Palestine: What Sherlock Holmes would say

Jan 01, 2012

Responding to the response: Answers to questions raised by my ‘Notes to Newt.’

Talkbacks (64)

When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
– Sherlock Holmes in This Sign of the Four

There has been much talk in Palestine about emigration, especially among the young people…in search of a better life abroad. Many are continuing to rush to the gates of the embassies and consulates… with requests for visas in order to reside permanently in those countries.
– the PA’s mufti of Jerusalem, 2007

My past two columns, focusing on the authenticity (or lack thereof) of the Palestinian’s national identity following Newt Gingrich’s characterization of them as an “invented people,” generated a brisk public exchange.

Numerous questions were raised and reservations expressed as to the various aspects of the operational program I proposed, especially regarding the prospects of implementation.

A reminder
The proposal had three interlocking components: • Ending discriminatory treatment of the Palestinian refugees by abolishing the UN’s Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), or bringing it into line with international practice for all other refugees on the face of the globe.

• Ending discrimination against Palestinians in the Arab world and abolishing the prohibition on their acquisition of the citizenship of the countries in which they have been resident for decades.

• Providing generous relocation finance directly to Palestinian breadwinners resident across the 1967 Green Line, to allow them to build better futures for themselves and their families in foreign countries of their choice.

Some readers, even those who commended the proposal, were skeptical. For example, one talk-backer remarked, “It’s a nonstarter, for the simple reason that no Arab state would agree to it.”

This comment, entirely correct factually, is equally irrelevant strategically and reflects a common misunderstanding of the proposal which it is important to dispel.

For – as I hope will become clear later – the agreement of Arab states – or indeed of any Arab collective – is totally immaterial to the implementation of the proposal. But first…

Eliminating the ‘impossible’
In establishing what is “impossible,” it is crucial to define one’s point-of-departure.

For, in terms of policy decisions, what is admissible given one point-of-departure, may well be unacceptable given another.

Thus, if the conceptual point-of-departure is the imperative to preserve Israel as the nation-state of the Jews, policy choices that entail forgoing this aspiration would be deemed “impossible” to accept.

Accordingly, proposals whose rationale is that the Israel-Palestinian conflict could be resolved by transforming Israel into a multi-ethnic state-of-all-it-citizens would be unacceptable on a conceptual level – quite apart from the fact that they would be unworkable on a practical one.

Likewise, proposals that suggest a resolution could be arrived at by reducing Israel to unsustainable territorial dimensions which, as Shimon Peres once remarked, “would create a compulsive temptation to attack Israel from all sides” must also be deemed “impossible.”

After all, Israel cannot be preserved as functioning nation-state if its metropolis is exposed to ongoing Sderot-like bombardment by alleged “renegades.”

Indeed, even the palpable threat of primitive rockets fired on the country’s only international airport, congested highways, major ports and rail links, not to mention 80 percent of the population and commercial activity, would make the maintenance of socioeconomic routine impossible, or at least highly improbable.

Recognizing ‘whatever remains’
So if territorial concessions entailed in a two-state approach would make the Jewish nation-state untenable in terms of security, and if absorbing a large Muslim population entailed in a one-state solution would make the Jewish state untenable in terms of demography, “whatever remains – however improbable” – must be the only alternative.

Since the geography is immutable, the focus must be on the demography.

It is thus no more than “elementary” that the long-term preservation of the Jewish state must involve the relocation of the non-Israeli Arabs between the river and the sea. Any other option is self-deluded wishful thinking – or at least the burden of proof to show otherwise is on the proponents of such an option, especially in view of the post-Oslo/post-disengagement experiences.

It is either hopelessly myopic or hypocritically malevolent to profess support of a Jewish state and then advocate policy that makes its long-term survival impossible, or at least highly implausible. Note that there is nothing remotely “racist” in this purely “Holmesian” deductive process, unless the very notion of a Jewish nation-state is considered racist, something which itself is the epitome of racism.

For as Chaim Herzog, the late president of the state, once pointed out: “To question the Jewish people’s right to national existence and freedom is… to deny to the Jewish people the right accorded to every other people on this globe.”

Is the ‘improbable’ really improbable?
In principle there are two way to effect such relocation – coercively or non-coercively.

In the proposed alternative, coercive options are rejected for a variety of moral and practical reasons and a noncoercive approach is adopted, with economic inducements to enable Palestinian breadwinners to seek a better future for themselves and their families elsewhere.

To suggest that this is unfeasible is to fly in the face of facts. It is to ignore the fact that the number of international migrants today is approaching a quarter of a billion, and is growing rapidly. Although this is partially a byproduct of wars, political conflicts and natural disasters, it is predominantly motivated by economics. It would be absurd to suggest the Palestinians are immune to such motivations.

Indeed, to make such a claim is to ignore compelling evidence – both anecdotal and statistical – that a desire to seek a better life elsewhere is widespread among the Palestinians, even without the availability of generous relocation grants, as both the above citation from the Palestinian Authority’s mufti of Jerusalem suggests and as numerous opinion polls indicate. It would highly implausible to hold that the perception of tangible and credible prospects for a better life would not greatly enhance this desire.

Rejecting intellectual surrender
Some claim that a sense of national pride would override the desire to accept material gain as an inducement to emigrate.

