Arabs say they support Palestine, but their actions betray them. Why?
This should be required reading by the media and our politicians.
Excellent piece. I will try to be concise although I expect inevitable failure. I am struck by the parallels of the Levant and the Middle East with the partition of India as a vast patchwork of tribes and cultures in both cases were inadvertently unified under an empire and then split up again upon independence.
For most of human history, we have been organized into either small-scale groups like tribes or supranational entities like empires. Nation-states are a modern aberration and while now regarded as the geopolitical standard, they cause certain problems: tribes are localist by nature and empires, by virtue of their size, cannot be heavy handed. When all these regions were under the supreme control of the Ottoman Empire, peace reigned by default.
But nations are intrusive. They have defined borders, they levy harsher taxes, they have stringent security considerations, they are often based on strict ethnic or religious criteria, they look less favourably on local administration, and unlike empires which must cater to disparate sets of people and therefore cultivate a semblance of impartiality, nation states are expressly clear on who they favour.
As a result, people who may have been content being ruled by an empire controlled by a different ethnicity, culture, or religion, cannot stand being part of a nation state. In addition, they set in motion a continuous process of dissolution: once people A have been granted independence, people B want their own and then of course people C and people D... It ironically turns out that countries, which themselves had to win their own independence through blood and toil, are ill-disposed to granting the same to breakaway movements in their own countries.
Moving on, with specific regard to Palestine, a few thoughts. First off, each side is stuck. Indeed, were this to be the seventeenth or eighteenth centuries, the solution would be unspeakably violent but it would be a solution: one side would simply attempt to ethnically cleanse the other. It is what other settler states, most famously the United States of America, carried out in the past. It is certain that if the native American population remained as relatively large today as it did 200 years ago, it would be a very different United States.
Forbidding such abominable measures, the issue at hand is the population figures. There are five million Palestinians and nine million Israelis. If the Palestinians were a smaller minority, as the Kurds are in turkey or as the ethnic turks of Xinjiang have been in China, then they could be absorbed into Israel or silenced.
If the Israelis, on the other hand, were the small minority, then their current system of apartheid would be unsustainable as it proved to be in South Africa and Rhodesia. ( apropos of the latter, the white minority was massacred and the rest fled. In the former, they have uneasily integrated).
Here, they are relatively matched. Neither can fully subdue the other and so a lasting peace is impossible. In South Korea, the mountainous Jeju people attempted to break away and of course there was a strong separatist in Quebec in the 1980s. But as Canada and South Korea grew far more prosperous, these movements were neutralized. Separatists chose to share in a growing pie than cart off with their own slice.
Such an option does not exist here, again because of the relative population figures and the religious/tribal divide. Consider that Israel subsidizes Gaza with water, electricity, and infrastructure and that Gaza has a higher GDP per Capita than its Arab neighbours. It hasn't changed the mutual hostilities.
The best solution therefore is something akin to what prevailed in Ireland with the Good Friday argument of 1988. Unfortunately, that only happened after both sides had exhausted themselves in sporadic violence for decades and their larger neighbour intervened to act as an intermediary. Perhaps, the current instantiation of violence will finally force all sides to the bargaining table. For so long, the violence has been sporadic and intermittent as all three( Israel, Gaza and the West Bank) continue to exist in an unhappy equilibrium.
But with tensions so high and the brutalities so blatant, there is finally a chance to exit that equilibrium and seek a permanent resolution once and for all. Behind all of the bloodshed and gore, it would represent the thinnest of silver linings. They must now pull themselves out of the abyss by the most delicate of threads.
Excellent discussion of the subject. A few additional points are worthy of comment.
The United Nations has two refugee relief agencies. The UNHCR (UN High Commission for Refugees) deals with refugee issues everywhere in the world EXCEPT for Palestinian refugees. The UNHCR definition of a refugee is the family that had to flee their home country but NONE of their offspring. So the number of refugees DECREASES over time.
