The Failure of Palestinian Nationalism

March 11 2019

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.

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More about: Israel & Zionism, Israel-Arab relations, Palestinians

Despite What the UN Says, the Violence at the Gaza Border Is Military, Not Civilian, in Nature

March 22 2019

On Monday, a UN Human Rights Council commission of inquiry issued its final report on last spring’s disturbances at the Gaza border. Geoffrey Corn and Peter Margulies explain why the report is fatally flawed:

The commission framed the events [in Gaza] as a series of demonstrations that were “civilian in nature.” Israel and its Supreme Court, [which has investigated some of the killings that occurred], framed the same events quite differently: as a new evolution in Israel’s ongoing armed conflict with the terrorist organization Hamas. Consistency and common sense suggest that the Israeli High Court of Justice’s framing is a more rational explanation of what occurred at the Israel-Gaza border in spring 2018.

Kites, [for instance], played a telltale role [in the violence]. When most people think of kites, they think of a child’s plaything or a hobbyist’s harmless passion. In the Gaza confrontation, kites [became] a new and effective, albeit low-tech, tactic for attacking Israel. As the report conceded, senior Gaza leaders, including from Hamas, “encouraged” the unleashing of waves of incendiary kites that during and since the spring 2018 confrontations have burned thousands of acres of arable land within Israel. The resulting destruction included fires that damaged the Kerem Shalom border crossing, which conveys goods and gasoline from Israel to Gaza. . . .

Moreover, the incendiary-kite offensive was an effective diversion from the efforts encouraged and coordinated by Hamas last spring to pierce the border with Israel and attack both IDF personnel and the civilian residents of the beleaguered Israeli towns a short distance from the border fence. . . .

The commission also failed to acknowledge that Hamas sought to use civilians as an operational cover to move members of its armed wing into position along the fence. For IDF commanders, this increased the importance of preventing a breach [in the fence]. Large crowds directly along the fence would simplify breakthrough attempts by intermingled Hamas and other belligerent operatives. The crowds themselves also could attempt to pour through any breach. Unfortunately, the commission seems to have completely omitted any credible assessment of the potential casualties on all sides that would have resulted from IDF action to seal a breach once it was achieved. . . .

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More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Laws of war, UNHRC, United Nations