In the case of the Palestinians, this claim would be extremely tenuous. For as has been amply demonstrated recently, is there no basis for the claim of the Arabs of Palestine to genuine history of nationhood. But more important, and more policy-pertinent, the claim is as much a prevailing political pretext as it is a historical hoax.

Sadly, this has not been grasped by many, including several prominent pro-Israeli pundits such as Elliott Abrams, who recently said: “There was no Jordan or Syria or Iraq… so perhaps [Gingrich] would say they are all invented people as well and also have no right to statehood. Whatever was true then, Palestinian nationalism has grown since 1948, and whether we like it or not, it exists.”

With all due respect, I strongly disagree.

There is no obligation to accept the fabrications of adversaries merely because they are insistent.

Indeed, it is neither pragmatic nor progressive to acknowledge “Palestinian nationalism.”

To the contrary, it reflects either inordinate credulity or complicity in undisguised duplicity.

Acceptance of Palestinian nationality is a symptom of either intellectual fatigue or intellectual laziness that has sapped the will to resist this pernicious ruse.

As such, it reflects intellectual surrender and an abject admission of the inability to oppose political duplicity – openly conceded by the Arabs.

Why Palestinians are different
The Palestinians are qualitatively different from other new “nations” that emerged from the breakup up of empire. There are the only collective whose manifest raison d’etre is the not the establishment of their own political independence but the denial of that of others. As such they can more appropriately deemed an “anti-nation” rather than a “nation.

The fact that Palestinians have shown they are capable of cohesive action against another collective does not prove they are a nation. Virtually their entire collective effort has been directed at an attempt to annul the expression of Jewish sovereignty rather than assert their own. Indeed, were they to achieve that goal, the entire point of their distinct collective identity, which hitherto has only been maintained by exogenous factors – international naiveté and Arab coercion – would be obviated.

This lack of endogenous national drive explains their monumental failure at statebuilding.

For almost two decades after the Oslo Accords – despite massive financial aid and political support – they have produced nothing but a deeply divided entity, crippled by corruption and cronyism.

The result is a dysfunctional polity unable to conduct even the semblance of timely elections, and a puny economy, comprising a minuscule private sector and a bloated public one, totally unsustainable without massive infusions of foreign funds.

Failing the test of history
In every meaningful aspect, the Palestinians claim to statehood has failed the test of history, as has the two-state principle.

This in itself should be no cause for celebration by its opponents. For while I find myself in total disagreement with virtually all of Jerusalem Post columnist Gershon Baskin’s positions, his latest opinion piece raises a question of great relevance and urgency which his ideological adversaries will ignore at great peril.

Baskin asks, “What now? What happens when there really is no longer a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?” and warns, “We better start coming up with answers because we are almost there.”

Baskin is right in his analysis and right to demand answers. For such a scenario may indeed be upon us, with little warning.

The PA could well implode when the fraudulent façade of Fayyadism – with disposable income reportedly almost double GDP – grinds to an inevitable halt; it might collapse if foreign funding is curtailed because a Hamas-dominated administration emerges from the conciliation talks; or it might dissolve itself, unwilling to face public wrath at its inability to deliver promised goods.

Depoliticizing and atomizing
If the two-state solution is nearing extinction as a viable option and the “one-state-of- all-its-residents-between-the-river-and-the- sea” principle is unacceptable, what remains? Israel must gear itself to deal with this emerging dilemma.

Fortunately, once the inauthenticity of Palestinian nationality is acknowledged, the answer is “elementary.”

It lies a shifting the focus from the Palestinian collective to the Palestinian individual, from the political to the humanitarian, from an endeavor to solve the problem to an endeavor to dissolve (i.e. disperse) it.

Depoliticizing the context (by underscoring the humanitarian issues) and atomizing the implementation (by engaging individual breadwinners) provide two significant operational advantages.

It renders the question of “who will accept them” moot.

It does not require the agreement of any Arab state to effect implementation. Since the envisaged compensation will be large enough to allow recipients to comply with immigration criteria in numerous countries – not necessarily Arab or Muslim – and since they would be coming as adequately funded private individuals, what would be the possible basis for refusal of entry – other than ethnic discrimination? And if they were refused entry despite their desire to seek a better future, on the grounds that would undermine the prospects of a Palestinian state, would this not further confirm that Palestinian nationality can only be sustained by artificial constraints? Likewise, the provision of relocation finance is a measure that can be implemented unilaterally by Israel and requires no agreement or approval of any Arab country/collective. All that it requires is for the individually needy to accept help.

Clearly, steps would have to be taken by Israel to prevent reprisals against recipients by their kinfolk, but would not politically motivated fratricide against Palestinians seeking to improve their lives again demonstrate that Palestinian nationality is artificially imposed rather than naturally desired? And how would that fratricide be portrayed as more morally justified than Israeli largesse in helping Palestinians extricate themselves from their socioeconomic predicament?

‘Elementary, my dear Israel’
Although I have exhausted the generous word quota assigned by the editor, many questions remain without the answers I owe my readers. Accordingly, and because the Palestinian issue and alternatives to the two-state principle constitute what is arguably the most crucial issue on the national agenda, I will devote one more article next week to address further aspects of this humanitarian alternative, its economic feasibility and political acceptability, and endeavor to demonstrate that the response from Sherlock Holmes would be “Elementary, my dear Israel!”