Thursday, October 21, 2010

What The Palestinians Want

Not to be missed: Yesterday's little column in Haaretz by Palestinian Authority leader and sometime negotiator Nabil Sha'ath. He is not the most popular of leaders in the West Bank; he's grown curiously rich, and was never a man of the people. Still, he's a straight talking man, who clearly represents mainstream thinking in the Fatah leadership. And for all the talk about the difficulties of negotiation, or the PA turning down various Israeli offers, you read Sha'ath's very blunt statement of the the PA's opening (and, over the years, consistent) position and have to wonder exactly what requires such hard bargaining--if, that is, the basis of the negotiation is a framework agreement that can be made fair to both sides.

The key paragraph in Sha'ath's column is the one where he speaks of the Palestinian "right of return." All other issues are more clearly understood. The current Israeli government insists that the PA should recognize Israel as a "Jewish state," thus precluding some sly Palestinian intention to swamp Israel with returning refugees. Sha'ath states that recognition of Israel should not mean undermining "the rights of Palestinian refugees and the rights of the Palestinian citizens of Israel." Is this really code for the destruction of Israel?

No. Sha'ath, like most Israeli liberals, believes that the reality of Israel, a Hebrew-speaking state whose large majority is either ethnically Jewish, or practices Judaism, means Arab citizens will naturally acculturate to a patently Jewish state. But Palestinian leaders need not endorse residual deficiencies in Israeli democracy, that is, accept on behalf of the Arab minority the perverse way the current Israeli government defines "Jewish state." (If there is a sincere psychological impasse here, the US might secure an early agreement that both Palestine and Israel should be bound by "democratic standards of equality," and that each state respects the "cultural distinction" of the other.)

More important, though, a solution to the refugees' right of return is pretty much worked out, and Sha'ath was largely responsible for it. I interviewed Sha'ath for a Harper's piece several years ago. His position then, as now, is that this right be realized through a number of "modalities" he negotiated at Taba on 2001, and which were reaffirmed in the Geneva Initiative:

There would be financial compensation for lost property. There would be paid relocation to the Palestinian state. There would be contributions by donor countries, and even by Israel, to that state. (One economist present cheerfully put the amount of reparations at $137 billion.) There would even be a program of limited family reunification in Israel, up to a number “acceptable to the Israeli government,” say 10,000 a year over five years. Nobody could say justice of a kind was not being exacted.

The point is, the biggest problem of the negotiation is not what Palestinians want, or even the Palestinians Israelis fear. It is the Jews Israelis fear. Abbas sees delivering a deal for a state as his legacy--anyway, it's the only reason for his clinging to power. But the Netanyahu government, even if it can be drawn to the logic of Palestinian state, is trying not to confront its own great challenge, a mobilized settler (and settler-sympathizer) population, in and around Jerusalem, in and around the current government, that will resist any such state with unknowable force.

Tom Friedman is right: there will be no progress toward a deal if Netanyahu does not decide, or is not induced to decide by the US, that he must form a broader coalition and confront his own rejectionists--who are only getting stronger with each passing year.


Anonymous said...

If you're going to title your post "What Palestinians Want," you should have written it about what actual Palestinians want.

Sha'th, as even you admit, is no democrat and represents no Palestinians and never has. He is a corrupt individual who has enriched himself at the expense of the Palestinian people. At best, your post is about what some in Fateh want.

You and other pundits continue to say that this or that aspect of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is worked out — completely divorced from the reality of the situation. If it's worked out, why hasn't the deal been reached already?

The truth is nothing has been worked out. You are suffering under some serious delusion if you believe that Sha'th and his ilk of corrupt authoritarians will ever allow the existence of a Palestinian state "bound by 'democratic standards of equality.'"

Your brand of leftism is a part of the problem, whether you understand it or not. You continue to place your faith in the failed leaders of yesterday against any and all evidence in the hope that somehow they'll act differently tomorrow. This is demonstrated perfectly in your last paragraph, wherein you refer approvingly to, of all people, Tom Friedman.

