By Joel B. Pollak
Joel B. Pollak is a graduate of Harvard College and the University of Cape Town. He was a political speechwriter for the Leader of the Opposition in South Africa from 2002 to 2006 and is a first-year student at Harvard Law School.
“The Palestinian situation itself is remediable, since it is human beings who make history and not the other way round.”
-Edward Said, “These are the realities,” Al-Ahram, April 2001
On January 23, 2007, former President Jimmy Carter addressed a packed forum at Brandeis University’s Shapiro Gymnasium to defend his recently released book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. The largely Jewish audience applauded him warmly (defying the canard that Jews are viscerally hostile to criticism of Israel), and did so in spite of Carter’s refusal to debate Harvard Law School Professor Alan Dershowitz—or anyone else—at the event.
Dershowitz—who had written several scathing reviews of Carter’s book—was only allowed to address the gathering after Carter had already left. After rebutting Carter’s claims, he opened the floor to questions and invited each of his interlocutors to ask a follow-up question as well. The more hostile, the better, he said.
Toward the end of the event, a Palestinian student challenged Dershowitz and spoke emotively about her experience of humiliation at Israeli checkpoints in the West Bank. Dershowitz said he sympathized with her, but that if Israel faced a tradeoff between saving people from terrorist attacks and preventing humiliation, it was obligated to save lives. The young woman, wearing a black-checked kaffiyeh around her neck, nodded sympathetically, and in her reply, she struck a different, almost plaintive tone: “Tell us, then, what we should do. How can we—all of us—bring about peace?”
Dershowitz, expecting a more aggressive question, seemed somewhat caught off guard, and advised her that Palestinians should stop supporting extremist parties and leaders. But I had the sense that she had been seeking something more: a clear alternative to the endless reenactment of violence and victimization. She wanted a clear vision of a positive Palestinian national future, and clear plan to achieve it.
Sixty years after the United Nations voted to create both a Jewish state and an Arab state in the land comprising the British Mandate of Palestine, the absence of that vision and that plan best explains why Israel is sovereign but Palestine is not. The Palestinian national cause remains defined by opposition to Israel rather than by a positive commitment to self-determination and nation-building. It is still what George Orwell called a “negative nationalism.”
Fast-forward to Harvard University on April 27, 2007, where Dr. Sari Nusseibeh, president of Al-Quds University in East Jerusalem and a prominent Palestinian moderate, spoke about his new memoir, Once Upon a Country. Nusseibeh told the story of how, prior to the first intifada, he had enjoyed a swim at a pool in an Israeli settlement, and wondered why Palestinians didn’t demand the right to live in the settlements. It would, he said, have led Palestinians to demand equal rights to Israelis, which would have made Israelis realize that the occupation was not only costly but undermining the very essence of the Zionist dream of a Jewish state.
I managed to ask him a question. Let’s take your swimming pool story, I said, and tell a similarly subversive tale, but with a constructive aim in mind: what if Palestinians were to say to Israeli settlers that they could be free Palestinian citizens and remain where they are? Doing so would create strategic pressure on Israel to withdraw, and would also lay the foundation for creating a pluralistic, tolerant Palestinian society. Nusseibeh agreed, and said simply—and sadly: “It’s a brilliant idea. I wish our leaders would do that. Unfortunately, our leaders do not do everything that they should do.”
The Palestinian leadership’s lack of a constructive, forward-looking political strategy has allowed internecine fighting to erupt in Gaza, and it has allowed settlements abandoned by Israel to be turned from potential assets into wastelands used for smuggling weapons and firing rockets. While Palestinians suffered under an international boycott, Palestinian leaders squabbled for months over the terms of a unity government. A new approach is needed.
Early in the second intifada, the late Palestinian intellectual and Columbia University Professor Edward Said declared: “[W]e now need something that the situation demands, but that all the actors resist, i.e. a real statement of goals and objectives.” Six years later, those goals and objectives remain elusive. More than Israeli occupation, the failure of Palestinian leaders to chart a course for the future has perpetuated the misery of statelessness.
A resolution to the Palestinian question would certainly advance the cause of peace in the Middle East. And Palestinian nationalism still has the potential to lead the Arab world toward a freer, more democratic and more prosperous future, as Said hoped it would. That is why a principled and pragmatic vision for the Palestinian national future—a bold vision that avoids the mistakes of the past—is needed urgently.
