Newt Gingrich touched off a mini-firestorm when he told a Jewish television channel that the Palestinians are an “invented” people “who are in fact Arabs,” and “who were historically part of the Arab community.” This simple statement of historical fact was of course met with the usual bluster from the Palestinians, who called the statements “ignorant,” “despicable,” and of course “racist,” a meaningless charge. And what response from the Palestinians would be complete without the usual threat that the statement they don’t like will “increase the cycle of violence,” as Palestinian lead negotiator Saeb Erekat put it?
The truly “ignorant,” however, are those who have bought the “Palestinian homeland” propaganda. Where was all this talk about a homeland for the Palestinians in 1948, when the Arab armies invaded Israel? Their aim was not to create a Palestinian state, but rather to carve up the rest of British Mandatory Palestine, as the secretary-general of the Arab League, Abdel Rahman Azzam, confessed at the time: “Abdullah [ruler of Transjordan] was to swallow up the central hill regions of Palestine … The Egyptians would get the Negev. The Galilee would go to Syria, except that the coastal part as far as Acre would be added to the Lebanon.” Until 1967, the so-called “West Bank” was part of Jordan, but none of the Arab nations agitated for the creation of a Palestinian state. The “Palestinian homeland” became a tactical weapon after violence failed to achieve the real aim, the destruction of Israel.
In fact, the Palestinians themselves have admitted that the “Palestinian homeland” is a tactical weapon for the destruction of Israel. Listen to Zahir Muhsein, a member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization executive committee, from an interview with a Dutch newspaper given in 1977: “The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct ‘Palestinian people’ to oppose Zionism. For tactical reasons, Jordan, which is a sovereign state with defined borders, cannot raise claims to Haifa and Jaffa, while as a Palestinian, I can undoubtedly demand Haifa, Jaffa, Beer-Sheva and Jerusalem. However, the moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will not wait even a minute to unite Palestine and Jordan.”
Muhsein’s statement is consistent with the stated aims of the Palestinian leadership for the last half century: to destroy Israel in “stages.” In 1993, on the same day that the Oslo Accords handed over the West Bank to the PLO, Yasser Arafat told Jordanian television, “Since we cannot defeat Israel in war, we do it in stages. We take any and every territory that we can of Palestine, and establish a sovereignty [sic] there, and we use it as a springboard to take more. When the time comes, we can get the Arab nations to join us for the final blow against Israel.” Indeed, before 1967, Palestinians did speak of a homeland, but it was not to exist in the West Bank, but in Israel. The 1964 PLO Charter Article 24 explicitly said, “This Organization does not exercise any territorial sovereignty over the West Bank in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, on the Gaza Strip or in the Himmah Area.” After 1967, this article was removed for strategic purposes. Thus any content to the notion of a “Palestinian homeland” is inextricably predicated on the destruction of Israel, as Article 2 of the 1968 Charter makes clear: “Palestine, with the boundaries it had during the British Mandate, is an indivisible territorial unit.” Consistent with this principle, Arafat said in 1970, “We shall never stop until we can go back home and Israel is destroyed, peace for us means Israel’s destruction and nothing else.” In other words, the “two-state solution” that Westerners continue to chant like a mantra will not resolve the conflict between Israel and the Arabs.
Our failures in dealing with a dysfunctional Middle East in part result from a failure of imagination, our unwillingness to think beyond our own ideals and see beyond the duplicitous pretexts of our adversaries. The tactic of a “Palestinian homeland,” for example, exploits the Western ideal of the nation-state as forming the fundamental structure of a people and their collective identity. But nationalism is not an organic part of Islam, which recognizes no separation of church and state. A people are created by their adherence to Islam, by being members of the global umma or Muslim community. The PLO Charter makes this clear in Article 15: “The liberation of Palestine, from an Arab viewpoint, is a national (qawmi) duty and it attempts to repel the Zionist and imperialist aggression against the Arab homeland, and aims at the elimination of Zionism in Palestine. Absolute responsibility for this falls upon the Arab nation––peoples and governments––with the Arab people of Palestine in the vanguard.” Palestinian nationalism is an expression of Arab nationalism, in a way unimaginable for any Western country, for the simple reason that Arab nationalism is in fact another expression of universal Muslim identity.
In fact, every Middle Eastern Muslim country that has shaken off its kleptocratic dictators writes its government charters to reflect the religious foundations of Muslim nationalism. Iraq’s constitution––purchased with American blood and treasure––reads at the start, “Islam is the official religion of the state and is a basic source of legislation,” and asserts, “No law can be passed that contradicts the undisputed rules of Islam.” The second article proclaims, “This constitution guarantees the Islamic identity of the majority of the Iraqi people.” In Afghanistan’s Constitution, Article 2 says, “The religion of the state of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan is the sacred religion of Islam.” Article 3 adds, “In Afghanistan, no law can be contrary to the beliefs and provisions of the sacred religion of Islam.” And these are the two states where the United States has provided billions of dollars, security, and a custodial presence all meant to create “freedom and democracy” in an Islamic state. We can imagine what will arise in Libya and Egypt, where Islamist parties dedicated to founding a state on shari’a law are driving events. Influential Egyptian cleric Safwat Higazi––who appeared on stage with Muslim Brother “Spiritual Guide” Yusuf al-Qaradawi when the latter returned in triumph to Cairo after Mubarak’s fall––has given us a clear indication of what to expect: “I am convinced that Islam is imminent, the caliphate is imminent. One of these days, the United States of Islam will be established. Allah willing, it will be soon. Egypt will be one state in this [United States of Islam.] Morocco and Saudi Arabia will be states as well.”
National identity, then, means something very different to most Muslims from what it means to us. For most Muslims in the Middle East, being Muslim takes precedence over being an Egyptian, a Libyan, or a Palestinian. And being Muslim means endorsing shari’a law, which is incompatible with Western notions of universal human rights and tolerance. The obsession with Palestinian “national identity” or “national aspirations” blinds us to the religious foundations of Arab hatred of Israel and Jews evident throughout the Middle East and driving policy toward Israel.
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