Y. Ben-David said...

I am unclear about whether Sha'ath is demanding an actual, large-scale implementation of a Palestinian "right of return", nor am I clear on whether you think there will be one. But, alas, have no fear "the Arabs will culturally adapt to a Jewish state". In other words, they will give up their Arab/Muslim identity and adopt you beloved secular, materialist, consumerist, sexually permissive culture. Do you seriously think the very power conservative religious and cultural forces in the Palestinian and larger Arab world will take this lying down. You are confirming their worst fears: your Israel is nothing more than a new Crusader state implanted in the Middle East to destroy Islam and Arab identity from within! Your "Hebrew Republic" is a far greater threat to them than is a "Judea" state based on traditional Jewish/religious values which are not meant for export, either forcefully, or surreptitiously as your culture is.

In any event, Sha'ath doesn't speak for anyone but himself and what he says is not stated in order to express official Palestinian poilcy, but rather as propaganda meant to fool people like yourself to force Israle to keep making unilateral concessions without the real Palestinain leadership having to make any concessions at all.

Potter said...

We have a lot of politicians that have enriched themselves at public expense. I read Shaath was a successful businessman. Be that as it may- it is not a disqualifier to make the case simply and clearly. I have my question as to whether a peace deal will actually deliver those 57 Arab countries forthwith but wouldn’t that be a better risk than the current path?

I totally agree that at this point, having no peace deal is more about what Israeli’s fear. Netanyahu seems to have no fear, though, about playing for time as the headlines keep telling about the continuing of settlement building ( in other words the theft of land) despite the rejection of a (shameful) begging offer made by the Obama administration.

It's hard not to think that Netanyahu must have substantial support among Israeli’s. It's as though not on his watch will there be or needs there to be any peace deal. So Arabs could not be faulted for thinking: not serious.

Palestinian leaders who want to be taken as serious cannot offer a mode of return that will destroy Israel- that would be dead on arrival. And they haven’t. And those on the Israeli side who still use this argument are making excuses, complicit in playing for time that they do not have and ultimately willing to take much greater risks as that time moves on.

Ben-David re: Arab worst fears. What about Israeli fears? You are out here consistently helping make excuses. There is no way to avoid risk altogether... only ways to avoid consequences until you start feeling them.

About Olmert’s Unprecedented Offer which is often injected into the conversation here and elsewhere as something that Palestinians could have accepted but did not: some good ideas, but it was not real.

Tom Friedman ( who is not a leftist) does not have a constituency, has not much to lose by writing a column. So it demonstrates nothing about failed leftism to point his occasional truth telling in place of advocacy.

“Leftism” could not be the problem now either since the right and their failed leaders have essentially been running the show in Israel for the last decade.

Why should we believe that Netanyahu will act any differently than he has in the past?

Anonymous said...

@Potter: I never said that leftism is the problem, and nowhere did I indicate that Friedman is a leftist.

I said that the specific brand of leftism on display here is a part of the problem. It's illustrated most perfectly when Avishai titles a post "What Palestinians Want," but instead discusses what some corrupt politician in the PA has stated. It's illustrated when of all the people in the world putting forth their views on this conflict, he cites Tom Friedman, who has demonstrated his stupidity on everything related to the Middle East more times than anyone can count.

Not a single one of the people cited in this post has even a passing interest in a Palestine "bound by 'democratic standards of equality." If these are just mere words to Avishai, then he should be upfront about it so that his readers know where he's coming from.

Potter said...


No. It matter's not how you label Nabil Shaath. (And maybe we both should read the Harper interview linked above). The fact is that he articulates well the Palestinian position. No need to discredit him to reject that position. Just reject it outright and be honest. Those who articulate the Israeli position are at least as vulnerable to criticism. The Haaretz article is about what they say they want which sounds fair to me. And they are ready to deal. They should be tested. But it's Israeli's that are being tested too; they don't want to give up what they got through war. That means more war to keep it, if they can. It means fighting a war that the world sees more and more as as unjust. There will be a price to pay internationally. And internally war is not a word to throw around- it brings a lot of suffering.

Not a single one of the people cited in this post has even a passing interest in a Palestine "bound by 'democratic standards of equality."

Israel would do well to concentrate on it's own standards and let the Palestinians sort out theirs.

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