Palestinian intellectuals have spent a great deal of energy and ink over the years rescuing Palestinian identity and the Palestinian historical narrative from the obscurity to which it was consigned after 1948. But a successful Palestinian nationalism must also reckon with the many lost opportunities, strategic blunders, and self-destructive ideologies that continue to frustrate national ambitions today.
Almost from the very beginning of the conflict, Palestinian leaders have rejected reasonable compromises and hewed to radical, all-or-nothing demands. An offer by the British for full Palestinian Arab sovereignty in 1939 was rejected because of a provision for the immigration of Jewish refugees. After the war, when left-wing Jews proposed a bi-national model, they found no Palestinian leader willing to endorse it publicly.
Then there were the partition plans, which Palestinian leaders have continually rejected in favor of violence, leading to further territorial losses over time. The Peel Commission of 1937 set aside only 18 percent of the land for a Jewish state; Zionist leaders disliked the boundaries (which gave the Jewish state less land than today’s West Bank and Gaza combined) but saw the plan as a basis for negotiations. Palestinian leaders, in the heat of revolt against the British, refused.
The UN partition plan of 1947 offered Palestinians 45 percent of the land; Palestinians rejected that offer too and six Arab states launched a calamitous war against Israel. After the Six-Day War in 1967, UN Security Council Resolution 242 offered the Palestinians up to 22 percent of the land. Arab leaders—responding with the “three nos” of Khartoum (no peace, no recognition, no negotiation)—rejected this offer, too, until 1988, when Yasser Arafat accepted the principle of partition. At Camp David in 2000, Yasser Arafat walked away from a similar deal, and the second intifada soon followed.
Along the way, Palestinian leaders made disastrous alliances with autocratic powers that promised to wipe Israel off the map of the Middle East. Amin Al-Husseini sided with Hitler and the Nazis; Yasser Arafat backed Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein in the Gulf War, wasting all the political gains of the first intifada; today, Hamas receives funding and weapons from Ahmadinejad’s Iran. All of these alliances have sorely damaged Palestinian credibility, both inside and outside the Arab world.
This refusal to replace utopian (or dystopian) visions with more realistic ideas was a phenomenon first criticized by the German-Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt—not with regard to Paletinian Arabs, ironically, but in connection with the nationalist visions of Jews. Arendt supported the bi-national option, and backed a “confederation” of two independent states after 1948. She did so because she believed that if Israel did not reckon with Arab claims, it “would lead the Jews out of reality once more” and back to the “unreality” she felt had prevented Jews from understanding the precariousness of their situation in prewar Europe.
Today it is the Palestinians who are trapped in “unreality.” While Israel has begun to accept the limits of its national boundaries, to evacuate its settlers, and to accept the necessity of Palestinian statehood, Palestinian leaders still deny Israel’s right to exist and refuse to abandon terror attacks against it. The “dream” of annihilating Israel persists, and is echoed by pro-Palestinian activists in the western world.
Though Arendt was a critic of Zionism, she believed one of its greatest achievements was that “it tried to teach the Jews to solve their problems by their own efforts, not by those of others.” Palestinian nationalism still lacks this critical ingredient—what the early Zionist leader Leon Pinsker called “auto-emancipation”—except in the limited sense of violent resistance, which is not how Arendt or Pinsker imagined it. Instead, Palestinians seem to remain dependent on the benevolence and attention of the international community for the survival of their struggle.
Palestinian leaders have generally failed to provide a model of what a Palestinian state could look like. Instead, they have depended on others to sketch their future. The Road Map proposed by the U.S. State Department in 2003, and the Saudi plan endorsed by the Arab League in 2002 and 2007, were both accepted passively by Palestinian leaders, but the leadership has failed to offer proposals of its own.
Rather than become the author of its own history, the Palestinian movement borrows demonologies. The Hamas charter, for example refers to the “Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” an old Russian anti-Jewish screed. Pro-Palestinian activists in Europe and North America are trying to start an “anti-apartheid” campaign, with Israelis cast in the role of whites and the Palestinians as blacks. These crude metaphors are no substitute for a serious political strategy for dealing with Israel, much less for addressing Palestinian domestic concerns.
The use of terror attacks against civilians has also pre-vented the fulfillment of Palestinian national aspirations by provoking Israeli military responses and by establishing a deadly precedent for violence to be used in solving domestic political disputes. Violence has not been a last resort, but a primary tactic—from the pogroms of the 1920s, through the revolt of the 1930s, the invasion of 1948, the fedayeen attacks of the 1950s, the raids of the 1960s, the hijackings of the 1970s, the suicide bombings of the past decade and the rocket attacks of today.
