At last month’s American-backed Middle East summit in Warsaw, the Palestinian issue remained conspicuously absent as Arab leaders appeared side-by-side with Benjamin Netanyahu. Alex Joffe explains why, after a century of agitation, Palestinian nationalism has hit a dead end:
On the one hand, [Palestinian nationalism] relies on romantic visions of an imaginary past, the myth of ancestors sitting beneath their lemon trees. These and other supposedly timeless essences are at odds with the hardscrabble reality of pre-modern Palestine, which was controlled by the Ottoman empire, dominated by its leading families, and beset by endemic poverty and disease. As in all national visions, these unhappy memories are mostly edited out.
On the other hand, Palestinian nationalism is [itself] resolutely negative, in that it relies on the existential evils of “settler-colonialist” Zionism and ever-perfidious Jews. Consider the essential symbols of Palestine: a fighter holding a rifle and a map that erases Israel completely. It is a nationalism—and thus an identity—based in large part on negation of [another nation], preferably through violence. [These symbols] also imply that Palestinian identity exists only through struggle. . . .
In terms of creating an actual state, the Palestinian problem is one that is also endemic to Arab and Islamic states. Because the state is fundamentally an extension or tool of the ruling tribe, sect, or ideology, the state’s security institutions are exceptionally strong but its social institutions are weak, both by default and by design. In Palestinian society, the proliferation of security organizations maps onto tribal and clan groups. But, as in many Arab and Islamic states, health, education, and welfare services are either neglected or (just as often) funded by external sources. . . . For the Palestinians, it is foreign aid, nongovernmental organizations, and the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA).
Joffe concludes that until Palestinian leaders reject their traditional tools of “threats, shaming, and blackmail” and accept that Israel isn’t going anywhere—both of which he deems unlikely in the foreseeable future—the failure will continue.