Sunday, June 15, 2008

Blame the Victim

At synagogue last week, someone (a very nice woman I might add) handed me a reprint of an article that had appeared in Haaretz entitled "The Real Nakba". I assume, though I don't know for sure, that she gave it to me because she thought it might temper my "overly dovish" views.

The article, by Israeli political scientist Shlomo Aveneri, is an interesting - and as far as I can tell historically accurate - description of how internal feuding, disunity, and an "inability to form frameworks of consensus and solidarity" have plagued the Palestinian National Movement from it beginnings.

It ends by stating:

The fate of the Palestinians now lies in the balance, and it is in their own hands. Those who look at their history will have trouble imagining Fatah and Hamas settling their dispute by creating a joint, legitimate framework. Perhaps Egypt or Saudi Arabia can foster the signing of some piece of paper or another, like the Mecca agreement. What matters, however, is not a piece of paper but an effective organizational and institutional framework and a commitment to shouldering the burden of a common legitimacy, which is necessary for constructing a nation. Such a framework must encompass the disarming of militias and entrusting one national authority with a monopoly on the use of force. Without this, there will also be no chance of an agreement with Israel, which is vital for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

These things should be said clearly, as difficult as they may be: If the Palestinians do not find a way to extricate themselves from their harsh historical reality, they ultimately will not have a state. It will be bad for them, and bad for Israel

This is mostly true. But it ignores entirely Israel's role in the Palestinian tragedy.

First, it ignores the fact that Yasser Arafat's single greatest accomplishment was achieving precisely what Aveneri called for - a unified and (almost) wall to wall Palestinian political structure - the PLO. And then forcing through its various committees and organs the recognition of Israel, and later of the Oslo accords. And while Israel was not solely responsible for the disintegration of the PLO, it has had a major part.

Israel (specifically Ariel Sharon) helped start and support Hamas in the 1980s, as a counter weight to the PLO. Israel, especially under Netanyahu, did everything in its power to undermine the Olso accords and thus discredit the PLO and the PA in the late 1990s. Later still, during the second intifada, Israel's policy was to retaliate precisely at the centers of PA power and influence, effectively dismantling the PA police, and its Ministries of Education, Interior, and Social Services. Finally, in the lead up to Sharon's disengagement from Gaza, Israel refused to talk to the PA about security - or other transition arrangements - and thus left the PA weakened and Gaza in a chaotic state, with no clear lines of authority.

Israel's policy, despite Aveneri's astute insight that a weak and disunited Palestinian leadership is bad for Israel as well as the Palestinians, has always been to create as much disunity and weakness in the Palestinian leadership as possible. Even today it does everything in its power to prevent a rapprochement between Fatah and Hamas, insisting that Fatah simply vanquish Hamas, despite its clear inability to do so.

Second, and more to the point IMO, is that for Jews to read Aveneri's piece as a serious critique of the Palestinians, would be akin to Europeans settlers of the American west blaming the American Indians' plight on the Indians' lack of unity and strategic thinking. The Indians would not have needed unity and strategic thinking if not for the settlers relentlessly land grabs, and wiping out of the buffalo. Similarly if Israel where not so intent on separate development, land grabs, unequal water allocation, unequal allocation of resources, etc., the Palestinians' strategic faults would not have become so significant.

So, while the Aveneri article should be mandatory reading for Palestinian activists, for Jews it is merely interesting; and does nothing, IMO, to lessen our ongoing responsibility for a great part of the tragedy in Israel/Palestine.


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