On July 22, 1920, The Times of London published a letter by T.E. Lawrence (aka,”Lawrence of Arabia”) setting out a case for the political independence for the Arabs in the Middle East. He wrote: Merit is no qualification for freedom. … Freedom is enjoyed when you are so well armed, or so turbulent, or inhabit a country so thorny that the expense of your neighbour’s occupying you is greater than the profit.
Despite being written almost a century ago, it is a diagnosis that is still extremely pertinent in assessing the validity of the frequently aired view that “the Palestinians deserve a state of their own.”
Indeed, such views have been explicitly expounded by U.S. administrations for more than a decade from George W. Bush to Barack Obama ,who both incorporated the idea into their “visions” for the Middle East.
Cannot condition national sovereignty on regime type
In the past, several pro-Israeli pundits have tried to dispute the widely accepted contention that “the Palestinians do indeed deserve a state” Some, like author Naomi Ragen, have warned of the unsavory nature that such a state would take—devoid of any semblance of law and order and due process, tolerance of religious diversity, right of political dissidence, freedom of expression, or regard for the status of women. Others, like former Israeli government minister Nathan Sharansky, have argued that Palestinian statehood should be conditioned on the emergence of Palestinian democratization.
Regrettably, despite factual accuracy and moral validity, objections of this ilk cannot serve as a binding political criterion for national independence.After all, if tolerant pluralistic polities, in which the rule of law and civil equality flourished, were the sine-qua-non for recognition of national sovereignty, such recognition would have to be denied a slew of states across the globe—from authoritarian monarchies through military dictatorships, and tyrannical theocracies.
Indeed, many of the states in the international system, and the Middle East, would not qualify, including several that Israel recognizes as having a major role to play in the region, such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan, where the sovereigns are not elected at all, and Egypt, where the elections are hardly free and fair.
To adopt these positions would be to demand from the Palestinians criteria for national independence that are demanded from no other people. Moreover, are the advocates of democratic governance as a precondition for national sovereignty really proposing that Israel could accept Palestinian statehood if its government were democratic but revoke that acceptance as a result of regime change?
Palestinian failure undeniably staggering
However, the Palestinians have indeed undermined, even invalidated, their claim to statehood by the eminently less stringent and clearly measurable empirical criterion set out by Lawrence above. For the Palestinians’ ongoing failure to achieve statehood reflects the converse, but necessary, corollary of the simple practical yardstick he stipulates.
After all, if success in achieving statehood is the sole criterion by which to judge whether such statehood is indeed merited, then surely it follows that the reverse is true: Failure to achieve statehood is the ultimate indicator in determining that it is not.
Clearly, the Palestinian failure has been undeniably staggering.
In fact, a strong claim can be made that, in the history of post World War II national independence movements, none have enjoyed conditions more conducive to success, and yet achieved such miserably meager results, than that of the Palestinians. Accordingly, the proponents of Palestinian statehood must be compelled to respond to a simple but trenchant question: Why hasn’t it happened up to now?
Despite highly favorable conditions for success
After all, as a purported “national liberation” movement, the Palestinians have enjoyed hugely favorable conditions:
- Decades of unmitigated support and patronage of the USSR, one of the world’s two post-WW II superpowers
- Almost universal international endorsement of their claims
- Highly supportive coverage in nearly all major international media
- Massive financial backing making the Palestinians the highest per capita recipients of international aid on the face of the globe
- From the early 1990s almost two decades of highly accommodative Israeli administrations that not only acknowledged, but often even identified with, their claims to statehood
Yet in spite of these highly conducive circumstances, the Palestinians have been utterly unable to produce any semblance of a sustainable productive society.
Quite the reverse! The Palestinian leadership has done nothing but bring about a repressive and regressive regime that produced little but the pillage of the Palestinian people and the squandering of the vast resources provided by donor nations.
Clearly then, a quarter-century after the Oslo Agreements, the Palestinians have shown the world that they simply cannot “cut it.”
Tyrannical theocracy and corrupt kleptocracy
All they have been able to establish has proven both tenuous and dysfunctional, from a corrupt kleptocracy under Fatah to a tyrannical theocracy under Hamas. Indeed, the Palestinian state has perhaps the unique, if dubious, distinction of attaining “failed state” status before it was in fact established.
So today, decades after other movements for national liberation across Africa and Asia, with far less financial and political support, managed to throw off mighty empires, the Palestinians, with all the weight of the Muslim world and its vast petro-riches behind them, have been unable to wrest independence from the tiny micro-state, Israel—not only when it opposed such independence, but even when it did not!
Clearly then, the time has come for the international community to recognize that rather than a coherent, cohesive national entity, the Palestinians comprise an amorphous amalgam of clans, gangs and bands whose overriding aspiration is not to establish a state for their own people but to dismantle a state of another people: the Jews.
Failing the test of history
Accordingly, the time has come to remove the issue of Palestinian statehood from the international agenda—for the Palestinians themselves have shown that they are patently incapable of attaining or maintaining such statehood. Indeed, while “[moral] merit” may not, as Lawrence points out, be a “qualification” for self-determination, continual and chronic failure to attain it, even under the most benevolent conditions, must surely be clear grounds for disqualification.
The time has, therefore, come to challenge the tenets of conventional wisdom which unquestioningly hold that “the Palestinians deserve a state of their own”—not because of any objections raised by the opponents of such a state, but because the Palestinians themselves have failed the test of history—and have done so resoundingly.
Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.