We don’t hear much about the Palestinian cause, between wars.
The late Palestinian intellectual Edward Said defended Yasser Arafat — who was then still a notorious terrorist, not yet a corrupt kleptocrat — by saying that his sensational violence at least kept the Palestinian cause from disappearing entirely from the world’s consciousness, and kept the Palestinian diaspora unified, even at the moral price of backing terror.
Said wrote that 50 years ago. But it is almost exactly the same argument used by the Hamas leaders who spoke to the New York Times this week, telling the western public that without their attack on Israel — with all its horrific atrocities — that the Palestinian cause would have been forgotten, left behind in the progress of the Abraham Accords and in the excitement of a “normalization” deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel.
It is worth asking whether the Palestinians could have done something else in those 50 years to advance their cause, beyond killing Israeli civilians. Or whether violence against Israelis is the Palestinian cause, and how it came to be that way.
After all, you never see pro-Palestinian activists doing much to help “Palestine” between wars — and this time, they started marching after the terror attack, not the Israeli response.
It is easier to destroy than to create.
Let’s rewind to the beginning.
Israel is the spiritual homeland of the Jewish people, and has been for many thousands of years. Jews have lived there continuously for millennia, and even during periods of exile and dispersion, they still faced Jerusalem during prayer — as Jews still do today.
The idea of creating a Jewish state emerged in the late 19th century as a response to persecution in Europe, and Jews began moving back.
A generation or so later, in the early 20th century Arabs living in the region began to feel their own national stirrings, and the Palestinian Arabs were no different — though initially, they wanted to be part of a broader Arab empire, not a separate state.
When the British took over from the Ottoman Empire after the First World War, with a Mandate from the League of Nations, they struggled to reconcile promises to both sides.
The dilemma was difficult to solve, but dividing the land seemed the least bad option. This was acceptable to the Jewish side, which simply wanted sovereignty of any kind — especially with the growing danger to Jews in Europe.
But the Arabs — who were only known as “Palestinians” much later — clung to the idea that there could be no Jewish state at all, and not even any Jewish immigration, not even refugees from the Nazis.
The man most responsible for this intransigence was named Hajj Amin al-Husseini. The British sought to appease him by appointing him Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. He abused that position to foment riots against Jews, most notoriously in the Hebron massacre of 1929. The British tried to keep the Arabs onside in the Second World War by banning Jewish immigration, but al-Husseini sided with Hitler and the Nazis anyway.
There has never really been a reckoning with this history. The Palestinian Arab leadership collaborated with Hitler and made sure, through pressure on the British, that Jews had nowhere to escape.
After the war, the Germans were “de-Nazified” through public acknowledgment of Hitler’s crimes. But that never happened in the Arab world, which still incubated Nazi antisemitism alongside radical Islamic sentiments.
In 1947, the newly-formed United Nations tried to tackle the same problem that had vexed the British, and came up with the same answer: partition into a Jewish state and an Arab state.
But the Arabs decided to destroy the Jewish state rather than build their own, and declared war. They lost, and the same pattern has repeated itself for decades. The Palestinians have aways rejected statehood in favor of violence.
Up to 2000, it was possible to believe that some Palestinian grievance justified the rejection. But when then-President Bill Clinton offered Arafat nearly all of the West Bank, and shared sovereignty over Jerusalem’s holy sites, and possible compensation for Palestinian refugees, Arafat walked away. He then launched a cynical and destructive campaign of terror that Hamas, the Islamist rival of Arafat’s nationalists, continued.
That shattered the Israeli left, which had long supported compromises with the Palestinians, believing that peace was possible. For the last 23 years, Israelis have been looking for a workable alternative to solve the problem — from building a barrier along the West Bank, to unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, to making peace with the other Arab states in the hope that the Palestinians could eventually be persuaded to set war aside.
Yet the Palestinian leadership had other ideas — boosted by Iran, which continued to fund and arm terror groups.
In 2001, at the UN World Conference Against Racism, which was held in Durban, South Africa, global anti-Israel activists seized on the idea of casting Israel as the new “apartheid” state — which, like South Africa, had to be dismantled. It was an idea without merit, but the symbolism appealed to western leftists.
I happened to be at the World Conference Against Racism, which ironically saw a shocking outbreak of anti-Jewish hatred. Anti-Israel activists literally broke up a meeting to discuss antisemitism, which had nothing to do with Israel.
The same impulse persists in the efforts of anti-Israel activists to tear down posters of Israeli hostages: there can be no acknowledgement of Jewish victimhood, which is part of Israel’s reason for being.
But ask these activists what they have actually done to help “Palestine,” and you will find no answers. They have not invested in economic development; they have not donated to Palestinian schools. A few may have donated to Palestinian relief efforts, but none has given thought to building Palestinian institutions.
The one question that unravels them, every time, is: “What kind of Palestinian state do you want?” They don’t know.
They just want to “free Palestine,” and “from the river to the sea,” which the president of Harvard admitted this week was an antisemitic slogan: it envisions the destruction of Israel and the genocide of its Jews.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh recently urged followers to imagine a post-Israel “Palestine.” He wants an Islamic state. The likely outcome: Gaza. a complete wreck, a constant threat to its neighbors.
The world has heard Palestinian excuses for terrorism for 50 years. The difference now is that those same excuses come from Ismail Haniyeh rather than Edward Said — both from comfortable exile.
The only portion of the Palestinian Arab population that has moved beyond this are the Israeli Arab citizens, who are deciding, in the face of Hamas terror, that they would rather be Israeli than Palestinian. Their “free Palestine” is Israel.
There is talk about what to do with a post-Hamas Gaza. The White House wants it run by the Palestinian Authority, which has never worked. My preference would be to pay Gazans to relocate to the West Bank and annex Gaza to Israel, solving the problem of Palestinian geographic contiguity.
What do the Palestinians themselves want? We don’t know. They don’t either. Again, it is easier to destroy than to create. But “no more Israel” is not an acceptable answer.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He is the author of the new biography, Rhoda: ‘Comrade Kadalie, You Are Out of Order’. He is also the author of the recent e-book, Neither Free nor Fair: The 2020 U.S. Presidential Election. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.