Palestinian leaders believe that without violence, the Palestinian cause would have faded from view. “The first several hijackings aroused the consciousness of the world and awakened the media and the world opinion much more—and more effectively—than twenty years of pleading at the United Nations, said Zehdi Labib Terzi, the Palestine Liberation Organization’s chief observer at the UN, in 1976.
That may be true—and it is an impression confirmed by the long history of efforts, particularly by European governments, to appease Palestinian terror groups. But violent tactics have prevented the fulfillment of long-term Palestinian goals, in four basic ways.
First, Palestinian violence has prompted Israel to adopt an aggressive defense policy in response, leading to Palestinian military and political defeat, and the loss of territory. Second, terror by Palestinian groups has alienated potential allies—particularly the United States—and stained the image of the Palestinian cause. This is especially true in the post-9/11 era. Third, violence against Israeli civilians has weakened support for the peace process among ordinary Israelis. Fourth, and perhaps most important, deliberate violence against civilians is morally wrong, and has corrupted Palestinian nationalism from within.
Palestinian advocates often argue that no struggle for national liberation has ever succeeded without violence. Perhaps—but no struggle has ever succeeded through violence alone. The South African struggle against apartheid, to which pro-Palestinian activists increasingly refer, used violence, but only after all non-violent options had been exhausted. Even then, the primary target was state property and infrastructure, not people; the aim was to show the capabilities of the anti-apartheid forces and pressure the apartheid government to negotiate, not to provoke mortal fear among white civilians.
Shortly after Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990, he suspended the armed struggle in order to create the conditions for successful negotiations with the government. Similarly, in Northern Ireland, the decommissioning of arms has been essential to success of the Good Friday accord. In contrast, Palestinian terror increased during the Oslo peace process, and rocket attacks followed the Gaza disengagement.
Jewish extremists, Palestinians point out, have also used terror; Deir Yassin and the assassination of Yitzchak Rabin are prime examples. That is true, but it is also true that Israeli leaders have gone beyond mere verbal condemnation to stop Jewish terror. In 1948, David Ben-Gurion ordered the destruction of a ship carrying Zionist militants and weapons, the Irgun Tsvai Leumi (National Military Organization, a militant Zionist group) weapons ship Altalena. Today, Israel has banned extremist groups such as Kahane Chai.
The moral peril of violence against civilians in an otherwise just struggle is that it legitimizes violence for unjust purposes as well. The internal strife between Fatah and hamas is one example; airplane hijacking by Al-Qaeda is another, as is the use of suicide bombing by Sunnis and Shiites against one another in Iraq. The type of violence used against civilians by Palestinian terrorists has been exported, spreading misery throughout the region.
What, then, would a positive Palestinian nationalism look like? It needs a concept of Palestinian self-determination, elements of which can already be found in several fundamental texts. The Draft Constitution of the State of Palestine, for example, last updated in 2003, defines the Palestinian state by the borders on the eve of June 4, 1967 with a capital in Jerusalem. It also distinguishes between a right of return to the West Bank and Gaza, and a right of return to Israel.
The Draft Constitution provides for a “parliamentary representative democracy,” and establishes Islam as the official religion with tolerance for “Christianity and all other monotheistic religions.” It therefore addresses the internal character of the state and its institutions, while at the same time staking out a negotiating position that is not too far from what a final settlement to the conflict would look like.
It is a good start. The problem is that the Palestinian Authority is currently ruled by Hamas, an organization whose beliefs and behavior contrast sharply with the ideas and goals expressed in the Draft Constitution. The Hamas Covenant explicitly calls for Israel’s destruction, and for jihad—not only against Israel but also against “Judaism and Jews,” as well as international civic organizations such as Rotary International, which has nothing to do with the conflict whatsoever.
In practice, both Hamas and the previous Fatah government have incited, supported, and tolerated attacks against Israeli civilians, flouting the Draft Constitution’s call for peace and condemnation of terror. In the same way, the Palestinian Authority has ignored the Draft Constitution’s broad provisions for human rights and has often engaged in torture and other human rights abuses against Palestinians.
What is necessary for a successful Palestinian national vision is therefore not another document but a new ethos, a practical expression of “auto-emancipation” that lays the cultural and institutional foundations for Palestinian statehood independently, in spite of strife among Palestinian factions and regardless of the diplomatic wrangles with Israel and the international community.
Arendt noted that many of the most important achievements of Zionism were carried out quietly, beyond the overt attempts at statecraft: “Although the Jewish workers and farmers had an emotional awareness of the uniqueness of their achievements, expressed in a new kind of dignity and pride, neither they nor their leaders realized articulately the chief features of the new experiment.” And even though many of these agricultural projects failed—the kibbutz movement has been severely eroded in contemporary Israel, for example—what was critical was the positive sense of agency the early pioneers achieved through their work.
That is not to say that the early efforts of these workers and farmers were apolitical; indeed, from Arendt’s point of view, they were perhaps the only true political acts, dealing with reality and not utopianism. The Palestinian struggle needs that kind of political pragmatism—a new strategic orientation that focuses on what Palestinians can do to fulfill their national aspirations while accepting the right of Jews to fulfill theirs in Israel.
Something of this spirit seems to have existed during the first intifada. The word itself literally means “shaking off”; it referred not only to the uprising against the occupation but also to a spirit of self-reliance. It was a radical departure from the ineffectual utopianism of Arafat and the PLO; indeed, the PLO leadership in Tunis was taken by surprise when the intifada began and struggled to control it.
The first intifada was also relatively non-violent and pragmatic, pushing Arafat to accept the principle of statehood in the West Bank and Gaza. Critically, it awakened the consciences of Israelis to the reality of occupation. What is needed is a national effort that reanimates that spirit and applies it to the practical tasks of nation-building—creating institutions; nurturing enterprise; and establishing and upholding the rule of law.
A new Palestinian nationalism should proceed along two paths: one political, the other practical. The political path will require an affirmation of the vision of the Draft Constitution, plus an openness to reasonable compromises on borders, refugees and Jerusalem. An initial tactic could be to offer the settlers full and equal citizenship in a future Palestinian state. That offer would force Israel to reconsider seriously the future of its involvement in the West Bank and would help establish principles of tolerance within Palestinian society—not just between Jews and Arabs, but among Arabs. Such a tactic would also mean confronting the radical positions of Hamas, as well as antisemitism and xenophobia within Palestinian society. If leaders can be found with the courage to do so, then progress will be possible.
Along the practical path, there are many initiatives that should be expanded and emulated. Earlier this year, a new private radio station was opened in Ramallah to serve the Palestinian audience. Its news broadcasts are in English, and it is committed to fair coverage that promotes peace. That the major investor in the project is not an Arab, but a South African Jew, shows just how eager the world is to see Palestine succeed. The Palestinian Authority should continue to attract foreign investment and Palestinian investors themselves should continue to support the creation of media organizations, schools, universities, farms, hospitals, and businesses.
There is also much that Palestinians can do in the Diaspora. Just as Jews outside the Middle East undertook agricultural and vocational training in preparation for immigration (aliyah) to Israel before the state existed, Palestinians should create their own aliyah projects to prepare a new cohort of skilled and motivated citizens who will participate directly in building the new state or support it from abroad.
Of course, any self-directed attempt at Palestinian nation-building will face enormous obstacles. The international boycott has cut trade and travel drastically and Israel continues to withhold tax revenues from the Palestinian Authority. A global crackdown on terror finance networks has also led to closer scrutiny of Palestinian charities, creating additional costs for legitimate social organizations.
Yet these obstacles can be overcome with determined effort. It is worth noting in this regard that Zionist organizations throughout the world kept working towards the establishment of the State of Israel in the 1930s and 1940s despite immigration restrictions in Palestine and severe persecution in much of Europe. The challenges faced by Palestinians today can also be overcome with innovative leadership.
Is it patronizing for a Jew living outside the region to offer this unsolicited advice, to those who have more direct experience of the Palestinian condition and more invested in the Palestinian cause? Not necessarily—for a successful Palestinian state is also in the interest of Israelis and Jews.
But if so—let me offer the words of Said—who also believed Palestinians needed a new, self-directed, positive national effort, “an organized movement focused on Palestinian liberation and coexistence, in which everyone is part of a whole, instead of an idle spectator waiting for another Saladin or for orders to come down from above.”
 Said, Edward. “These are the realities.” Al-Ahram Weekly On-line 19 Apr. 2001 <http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2001/530/op2.htm>
 See, for example Dershowitz, Alan M. “Why won’t Carter debate his book?” Boston Globe 21 Dec. 2006 <http://www.boston.com/news/globe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2006/12/21/why_wont_carter_debate_his_book/>; and Dershowitz, Alan M. “Ex-President for Sale.” Gather.com 8 Jan. 2007 <http://www.gather.com/viewArticle.jsp?articleId=281474976879837>
 Orwell, George. “Notes on Nationalism.” May 1945. The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell. Eds. Sonia Orwell, Ian Angus. Vol. 3. New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World, 1968. 361-380.
 Said, ibid. Said was certainly prone to blaming Israel; indeed, in the same article, he proposed that U.S. aid to Israel had to “be stopped or radically modified” as part of Palestinian efforts to secure their own statehood. While I would argue that his focus on attacking Israel was counterproductive, I empathize here with his call for a clear and constructive Palestinian strategy.
 Morris, Benny. Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-2001. New York: Vintage, 2001. 158-59.
 See Palestine Royal Commission. “The Peel Commission Report.” Jul. 1937. <http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/History/peel1.html>; see also Bard, Mitchell G. “Partition.” Myths and Facts Online <http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/myths2/Partition.html>. Bard points out that the Jewish state was to be given 1,900 out of 10,310 square miles (18.4%) in Palestine.
 Morris, 144.
 Arafat, Yasser. Speech at UN General Assembly, Geneva, 13 Dec. 1988.
 Arendt, Hannah. “The Jewish State: Fifty Years After—Where Have Herzl’s Policies Led?” The Jew as Pariah: Jewish Identity and Politics in the Modern Age. Ed. Ron H. Feldman. New York: Grove Press, 1978. 176-77.
 There are certainly right-wing parties in Israel that would be happy to see the hope of a Palestinian state crushed; however, the governing party won election on a platform of further withdrawals from occupied territory—a platform that enjoyed wide support until attacks by Hamas and Hezbollah in the spring and summer of 2006 undermined public enthusiasm for further concessions.
 Arendt, 171.
 Quoted in Neil Hickey. “Terrorism and Television. The Medium in the Middle.” TV Guide 24.32 (1976): 10.
 The territorial gains since the start of the Oslo process in 1993 have also been periodically, if temporarily, reversed by Israeli invasions in response to Palestinian attacks.
 Pogrund, Benjamin. “Violence and its alternatives.” Palestine-Israel Journal of Politics, Economics and Culture 10.1 (2003). <http://www.pij.org/details.php?id=87>
 Though suicide bombing originated elsewhere, the failure of the Arab world to condemn its use by Palestinians against Israelis has made the same tactics difficult to condemn in Iraq. In addition, the fact that such attacks have become familiar has dulled the shock that such suicide bombings in Iraq might otherwise have evoked.
 Brown, Nathan J. “The Third Draft Constitution for a Palestinian State: Translation and Commentary.” Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research Oct. 2003 <http://www.pcpsr.org/domestic/2003/nbrowne.pdf>
 “The Covenant of the Islamic Resistance Movement (Hamas).” Trans. Ami Isseroff. MidEast Web <http://www.mideastweb.org/hamas.htm>
 The Draft Constitution does not yet have the full force of law, but establishes basic principles that could be interpreted as binding on any Palestinian government.
 U.S. State Department. “Country Reports on Human Rights: Israel and the occupied territories.” Annual report, 6 Mar. 2007. <http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/hrrpt/2006/78854.htm>
 Indeed, many Palestinians seem to feel the same way. Lucy Nusseibeh reported during her husband’s presentation that Palestinians had begun to turn to civil society for answers after being disappointed by the failures of the Hamas government.
 Arendt, Hannah. “Peace or Armistice in the Near East?” The Jew as Pariah. Ed. Ron H. Feldman. New York: Grove Press, distributed by Random House, 1978. 208.
 Feuilherade, Peter. “Radio Dialogue Opens in Ramallah.” BBC News 22 Feb. 2007 <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/6383849.stm>
 Of course, a new, positive Palestinian nationalism will also require key ideological shifts to jettison self-destructive beliefs that continue to frustrate the cause. First, Palestinians and their supporters should denounce the wave of Holocaust denial that is sweeping the Arab and Muslim world, and stop the Palestinian government from promoting anti-Semitism. Second, there needs to be a clear and unequivocal rejection of Palestinian terror that is not simply a rejection on strategic grounds but also a rejection on moral and humanistic grounds. Third, there must be clear support for a two-state solution, not en route to a unitary state that implies Israel’s destruction, but as the best way to fulfill both nations’ rights and aspirations.
 Said, ibid.