UC Berkeley history professor Beshara Doumani came to Stanford University on September 29, 2010, to give a lecture sponsored by the Abbasi Program in Islamic Studies titled, “The Iron Law and Ironies of Palestinian History.” He was introduced by notorious Stanford University history professor Joel Beinin, who managed to insert his repeated, and unfounded, claim that academic freedom in the post-9/11 era is “very much still in jeopardy.” Beinin, quoting from Doumani’s faculty bio, noted that he specializes in “recovering the history of social groups, places and time periods that have been silenced or erased by conventional scholarship on the modern Middle East.” This seemingly innocuous description belied a very specific, partisan subtext.
Taking a unique perspective, Doumani laid out his argument that current discourse throughout the Palestinian national movement is too “state-centric,” focusing on Palestinian nationhood as an end in itself without regard for “the lives of ordinary Palestinians” or whether they support such a goal. The wants and needs of the entire Palestinian diaspora, Doumani argued—including “those who are citizens in the State of Israel”—must be taken into account in discussions of a future “Palestine.”
Doumani repeatedly emphasized “the denial of the Palestinians’ right to exist as a political community” as the most egregious and harmful fault of “the Zionist movement and its supporters, Great Britain and the United States.” This denial, he alleged, has shown itself in the 1922 charter for the Mandate for Palestine (which, while it does not use the word “Arab,” repeatedly mentions the rights of non-Jews and the Arabic language); Israel’s insistence after 1948 that the Palestinian refugee issue was humanitarian and not political; and finally, Israel’s refusal to recognize Hamas following its victory in the 2006 Palestinian elections.
“This non-recognition,” Doumani stated boldly, has allowed “the twin engines of this conflict, which are of course territory taking and demographic displacement, to continue unabated as we speak.” The professor apparently felt no need to mention Hamas’s refusal to recognize Israel’s existence, the continual glorification of terrorism on Palestinian television, and the Palestinians’ repeated rejections of peace deals spanning decades as “engines of this conflict.”
Doumani then began discussing the “five ironies” that “each mark a . . . moment of erasure of the Palestinians and birth of Palestine or the other way around.” These included statements such as “the destruction of Palestine in 1948 marked the creation of the Palestinians as we know them” and “the recognition by Israel of the PLO [Palestinian Liberation Organization] as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinians signaled the end of the PLO as a significant political movement.” Most interesting, however, was the fifth irony, which Doumani described as follows:
The Palestinians today are being force-fed a state or two against their will. . . . I say force-fed because a state that can be a territorial home for Palestinians as a political community is not on the table. The Palestinians are being asked to give up the right of return as well as East Jerusalem and half of the West Bank. . . . This state has become the vehicle for pre-empting Palestinian nationalism. If it succeeds, it will . . . lead to the permanent disenfranchisement of the Palestinians. . . . There is really no support for the PA’s [Palestinian Authority’s] negotiating posture today among the majority of the 11 million Palestinians in the world.
This “all or nothing” mentality has been seen again and again in Palestinian leaders, most notably with Yasser Arafat at the 2000 Camp David Accords. Presenting the so-called “right of return” as a non-negotiable prerequisite for the establishment of a Palestinian state reveals a complete lack of interest in finding an actionable solution to the conflict. Whether he realized it or not, Doumani was implying that Palestinians do not want an independent Palestine—they want Israel.
Doumani concluded his remarks by restating the importance of the Palestinian diaspora to negotiating the state of Palestine; praising the Palestinians for finding loopholes in Israeli law that allow them to gain foreign passports; and highlighting the untapped potential of the Palestinian community in Israel. With regard to the latter, he lamented Israelis’ concern that their Arab compatriots might comprise a fifth column within their country while essentially encouraging those Arabs to realize those fears. “There is no reason why Palestinian citizens of Israel cannot be the leaders of a Palestinian national movement,” Doumani maintained. Although he claimed to be “agnostic” on the issue of a one-state or two-state solution to the conflict, he noted, “There is one state already. . . . The solution is a state for all its citizens.”
During the question and answer session, an audience member confronted Doumani on his final statement. “Why is it,” the man asked, “that there is no outcry against the treatment of Palestinians in Arab countries [such as Lebanon, Jordan and Syria]? Are these countries really states for all their citizens?” As might be expected, Doumani sidestepped the question. “Two wrongs don’t make a right,” he answered flatly. “If it’s wrong elsewhere, it’s wrong in Israel. I’m just asking that the right of equality for all people be applied to Israel.” In Doumani’s world, the right of equality for all people need not be applied to Muslim countries, and the fact that Arab citizens of Israel enjoy more political freedom than citizens of any Arab nation is irrelevant.
Other audience questions involved the role of international law, the American-Israeli relationship, and the possibility for coexistence. Doumani claimed that Israel has “no leg to stand on” with regard to international law and that “the free ride is over” in the American-Israeli relationship. Finally, Doumani concluded, coexistence is “the only solution I can see.” That may be, but coexistence under whose terms?
Jonathan Gelbart is a senior at Stanford University majoring in International Relations. He is the president of Students for an Open Society and former world news editor of the Stanford Review, an independent publication. He wrote this article for Campus Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.