An interesting article by Bradley Burston of Haaretz, published on 15 June, explains why the Palestinians still do not have their own independent state.
It is reproduced here in full because it provides a succinct and more balanced picture of the Arab-Israeli conflict than anything I have seen in recent years. I do not necessarily endorse the writer's views because they are not entirely neutral. However, the article deserves wider coverage especially in light of the recent tragic events in Gaza, which demand a pause and some self reflection.
Why there is no Palestine By Bradley Burston
Two ships of state are headed directly toward each other at an average rate of 75 deaths per month.
The first ship, which we will call I., has many captains and no rudder. It is slowly but inexorably sinking from the corrosive effects of corruption, callousness and exhaustion. The second ship, which we will call P., is sinking at a somewhat faster rate, its hull breaking in two, its crew in mutiny against itself. Vessel P. is unable to feed its passengers, unable to alter its fate.
For your matriculation, answer the following, showing your work: What is the probability that both ships will sink before they next have a chance to collide?
Extra credit: Arab leaders have been speaking of creating an independent Palestine for more than a century. Four of the last five Israeli prime ministers have endorsed the concept and spoken of fostering it. The world community recognizes that there should be such a state. So does U.S. President George W. Bush. A billion Muslims believe that there must be such a state.
Why is there no Palestine?
1. Because Israelis can't decide what they want.
Polls have shown that a clear majority of Israelis wants to see an end to the occupation. But history - and the craters of Katyushas and Qassams - indicate that a clear majority of Israelis, and an absolute majority of their leaders, are unwilling to take the potentially catastrophic risks of ending the occupation unilaterally.
Moreover, suspicious of the Palestinians' ultimate intentions and fearful of the social consequences of expelling West Bank settlers, the public shows little inclination to seek a diplomatic solution.
We no longer want to pay the price of occupation, but we have become convinced that the price of ending it is far higher.
2. Because Palestinians cannot decide what they want.
For decades, the Palestinians had no need to decide what they wanted. Israel shunned their representatives, dismissed their aspirations, settled their lands, and imprisoned and otherwise hunted down their leaders.
The occupation was more than simply the address for all complaints, the explanation for all disappointments, the diagnosis for all pain. It was also the excuse for indefinitely delaying debate over the character of a future independent Palestine.
Ironically, the hope of statehood was kept alive through the very darkest periods of occupation. More recently, however, as Gaza drowns in civil war and blood feud, Palestinians have begun to wonder if they will ever have a state at all.
To be able to move toward statehood, Palestinians must decide how they themselves stand on the bedrock issues of the conflict. Fundamentally, they must decide if they wish to make a final peace with Israel, or press for a Palestine to supplant it.
3. Because neither side is willing to abide by peace agreements.
Each side has banks of researchers assembling evidence that the other side consistently violates the explicit terms of signed peace accords. The evidence, on both sides, is conclusive.
4. Because we are, all of us, better at vengeance than we are at forgiveness.
For both sides, it is the first rule of politics: Peace is politically dangerous, if not lethal. War, or at least talk of war, is the safer default setting.
This is similar to, but not the same as:
5. Because we love our extremists too much.
Both sides have a profound sentimental attachment to the militants, extremists and hardliners in their midst. We see them as the keepers of the pure flame, the ideologically untarnished, remnants of a more straightforward era. We also suffer from them, as the minority whose actions intentionally thwart the possibility of peace for the majority.
On the Palestinian side they may be gunmen or suicide bombers or their dispatchers; on our own, hilltop youth or those suffering from Temple Mount delusions.
We tolerate them, we subsidize them, we admire them, we arm them, we forgive them their trespasses, we allow them to live outside our own laws - and, in return, they ruin our lives.
6. Because the policies of both sides play directly into the hands of extremists on the other.
Hamas is Hamas because of Israel. And no group in the Holy Land has done more to bolster the Israeli far right than Hamas.
7. Because the Muslim world wants its Palestinians to suffer.
The Muslim world grants the Palestinians fortunes in lip service, and little else of value. The Palestinians are much more valuable to them as valiant, pathetic symbols of victimhood. The Palestinians are to the Muslim world as the wretched refugees of Gaza once were to the Palestinian leadership. Their image can act as lightning rods for unrest, turning domestic political discord into anger against Israel.
8. Because the West now sees them as terrorists.
All terrorism, like all news, is local. The moment Muslim terrorists strike a Western city, the Twin Towers, the Underground, the Madrid depot, Palestinian resistance turns overnight to terrorism, in the local journalistic vernacular. Thanks largely to Al-Qaida, the West has changed its definition of Palestinian resistance, from defense of the innocent to targeting of the innocent.
9. Because Arafat lied to them.
While Yasser Arafat was signing agreements with Israel, he was letting his people know in hints and winks and exhortations that they would in the end have everything they wanted. Refugees would return to their homes in Israel proper. Jerusalem's Old City would return to Muslim sovereignty. The armed struggle would tip the balance.
There is also the lie inherent in the rule of corruption which Arafat fostered, sapping critical resources, undermining public confidence and crippling efforts at responsive governance.
10. Because they cannot stop themselves.
There is no one to put an end to civil war. There is no spiritual authority, there is no governmental authority, there is no military authority.
11. Because some of the best people in Palestine are leaving.
And because some of the people who cannot leave are unable to think about anything else.
12. Because each side takes it for granted that its side is clearly, morally, objectively in the right, and that the other side is nothing but wrong.
A fool's paradise turns out to be better than no paradise at all.
13. And because the Holy Land is the world capital of wishful thinking.
Deep down, both sides secretly believe that they will get what they wanted all along, whether it's Greater Israel or Greater Palestine, complete sovereignty over Jerusalem or the right of return.
After a century of struggle, the Palestinians deserve better. The Palestinians deserve a nation. But after a century of struggle, they now face their worst test since 1948.
Their ship of state needs a painful refitting, and a radical and perhaps terrifying change of course. As a people, the Palestinians are now facing their matriculation. If they can address their long list of problems head on, they can return to the path of independence. But skip the problems, or get them wrong, and Palestinian nationhood may be just one more dream dying in the dust in Gaza.