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Do the Palestinians qualify as a distinct nation?
"There is no such thing as a Palestinian Arab nation . . . Palestine is a name the Romans gave to Eretz Yisrael with the express purpose of infuriating the Jews . . . . Why should we use the spiteful name meant to humiliate us?
"The British chose to call the land they mandated Palestine, and the Arabs picked it up as their nation's supposed ancient name, though they couldn't even pronounce it correctly and turned it into Falastin a fictional entity." ---- Golda Meir quoted by Sarah Honig, Jerusalem Post, 25 November 1995
Palestine has never existed . . . as an autonomous entity. There is no language known as Palestinian. There is no distinct Palestinian culture. There has never been a land known as Palestine governed by Palestinians. Palestinians are Arabs, indistinguishable from Jordanians (another recent invention), Syrians, Lebanese, Iraqis, etc.
Why should they/should they not have a separate state?
While Israel should be willing to take risks for peace, they must be prudent risks. There is the rub in arguments on behalf of a separate Palestinian state west of the Jordan River.1 There is little or nothing in the past behavior of the Palestinians to suggest that, other than a handful of moderates, they are likely to respond in a measured way to a measured Israeli offer of statehood. Instead, Israel's concessions are viewed by most of them as signs of weakness, not efforts at rapprochement.
The often bewildering shifts in relationships among Arab states and political leaders appear to most Westerners to be simply a chaotic melange of shifting alliances and seeming betrayals. Students of Arab politics, however, understand that this particular way of relating to one another is characteristic of Arab political entities from Bedouin tribes to the Arab summit and that there are indeed rules to the game. Those rules, however, are not those that non-Arabs would want to live by.2 Those rules also make it especially difficult to accept any Arab agreement involving the concession of territory believed to be rightfully Arab as more than a temporary expedient, to be abandoned as soon as it seems possible to reclaim additional territory. Hence any Israeli concession in the way of a Palestinian entity west of the Jordan River must be accompanied by as close to iron-clad devices to prevent that as possible.
Had the Palestinian Arabs embraced less than a maximalist position on any number of occasions between 1917 and 1948, they could have had their Palestinian state -- an even larger state than those Israelis willing to do so are prepared to offer them now. In 1948 they could have had their own state in nearly half the territory of western Palestine. Yet they have always insisted on the maximalist position -- and they have always lost.
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