Is Palestine history?
That is, have its various leaders lost the opportunity to make their place name into a country?
Most likely yes, but it will not disappear soon from agendas of international politics.
In other words, the idea will hang on, and provide stimulus to Palestinians and others feeling they have justice and history on their side. However, if the past is any guide--and it usually is--nothing will come of it.
The story is well known, encapsuled in that epigram made famous by Abba Eban, that Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
The other side of the story is that they are darlings of the third world, and of much in the first world. It's politically correct--from Obama Washington across all of Europe and beyond to unimportant places--to say that they deserve a state, that the "two state solution" is the best alternative available, and that Israel has not done enough to bring it about.
Iran plus a few others go beyond what is conventional and provide money and munitions to the most extreme Palestinian groups that reject all compromises with Israel.
Indications are that things are not going well for the Palestinians. An insistence on explicit Israeli preconditions for beginning negotiations, like accepting the legitimacy of 1967 borders and the idea of a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem, has not gone well even with diplomats friendly to their cause. The United States and other western governments are urging--even warning--the Palestinian leadership not to venture into the United Nations to improve the status of Palestine. Individuals said to be part of the Palestinian leadership (a group whose amorphous character is part of the Palestinian problem) are showing something close to panic by urging Jordan to re-occupy the West Bank. Not only would that absorb the Palestinian idea into something else, but it would require the very unlikely assent of Israel.
Mahmoud Abbas gave a rare interview in English to Israeli media in which he asserted that he would welcome an opportunity to visit his home town of Safed, but that he recognized the city as Israeli. As long as he was in charge, there would be no armed uprising. His path is that of politics, diplomacy, and passive resistance.
That is an admirable posture, but must be viewed in the wider context. Abbas' term as president ended almost four years ago, Hamas and other extremists are in control of Gaza, and are projected to win any fair election in the West Bank.
Also working against Palestine is the confusion tending toward chaos coming out of Arab spring. At the least, this weakens the Palestinian case in the short run. Diplomats of the world are more concerned with Syria, Libya, Egypt, and a few other places.
At the worse, from the Palestinian perspective, the results so far of Arab spring have given a lift to anti-western Islamic extremists who weaken enthusiasm for Palestine in western capitals. To be sure, there are those who say that Israel must forestall extremism by giving in to Palestinian demands. However, current and foreseeable Israeli governments are unlikely to cooperate. The Palestinian issue has all but disappeared from Israel's political campaign. Distrust and disbelief about the Palestinian cause is widespread in Israel. One sign of it is the 3-1 preference for Mitt Romney among Israelis polled on the American presidential contest.
With all of the problems facing the prospect of a Palestinian state, and the likelihood that its time has passed, the idea is deeply embedded in the conventional wisdom of the politically correct.
This may only mean that the idea cannot die. The medical analogy of coma is appropriate. The patient is showing minimal signs of life, but without indications of death or recovery.
Perhaps the best argument for keeping it alive is that it cannot die. There are perhaps 3-4 million Palestinians without a state framework divided between Gaza and the West Bank, plus uncounted others claiming refugee status unto the third and fourth generations. It is assumed that many want to come home, and some actually say that, with some of them waving keys to homes that no longer exist.
All this represents an anomaly, i.e., unusual but by no means unique in international politics. Close to the situation of Palestinians is that of the Kurds as well as numerous unhappy tribes in Africa. Other unhappy national groups, e.g., Scots, Welsh, Basques, Catalonians, and a few others, benefit from living in countries that grant formal or informal kinds of autonomy, allow nationalists to express themselves, with less carnage that associated with Palestinians or Kurds.
Israelis being Jews, and the land at issue being holy, complicate any assessment of Palestine's future in world politics.
Those elements help to keep spirits alive. We can count on no end of political speeches, international travel by Palestinians claiming leadership, visits to Palestine by governmental leaders and aspiring activists, financial aid to Palestine out of proportion to aid given elsewhere, along with vocal support in favor of the two-state solution by one and all, including Israeli politicians who want to preserve their country's status within the orbit of the politically correct. The idea of Palestine is too well connected to disappear. "Hanging around" is the best description for its status and prospects. It's here, won't disappear, but has shown no signs of accomplishing its advocates' aspirations.
Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Posted by Ira Sharkansky at November 02, 2012 06:18 AM