The second agency is UNRWA (UN Relief and Works Administration for Palestinian Refugees). Their definition of a refugee is a family that fled Jewish Palestine before 1948 or Israel after 1948 and ALL of their descendants. So the number of refugees INCREASES over time. Only a few of these refugees became citizens of the countries they settled in.
After the 1948 war an estimated 600,000+ Jews fled or were expelled from Arab countries and settled in Israel and became citizens.
Excellent, excellent piece. A refreshing perspective and view on this explosive conflict . The number of manipulated and moving cogs in this historical timepiece to give rise to the current Middle East conflict is fascinating and gathers meaning as to the movement and reactions of adjoining countries . Here you have explanations and insights not provided by many MSM American geopolitical journalists some which nudge their readers to their pro leftist views.
Best article in the series yet! Hope it goes viral.
Another excellent piece Tomas. When those sympathetic to the Palestinians decry the effects of colonialism, it is Britain and France against whom they should direct their ire, as you so clearly describe. Before Sykes and Picot drew arbitrary borders on their map, there were no nations in that region, but rather small kingdoms and tribal congregations. Carving out Israel after WW 1 only further complicated things. Palestine was what was left over after Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel worked out their borders through war and treaty. It is the misfortune of those caught in what is now Palestine after all the borders were set that they are viewed more as pawns than people deserving a future by all parties in this region. There is an important lesson here that people will not silently comply with being tossed aside by history. Understanding this sordid history, laid out so clearly by Tomas, is necessary when responding to the ongoing conflict.
Tomas, could you answer a question?
You explain why "Palestine" as a people group, state or even tribe didn't exist prior to the Brits creating "Mandatory Palestine". So by definition, "Palestinian" is an Arab that happened to be living in the land that is now Israel, at the time that Israel came into being. Yes?
But you then go on to cite numbers of "Palestinians" in other nations and to discuss how this Palestinian diaspora was treated and considered in other Arab nations.
Is there a primary common tribe that the majority of self-identified "Palestinians" belong to that makes them distinct from other Arab populations in Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Saudi, etc.? I don't know enough about the Arab people/race to know the influence of tribes. Is the definition of "Palestinian" really just as simple as "Arab Muslims, and their descendants, that lived in Israel at the time of the founding of Israel"?
Tomas, the chart showing # of palestinian refugees, do you know how up to date that is?
It shows roughly 1.5M in Gaza, while in the news they report 2M. The information is powerful, just want to be sure correctness before referencing it. Thanks much.
Thank you. This is a very good (partial) history & thoughtful assessment of the political realities of the region.
I also wanted to say, as a fan of Einstein's social writings (letters, short essays, and so on), I know that in the early 20th century when he wrote, he was a Zionist. He admits frequently that he may be wrong about some of his positions, but he writes in crystal clear fashion in a way that is eerie to read today. Especially I am thinking about some of the things he said about Russia and about economics: He can say more in a single paragraph than a lot of people say in a whole book (Trotsky for example). I would give a lot to know what he would write today.
Thoughtfully written, which says a lot these days. Much more insightful than anything I have read in the mainstream media. I have a question: I would like to support you, but I have a problem with automatically renewing memberships. Is it possible to donate ala Wikipedia or alternatively via a non-renewing (fixed time period) upgrade?
Such an illuminating piece, thank you.
I came across an interview with "The Son of Hamas" - a child of one of the founders who since left the movement. I thought you'd find that useful for your next piece.
Great work as usual Tomas. Can you give some sources to go in-depth? Thank you :)
Majority of muslims in Arab states cater to plight of Palestinians also because nationalism hasn't yet spread to masses at the same level as that it has influenced the elites of those countries. Masses still see them as Muslim first and then their nationalities.
Thanks Tomas, and courage for the balls to speak up on this thorny topic. While this is all true and sane, I don't think a balanced understanding of the situation can ignore the gross asymmetry in suffering. That doesn't mean following those that see all victims as saints, or those that see their defenders as saints, but it does mean that the much greater pain and violence inflicted on Palestinians cannot be discounted to have a balanced view of the situation.