WASHINGTON (AP) — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton told reporters Tuesday that she reiterated the U.S. government’s commitment to a two-state solution and its demand that Israel halt construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.
“Underlying that commitment is the conviction that the Palestinians deserve a viable state…”
An interesting concept, to deserve a state. Other groups also say they deserve a state. The Kurds, for example, but nobody seems interested in giving them one. Possibly some Francophone Canadians. And the Tamil Tigers, at least before they were wiped out.
Somehow the Palestinian Arabs’ struggle seems to have caught the imagination of the world in a way the others didn’t. Is this because they are more deserving? Let’s look at some reasons that might make a person or group deserving of something and see if any of them fit the Palestinians.
One is that someone had something which was unfairly taken from him and he deserves to get it back.
This is a common Palestinian theme, the claim that they were dispossessed by the Jews, and are entitled to their land back. But let’s look at what really happened.
Palestine (called southern Syria) in the 19th century was a backward part of the Ottoman empire — in no way was there a Palestinian state or even a geo-political entity of Palestine. Arabs and a smaller number of Jews lived there. Ottoman policies and taxation made it very difficult to make a living. The Jews purchased land and began to develop it. But analysis shows that Jewish immigration before 1948 did not dispossess or displace Arabs:
Every indication is that there was net Arab immigration into Palestine in this period [1880-1948], and that the economic situation of Palestinian Arabs improved tremendously under the British Mandate relative to surrounding countries. By 1948, there were approximately 1.35 million Arabs and 650,000 Jews living between the Jordan and the Mediterranean, more Arabs than had ever lived in Palestine before, and more Jews than had lived there since Roman times. Analysis of population by sub-districts shows that Arab population tended to increase the most between 1931 and 1948 in the same areas where there were large proportions of Jews. Therefore, Zionist immigration did not displace Arabs. — MideastWeb, “Population of Ottoman and Mandate Palestine, Statistical and Demographic Considerations“
After WWI under the British Mandate, conditions improved drastically. But especially under the leadership of Haj Amin al-Husseini, the unfortunate choice of the British for Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Palestinian Arabs perpetrated anti-Jewish riots and pogroms throughout the period, including the bloody Hebron Massacre in 1929.
In November 1947 the UN Partition Resolution called for the division of Western Palestine into an Arab and a Jewish state (the larger eastern part had already been given by the British to the Hashemite Abdullah in 1921, creating the state called Jordan today). The Palestinian Arabs responded by attacking Jewish towns and farms, starting the war we know as Israel’s War of Independence. In May 1948, when the British pulled out and Israel declared independence, the Palestinians were joined by troops from five Arab states.
As we all know, Israel won this war and about 700,000 Arabs became refugees. The Arabs claimed that they were ‘expelled’, but in truth they left for a spectrum of reasons, with only a small minority — primarily the population of towns on the road to Jerusalem from which attacks were launched against convoys attempting to supply beseiged Jerusalem — actually forced to leave. Some well-to-do Palestinians left before the war to wait it out in comfort, others were frightened by atrocity propaganda, and still others fled actual fighting.
I would argue that the responsibility for creating these refugees lies with the Palestinians and their allies, who — instead of accepting partition — started and lost the war. And certainly the responsibility for making impossible their return or, later, the resettlement of their descendants, lies with the Arab nations who for sixty-one years have chosen to use them as a tool to try to reverse the outcome of the war.
The land which would have become the Palestinian Arab state was gobbled up instead by Jordan and Egypt, which held it for 19 years. So there was no ‘Palestine lost’: rather there was a missed opportunity to create one.
Another reason is that someone has shown by his actions that he is capable of managing something constructively and thus earned the right to do so.
By 1948 the Jews had built all of the institutions of a modern state including political, educational, legal, health care, etc. institutions. Today the Palestinian Authority is corrupt and enjoys support from only a small portion of the population, while Hamas has an explicitly racist and genocidal program.
Over the years Palestinian behavior has not met the standards expected of a political entity that aspires to statehood. Terrorist attacks on Israelis have been a constant since before the founding of the state. The Palestinian leader who more than anyone else represents the Palestinian national movement, Yasser Arafat, did more to popularize terrorism against civilians as an instrument of policy than anyone else in recent times.
The murderous Arafat Intifada of 2000, begun in response to an offer of statehood — which was real and generous, despite self-serving Palestinian statements to the contrary — is an example of Palestinian behavior, as is the continuous rocket war waged against Israel by Hamas from Gaza.
Finally, one indication that someone deserves something is that he is willing to give up something significant to get it.
Israel, for example, gave up the Sinai Peninsula, which was highly strategic, had oil and other mineral deposits, resorts, settlements and important military installations, to Egypt in return for what turned out to be a minimal peace treaty. But the Palestinian authority will not give up its demand for Israel to absorb millions of refugee descendants, will not accept Israel as a Jewish state, and will not compromise on receiving all of East Jerusalem.
Of course the real elephant in the room is the systematic ambiguity about what they ‘deserve’. Ms. Clinton thinks that it is the territories that were occupied by Jordan and Egypt in 1948. But — as Jeff Jacoby points out — Palestinians have always spurned this, believing that they ‘deserve’ all of the land ‘from the river to the sea’ as they are fond of saying.