The only people to call themselves "Palestinians" prior to the creation of the state of Israel were the Jews who were the first, and up until that time, the only group to conceive of the land as being the home of a separate people or national identity. That was no accident since the land now called Israel or Palestine was sacred only to one people. For centuries, it was an Arab backwater, but it has been the object of prayers for two millennia for the Jews who not only never ceased to hope for the restoration of their sovereignty but also, as is rarely mentioned, never entirely left its soil. Zionism was merely a new name for an ancient though still living people's belief about their homeland and their destiny.To recap: If they weren't a "people" historically, they are a "people" now. However, that does not give them the right to deny and revile the Jewish people's claim to what, demonstrably, is their ancient and sacred land.
By contrast, Palestinian nationalism is, as Gingrich rightly said, a 20th century invention. It arose and flourished purely as a reaction to Zionism, a factor that has fatally complicated the quest for peace as Palestinian identity seems to be predicated more on a desire to extinguish the Jewish state and to delegitimize the Jewish presence than it is on the re-creation of an Arab political culture that is specific to this locality.
Even 50 years ago, there was little notion of a separate Palestinian political identity. After all, from 1949 to 1967 Jordan ruled the West Bank and half of Jerusalem and Egypt controlled Gaza. During those 19 years, there was no international clamor to create a Palestinian state in those territories. It would only be after Israel took control over the territories during the Six-Day War that the absence of a Palestinian state was deemed intolerable.
That said, it must be conceded that even if the Palestinians did invent themselves in the last 100 years, it is pointless to deny they do exist now. Millions consider themselves to be part of a distinct Palestinian people with a common history and destiny. The United States and Israel both understand that their desire for self-rule must be accommodated so long as it does not infringe on the rights and security of Israel. A two-state solution that would allow a state of Palestine to exist alongside Israel is now believed by most Israelis to be a commonsensical idea even if it would involve painful territorial compromises.
The catch is that the Palestinians seem unable to accept the idea of the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn. And that is where their "invented" history comes in. Since the Palestinians only arrived on the world stage as a result of their revulsion at the notion of Jewish sovereignty over any part of the country, it is difficult, if not impossible for them to come to terms with a peace that would imply Israel's permanence...
Monday, December 12, 2011
Was Newt Right to Say Palestinians Were "Invented"?
Jonathan Tobin's analysis strikes me as being eminently sensible: