Saturday, January 4, 2014

Where Is the Palestinian Ben-Gurion? By Efraim Karsh.

Where is the Palestinian Ben-Gurion? By Efraim Karsh. Jerusalem Post, September 15, 2011.


Sixty-four years after partitioning Palestine into two independent states – one Jewish, the other Arab – the UN General Assembly is set again to vote on the same issue. While this time around Palestinian leaders appear to be preaching compromise, closer scrutiny reveals this to be a tactical rather than a strategic change of heart, stemming from the different circumstances of the two votes and aimed at disguising their lingering unwillingness (or perhaps inability) to live with a two-state solution.
In 1947, prior to the first UN General Assembly vote, Palestinian leaders rejected any form of Jewish self-determination in Palestine. Hajj Amin Husseini, their most prominent leader from the early 1920s to the late 1940s, upheld that “there is no place in Palestine for two races.” All areas conquered by the Arabs during the 1948 war were cleansed of Jews.
These days the Palestinians can hardly ask the UN to dismantle one of its longest standing member states and to expel its citizens.
Yet by seeking international recognition of their statehood and pressure for a complete Israeli withdrawal without a peace agreement, or, indeed, any quid pro quo, they are continuing their predecessors’ rejection of a negotiated settlement and laying the diplomatic groundwork for the renewal of the assault on the Jewish state.
The PLO’s hallowed National Covenant envisages the permanent departure of most Jews from Israel. PLO chairman Yasser Arafat’s phased strategy of June 1974, which was never disowned, stipulates that any territory gained through diplomacy would merely be a springboard for the “complete liberation of Palestine.” At the negotiating table during the Oslo years, the PLO’s most adamant demand was for the subversion of Israel’s demographic composition by forcing it to accept the so-called “right of return” and allow refugees of the 1948 war, and their descendants, to return to territory that is now part of the state of Israel. At the moment Jews presently constitute about 80 percent of Israel’s seven million- strong population; by 2020, nearly one in four Israelis will be Arab, owing to this sector’s far higher birth rate. Were millions of Palestinians to be resettled within Israel, it would soon cease to be a majority Jewish state and everybody knows it.
To present the “right of return” as a nonnegotiable demand is not to negotiate at all, particularly when Palestinian leaders themselves refuse to accept alien minorities as part of a peace settlement: In June, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas told the Arab League that the future Palestinian state should be free of Israelis (that is Jews, since virtually no other Israelis live in the West Bank). He reiterated this vision of a Judenrein Palestine last month, telling a delegation of visiting members of Congress that “I am seeking a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with Jerusalem as its capital, empty of settlements.”
Like Husseini, Arafat was far more interested in destroying the Jewish national cause than in leading his own people to statehood. As far back as 1978, he told his close friend and collaborator, Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, that the Palestinians lacked the traditions, unity and discipline to have a successful state. He was right. It was the Palestinians’ lack of communal solidarity – the willingness to subordinate personal interest to the collective good – that accounted for their collapse and dispersion during the 1948 war. The subsequent physical separation of the various parts of the Palestinian Diaspora and longstanding cleavages between West Bankers and Gazans prevented the crystallization of a cohesive national identity.
Sadly, Arafat had no intention of redressing this predicament. Given control of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza as part of the Oslo process, he made his bleak prognosis a self-fulfilling prophecy, establishing an oppressive and corrupt regime in the worst tradition of Arab dictatorships, while launching the most destructive confrontation between Israelis and Palestinians since the 1948 war.
In the process, he destroyed the fragile civil society and relatively productive economy that had developed in the interim.
Two years ago, in a bold departure from this destructive path, PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad embarked on the first state building effort in Palestinian history, one that has had some successes. However, while he recently pronounced his initiative a mission accomplished amid the diplomatic buildup to the UN vote, he knows better. Abbas’s presidency, and by extension Fayyad’s own premiership, remain unconstitutional. Not only because Abbas defied Hamas’s landslide victory in the January 2006 parliamentary elections by establishing an alternative government headed by Fayyad, but also because his own presidency expired in January 2009.
Fayyad barely challenged the corrupt and dysfunctional system established by Arafat.
The two groups dominating Palestinian life, the PLO and Hamas, remain armed groups (and active practitioners of terrorism) rather than political parties – an assured recipe for a failed state. (The Oslo Accords charged the PA with dismantling all armed groups in the West Bank and Gaza, but Arafat never bothered to comply.) Even if Abbas were to genuinely commit himself to reform after the attainment of statehood, his tenuous authority would continue to be defied by Hamas, which has not only transformed the Gaza Strip into a an Islamist micro-state but also wields considerable power and influence in the West Bank.
Whatever the UN vote may achieve, it will not be a step toward Palestinian statehood.
Contrary to the received wisdom, Israel was established not by a UN General Assembly resolution but through the unwavering determination of the Zionist leadership, or rather David Ben-Gurion, shortly to become Israel’s first prime minister, in the face of mounting international skepticism regarding partition (in March 1948 the US administration effectively backed down from the idea) and doubts about the new state’s ability to fend off both Palestinian violence and a pan-Arab attempt to abort it at birth.
In doing so, Ben-Gurion could rely on an extraordinarily resilient and vibrant national community, armed with an unwavering sense of purpose and an extensive network of political, social and economic institutions built over decades of pre-state national development.
In this respect, eighteen years after being given the chance to establish their own state free of Israel’s occupation, and despite the billions of dollars in international aid poured into this effort, the Palestinians have barely made it out of the gate. One can only hope that the international community will at long last pressure Palestinian leaders to own up to their obligations and opt for a true build-up of civil society that will ensure their constituents a decent and peaceful existence, rather than seek illusionary shortcuts and intensified conflict with Israel.

The Catastrophe Called Nakba. By Sam Sokol.

The Catastrophe Called Nakba. By Sam Sokol. Middle East Forum, May 10, 2012. Also at Secular Zionist. Originally published in the Jerusalem Post.


“All of the world knows what happened here in 1948,’ Daoud Abu Lebdeh says, while leaning against a table in a coffee shop on the Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus.
“The Israeli soldiers or the Israeli militias like the Hagana, Kahane, the Irgun and Lehi came here and they [kicked] the people outside from their homes.”
Daoud is a nondescript man of 24 from the Jerusalem neighborhood of Wadi Joz. A correspondent and blogger with the Palestinian website the Middle East Post, Daoud has come highly recommended as an expert on the Nakba, the “catastrophe” of the birth of the State of Israel, and concurrently, the start of the Palestinian refugee problem, by Fatah Youth activist and Jerusalemite Mousa Abassi.
Except for the historical inaccuracy of placing the radical Jewish nationalist movement of Kahanism in the 1940s, several decades too early, Daoud’s statement echoes the standard Palestinian narrative of the Nakba, a topic which comes up every year as Arabs within Israel, the Palestinian Authority and around the world commemorate the what they see as the tragedy of Israel’s establishment on May 14, 1948.
Elaborating on the Palestinian narrative regarding what they have termed “ethnic cleansing,” Daoud explains that “the English books, the American history books, it’s all the same. There is nothing to change. The whole world knows what happened here.”
“[The Jews] came here and established their own state [and] until today they have prevented us [from] establishing our state near to their state.”
The Palestinian narrative is very clear. According to Daoud and the Arab version of events, the Zionist movement began bringing in Jews to Palestine, then a peaceful backwater of the Ottoman Empire in which a distinct Palestinian culture had developed over centuries.
Having convinced the British to back their nationalist goals at the expense of the local Palestinians, the Jews began to bring in illegal immigrants and eventually drove the Palestinians out of their homes in an orgy of violence and massacre.
The Jews, explains Daoud, have no claim to any part of Palestine.
Asked why his predecessors did not accept the 1947 United Nations partition plan, unlike the Zionist movement which endorsed it wholeheartedly, and instead chose to go to war, the Palestinian journalist grabs my iPhone off of the table.
“I have taken your phone,” he says. “What do you do?” The partition resolution, he claims, was like someone stealing a smartphone and then asking to split it. He asserts that the Zionist movement had no claim to any part of the land and that asking the Arabs to accept that they did was a trampling of their rights.
According to Daoud, the ancient Jewish presence in Israel, preceding the arrival of Arabs and Islam to the country by thousands of years, does not have any bearing on the current political reality.
Asked why, he counters that the Jewish presence in this land is similar to that of the Muslim Moors who conquered Spain.
“Just as I can’t, in the name of Islam, go to Spain to occupy it and [expel] the Spanish because [in the past we were there],” he says, “it’s the same thing that you [Israel] are doing now. It’s not my problem that [King] David was here and Muhammad was there.”
The Palestinian focus on the Nakba, and on the return to homes lost in the fighting and subsequent Arab mass flight from Israel in 1948, has intensified over the past few years, he asserts. Despite an emphasis on the Nakba, and Israel’s illegitimacy, in the PA’s educational curriculum since the early 1990s, Daoud is sure that his people have grown more attached to the Nakba narrative because they are disillusioned by the failure to achieve a two-state solution.
However, despite the popularity and wide currency enjoyed by the Palestinian version of events, not everybody subscribes to the Nakba narrative.
Efraim Karsh, an expatriate Israeli, historian and Arabist, is the editor of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Quarterly, published by Dr. Daniel Pipes’s think tank the Middle East Forum, and, speaking with the Post by Skype from his home in the city of brotherly love, affirms his contention that the popular version of events is based on erroneous sources.
Karsh, who recently published Palestine Betrayed, a history of the Nakba, explains that it is precisely the widespread acceptance of Palestinian historiography that has stood in the way of implementing a two-state solution and accounts for, in his view, Palestinian intransigence.
An accurate history of the conflict, he opens, should be independent of political ideology. He believes history has no relation to political ideology. He himself, he continues, is an advocate of the two-state paradigm, despite his absolute rejection of the Palestinian narrative.
