February 16, 2018
There’s a question mark alongside the title of this note, insofar as the issues involved in assessing what is described as Palestine raise a host of questions and few clear answers. The problems are normative, i.e., what should be, as well as practical, i.e., what is and what is likely. Even what is, with respect to Palestine, opens us to arguments on several points.
The history of Palestinians is as confused as that of any people. And while the designation of Palestinians is problematic, so is that of any nationality.
Jews are as much of a mixture as any other ethnic, religious, or nationality group. However, we came into existence, and have been arguing about ourselves for something like 3,000 years.
Palestinians is a designation for a people is newer than many, perhaps traceable to the 1920s with a name much older assigned to a fuzzily defined territory. Many who call themselves Palestinians have ancestors who migrated from elsewhere within the most recent century.
The designation of land and boundaries is confused by what is, and is not, written in the Balfour Declaration and what came after it in the Peel Commission, the 1948 war and Jordan’s occupation of the West Bank, the 1967 war and subsequent events in the West Bank and Gaza
Also in the picture is the Palestinians’ role as the darling of Muslim politics, the unusual status of those claiming refugee status (including descendants to the third of later generations), and the troubled history, along with individual accomplishments, of Palestinians in Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, the Gulf, and elsewhere.
The boundaries and status of Gaza have been stable for more than a decade. It’s been left to fester in the morass of Palestinian politics, supplied and closed off as hostile by Israel and Egypt. Overall, its people don’t seem worse off than the average among African countries, but it gets more attention and concern than anything to the south by virtue of being Palestinian. The West Bank is better off, and gets even more attention. Israeli settlement and the sensitivities of Jerusalem are seldom far from headlines or the agendas of the United Nations and several national governments. The area is widely perceived as Palestinian, but the details are less than certain.
History is one of the problems. The name “Palestine” goes back to Rome, but there has never been an independent country or state of Palestinians widely recognized. The lack of international recognition for Jordan’s occupation (1948-67) is part of the muddle. Only Britain and Pakistan saw it as kosher.
Whose land is it? Whose was it? There’s no answer that is not a muddle. It’s possible to find in Israeli opinions and official actions that the entire West Bank is “disputed” due to the lack of international recognition of the Jordanian occupation. But there is also Israeli acceptance of a Palestinian National Authority and reservations about Israeli rights in the area beyond the 1967 lines. And there are religious and nationalist Jews who are convinced that it’s all ours, given by God prior to the appearance of any Empire.
The muddle continues in confusion about Israeli policy with respect to settlements. There is restraint against new construction outside of established settlement blocs, along with a tolerance of “piratical” settlements, wherever, by small groups of highly motivated activists. The courts and government agencies have removed settlements or neighborhoods judged to have been built on private Palestinian land, but the process has taken years and in some cases remains incomplete.
Involved in the muddle are repeated Palestinian rejections of opportunities to acquire firm title over substantial territory, presumably acquiring recognition as a Palestinian state. Their record of rejection goes back to British efforts in the 1930s and continues through prominent instances in 2000 and again a half decade later.
There have been several waves of Palestinian violence, continuing until now with individual attacks from the West Bank and missiles from Gaza. Israeli analysts detect an uptick in Palestinian violence since Trump’s announcement about the status of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Two of the most terror attacks killed young rabbis, the fathers of large families, who lived in West Bank settlements not formally recognized by Israel. Both events produced waves of reaction, with rightists demanding that their settlements be recognized as proper responses to Palestinian terror. We also heard reservations from the left, with people saying that families moving to such areas must take account of the risks.
The Palestinian leadership is at high bombast, asserting that there was not a historic presence of Jews in the Jerusalem, along with the impropriety of Balfour, and variously insisting on the boundaries of 1947 or 1967.
Sweden has joined a number of Third World countries in recognizing a Palestinian state, Slovenia has moved in that direction, and many other countries grant the Palestinians some degree of diplomatic status.
The United States has signaled something like a recognition of the status quo, without actually using those words. Trump moved substantially beyond Obama in his rhetoric about Jerusalem and the marginal nature of Israel-Palestine among other problems of the Middle East.
Other countries have reacted in varying degrees of shock to what Trump has said. Some have acted to replace what the US said it would no longer be paying for the problematic efforts of UNRWA.
The status quo has at least the potential of dynamism. Whatever happens, if anything, may show the impact of what Palestinians do, along with actions of Israel, international organizations, and the numerous national governments concerned with Palestine.
The spread of Jewish settlements, the power of Israel, and Israelis’ distrust of Palestinians may render the issue of a Palestinian state moot--at least for the foreseeable future.
Is Israeli opposition to a Palestinian state morally justified?
Self-defense is a powerful explanation, against a background of chronic violence for at least a century, with several waves severe in the numbers of casualties.
Among the questions dangling is the degree of lip service in sentiments expressed by national leaders about Palestine.
It’s convenient to arrange for Mahmoud Abbas an honor guard, a public handshake, and another dollop of money. What else? What comes next? has been more elusive.
Recent news is that important Muslim authorities, including leading members of the Saudi regime, have sought to downsize Palestinian aspirations, while other messages coming out of the same regimes have expressed what’s traditional about Palestinian rights and Israeli injustice.
It’s best to avoid speculation. Those feeling certain about one moral posture or another will continue to preach, most likely produce little more than responses from people also confident of their moral position.
Anyone certain of movement in one direction or another should not bet more than a few cents on their passions or predictions
Comments welcome, firstname.lastname@example.org.