanyahu regime nor the Palestinian Authority wants a two-state solution, a one-state solution or any solution at all. Neither side can deliver its people; both sides risk major internal violence if they try.
Terrorism (or, if you prefer, resistance) is a profession that might beat working for a living for a while, but everyone gets older, and how large now is the percentage of middle-aged Palestinians who aren’t trained for, or psychologically equipped for, much else? It has been debated ad infinitum what kind of state an independent Palestine might be. The question no longer matters.
A demilitarized Palestine would quickly be gobbled up by the ISIS types, while a Palestine capable of serious self-defense would be a danger to Israel and itself.
Which is a polite way of saying that until the Islamic/Arab world gets over its Islamism and until the Palestinians produce a tough, humane younger generation capable of taking on the guys with the guns, no state is possible.
But other things are possible. It is ridiculous to believe – and it always has been – that the Palestinian people could be bought off by material improvements.
Still, there are things Israel might do, not to bribe them, but because of a vision, now too long forgotten, of the kind of people we want to be.
For starters, extension of full civil protection to Palestinians in the West Bank and an end to cheap, exploited labor.
And perhaps an announcement, to coincide with the anniversary, that Israel desires to work toward some sort of interim cantonal arrangement with the West Bank, with its Palestinians exempt from military service and ineligible to vote in national elections, but otherwise de facto Israeli citizens.
Impossible? Perhaps, but maybe it is less impossible than another 50 years of more of the same.