One of Karsh’s main contentions in his book is the responsibility of the Palestinian and outside Arab leadership for the events of 1948.
“In 1947, prior to the first UN General Assembly vote, Palestinian leaders rejected any form of Jewish self-determination in Palestine. Hajj Amin Husseini, their most prominent leader from the early 1920s to the late 1940s, upheld that ‘there is no place in Palestine for two races.’ All areas conquered by the Arabs during the 1948 war were cleansed of Jews,” he wrote in this newspaper last year.
Delving through Arab, Israeli and British archives, Karsh in Palestine Betrayed paints a portrait of a divided and not at all cohesive Palestinian-Arab society that, as he put it “all but disintegrated, with 300,000-340,000 of its members fleeing their homes to other parts of Palestine and to the neighboring Arab states.”
Writing that “nowhere at the time was the collapse and dispersion of Palestinian Arab society al-Nakba, ‘the catastrophe,’ as it would come to be known in Palestinian and Arab discourse – described as a systematic dispossession of Arabs by Jews,” Karsh went on to quote contemporary Palestinian Arab leader Musa Alami, who stated that “If ultimately the Palestinians evacuated their country, it was not out of cowardice, but because they had lost all confidence in the existing system of defense.”
Even more damning, in Karsh’s eyes, is a statement by Sir John Troutbeck, the head of the British Middle East Office in Cairo, regarding a 1949 fact-finding mission to the Gaza Strip.
“‘We know who our enemies are,’ they [the Arab refugees] will say, and they are referring to their Arab brothers who, they declare, persuaded them unnecessarily to leave their homes.”
Referring to these and similar statements, Karsh tells the Post that “the beginning of my book basically tells it all. In 1948-1949 no one among the Palestinians spoke about the Jews as responsible for their plight. It came only later, ex post facto, that they started explaining why they ran away. If you look, there are quotes of refugees in Gaza in 1949 telling the British ‘look, our leaders, the Arabs, they pushed us out but not the Jews’ so I cannot think that you need much more than this [to understand the situation].”
In the Fifties, Karsh says, the narrative began to change, with the plight of the Palestinian refugees being used as a tool in the Arab-Israeli conflict.
“In the Fifties you see the discredited Arab leaders like the Mufti and others begin an attempt to basically absolve themselves or rehabilitate themselves in their constituents,” he says.
This alternative narrative, combined with statements by Daoud regarding repeated Israeli rejections of Palestinian peace offers which Karsh rejects as untrue, paint a picture, he says, of a people unwilling to face reality.
The current Palestinian historiography is “a combination of ignorance and reluctance to reconcile themselves to reality [and] the result is very dispiriting for the future for peace,” he continues.
Certainly, the PA’s continuing demand for the “right of return” would be looked upon differently by a world that believed the Palestinian exodus to be the fault of the Arab states and local communal leaders.
In fact, Karsh continues, while there has been, even after the Roman exile, a Jewish presence in the Land of Israel for millennia, the very concept of Palestinian nationalism is a 20th-century creation.
Among his sources, Karsh quotes former Arab nationalist, Knesset member and alleged Hezbollah spy Azmi Bishara, who once made an appearance on Israeli television to announce that he doesn’t “think there is a Palestinian nation at all. I think there is an Arab nation.
“I always thought so and I did not change my mind. I do not think there is a Palestinian nation, I think its a colonialist invention – Palestinian nation. When were there any Palestinians? Where did it come from? I think there is an Arab nation. I never turned to be a Palestinian nationalist, despite my decisive struggle against the occupation. I think that until the end of the 19th century, Palestine was the south of Greater Syria.”
Of course, Daoud is having none of this. He says that while he is ready to accept a two-state solution, there really is no legitimate Jewish sovereignty in Palestine and that the entire conflict is the fault of Zionist territorial hunger and ethnic cleansing. Karsh’s opinion, he believes, is the historical revision, not the current Nakba narrative.
“The Jews suffered at the hands of the Nazis. What we don’t know is why we the Palestinians must pay the price for that.”

2014: Finally, the Liberal Moment? By George Packer.

A Year to Test Liberalism’s Fighting Faith. By George Packer. The New Yorker, January 3, 2014.


