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


War with Iran Isn’t on the Horizon. So Why All the Arguments against It?

As the U.S. has responded to Iranian provocations in the Persian Gulf, various observers in the press have argued that National Security Advisor John Bolton somehow seeks to drag President Trump into a war with Iran against his will. Matthew Continetti points out the absurdities of this argument, and its origins:

Never mind that President Trump, Vice-President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan, and Bolton have not said a single word about a preemptive strike, much less a full-scale war, against Iran. Never mind that the president’s reluctance for overseas intervention is well known. The “anti-war” cries are not about context, and they are certainly not about deterring Iran. Their goal is saving President Obama’s nuclear deal by manipulating Trump into firing Bolton and extending a lifeline to the regime.

It’s a storyline that originated in Iran. Toward the end of April, Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif showed up in New York and gave an interview to Reuters where he said, “I don’t think [Trump] wants war,” but “that doesn’t exclude him basically being lured into one” by Bolton. . . . And now this regime talking point is everywhere. “It’s John Bolton’s world. Trump is just living in it,” write two former Obama officials in the Los Angeles Times. “John Bolton is Donald Trump’s war whisperer,” writes Peter Bergen on . . .

Recall Obama’s deputy national security advisor Ben Rhodes’s admission to the New York Times Magazine in 2016 [that] “We created an echo chamber” to attack the Iran deal’s opponents through leaks and tips to the D.C. press. . . . Members of the echo chamber aren’t for attacking Iran, but they are all for slandering its American opponents. The latest target is Bolton. . . .

The Iranians are in a box. U.S. sanctions are crushing the economy, but if they leave the agreement with Europe they will be back to square one. To escape the box you try to punch your way out. That’s why Iran has assumed a threatening posture: provoking an American attack could bolster waning domestic support for the regime and divide the Western alliance.

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More about: Barack Obama, Iran, Javad Zarif, John Bolton, U.S. Foreign policy