I’ve lately been reading Sari Nusseibeh’s “Once upon a Country”, his political autobiography. It’s interesting to see what the world looks like from the other side, and it’s not terribly encouraging. It always seemed to me that a guy like Nusseibeh would be a candidate for a ‘moderate Palestinian leader’ — unlike Mahmoud Abbas, who is basically Arafat without the military posturing — and if, through some miracle the people would follow him instead of always preferring the most militant option available, things could be different.
Well, not really. Even leaving aside his repetition of the same false Ben-Gurion quotations, his admiration for Yasser Arafat — whom he sees as a flawed leader who nevertheless built the clan-oriented Palestinians into a ‘people’ — and his selective memory for Palestinian violence, he is still not prepared to give an inch from the usual Palestinian fantasy regarding the root of the conflict. For example, he writes,
It doesn’t matter whether you set out premeditatedely set out to cause the Palestinian refugee tragedy, I told them, the tragedy did occur, even as an indirect consequence of your actions. In our tradition, you have to own up to this. You have to come and offer an apology. Only this way will Palestinians feel that their dignity has been recognized, and be able to forgive. But by denying all responsibility, besides being historically absurd to the point of craziness, you will guarantee eternal antagonism — a never-ending search for revenge. [p. 167]
I do not deny that some traditional Zionist accounts of the 1948 war are unbalanced. Certainly some Arabs were expelled, and not all of them for reasons of military necessity. On the other hand, most fled for the same reason refugees always flee violence. And the violence occurred as a direct — not indirect — result of the actions of the Palestinian Arabs, who refused to coexist with the Zionists almost from the beginning.
So if there is to be a sulha as Nusseibeh asks, it needs to involve an admission from the Palestinian side that their tragedy is in great measure a result of their rejection of a Jewish presence in the land, not to mention Jewish sovereignty over any of it.
And the continuation of the refugee tragedy — the unprecedented persistence and growth of the refugee population, and their treatment by the Arab nations — is almost entirely the direct result of the actions of the Palestinian and other Arab leadership.
You know, we have things to apologize for, and I doubt that even ‘hardline’ (this adjective has become stuck to his name in the media) Prime Minister Netanyahu would deny this.
But where is even the beginning of an admission that they, too are responsible, from the Palestinians? We often hear criticism from Palestinians that their leaders are corrupt or that they pursue policies (terrorism) that are “not constructive”. But never that perhaps there is some moral responsibility on their side.
The Palestinians would need to do only one thing to start a process of reconciliation: in the words of PM Netanyahu, they must make “a public, binding and unequivocal Palestinian recognition of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.”
That’ll be the day.
Update [25 Jun 2009 1949 PDT]:
It’s only fair for me to add, now that I’ve finished Nusseibeh’s book, that he does call for Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. The contrast between him and, for example, Mahmoud Abbas, is striking in this regard. But I stand by everything I’ve said about his failure to understand the degree of Palestinian responsibility — in the sense of moral responsibility — for the beginning, the middle and what looks to be the bloody end of the conflict.