Is 2014, finally, the liberal moment?
With the financial crisis and Barack Obama’s ascent to the Presidency, 2008 struck many observers—including this one—as reminiscent of the watershed election year 1932. Even Obama’s personal moderation recalled the careful, budget-balancing F.D.R. of that campaign. It was national calamity and need that would push President Roosevelt in a more radical direction, and it seemed that similar events—bank failures, mass unemployment, epidemic foreclosures, despair—would drive President Obama the same way, toward equally far-reaching policies.
It didn’t happen like that, and for many reasons: this time around, the onset of an incipient depression nearly coincided with the arrival of the new Administration, and the hard times never ran quite deep enough to unite the country; the new President showed his inexperience, governed more cautiously than he had campaigned, and lost the rhetorical power that had connected him to the voters; his opponents, far from beaten, grew more extreme than ever; key institutions like Congress, the media, and corporations were no longer responsive to the demands of democracy; the public had lost its trust. And so we’ve had five years of far-from-unmitigated letdown.
The new year began with the inauguration of Bill de Blasio. In his first address as this city’s new Mayor, he aligned himself with New Yorkers from that earlier era: Roosevelt himself; Al Smith, the reform-minded machine pol, who fought for improved working conditions in sweatshops and later turned against the New Deal; Frances Perkins, the social worker who became Roosevelt’s labor secretary and implemented the forty-hour week and the minimum wage; and Fiorello La Guardia, de Blasio’s favorite predecessor in the mayor’s office, a Republican who, according to Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., “played the broker between New York radicalism and the progressivism of inner America.”
Along with Elizabeth Warren, de Blasio is the most visible face and potent voice of a new political spirit. For the first time in decades, liberalism is once again becoming “a fighting faith” (Whitman’s phrase, revived by Schlesinger). This spirit has almost nothing to do with the perpetual battle for the soul of the Democratic Party, or the Center for American Progress against the Third Way, or Clinton vs. Warren in 2016. It is the political articulation of a wide and deep sense of outrage and disenchantment, which is why it has legs. It has to do with a sense that the deck is stacked in favor of the few, that ordinary people’s aspirations hardly stand a chance.
Americans are loath to feel that way, which is why the moment has been such a long time coming. It took form through the crises of 2008, the muddled legislative battles of 2009-10, the Occupy memes and protests of 2011, the electoral campaigns around the country for a higher minimum wage, and the emergence of inequality as the focal point of profound economic discontents. Obama gave a speech about it in Osawatomie, Kansas, in the wake of Occupy, and last year he pushed it toward the center of his second Inaugural Address, and last month, speaking in a poor Washington neighborhood, he gave it his fullest consideration to date, calling inequality “the defining challenge of our time” and pledging to devote his second term to confronting it.
But breakthroughs rarely happen in second terms, not even in Roosevelt’s, certainly not in today’s Washington. Obama’s contribution to fighting inequality and enlarging opportunity is already law, a historic one—the Affordable Care Act. Therein lies his Presidency’s claim to greatness, and its pathos: not just the political bloodshed, the flawed rollout, and the uncertain implementation but also the sense—which Obama perhaps shares—that he should have achieved even more. If there’s a new liberal moment, President Obama may have missed it.
Anyone who’s disgusted with the politics and economics of inequality should wish Bill de Blasio well. He made it his theme and rode it to an overwhelming victory, in the process surprising opinionmakers who live on the winning side of the divide with the news that large numbers of other New Yorkers feel left out and discarded. It’s unclear how much the Mayor of New York can do about entrenched economic unfairness, beyond bringing to bear the power of rhetoric. It’s also unclear whether de Blasio is the mayor to do it. New York’s mayors are managers more than policymakers—that’s where they succeed or fail. It’s risky for de Blasio’s tenure to symbolize so much when his power to realize the vision is so limited. I admire him for aiming so high, but it’s like watching a man set out on a tightrope strung between skyscrapers.
De Blasio’s speech at City Hall was a ringing affirmation of his own cause; as such, it placed an immense magnifying glass over his mayoralty, one that also projects a target. The inaugural ceremonies were an unusually ideological and harsh indictment of the Bloomberg years and Bloomberg’s New York. A minister described the city as a “plantation.” Letitia James, the new public advocate, portrayed New York as a heartless place with a “Dickensian” justice system, where the only person who cares about the homeless and hungry is, apparently, Letitia James. De Blasio, though more tempered, cast his “progressive” vision starkly against the “far-right” policies of recent years—fair, accurate, but divisive. You don’t have to be a member of the one per cent to feel uneasy with the us-against-them tone of the proceedings.
De Blasio won in a landslide, but his mandate won’t extend beyond the first severely botched snow removal, the first transit disaster, the first spike in violent crime. New York is a city with many power centers, all of them more or less booby-trapped. De Blasio, with more than just garbage pickup riding on his term, is going to need all the help he can get.

What the Pope Meant to Say. By William McGurn.

What the Pope meant to say. By William McGurn. New York Post, January 3, 2014.