Palestinian statehood: Many Palestinians want to be Israelis [Blowback]
German Israeli citizen Petra Marquardt-Bigman, a historian whose blog is published by the Jerusalem Post, responds to Saree Makdisi's Sept. 22 Op-Ed article, "Palestinians' U.N. gamble could backfire." If you would like to write a full-length response to a recent Times article, editorial or Op-Ed, here are our FAQs and submission policy.
Warning that the "Palestinians' U.N. gamble could backfire," Saree Makdisi explains that there is a difference between Palestinian aspirations for self-determination in a state of their own and the much broader Palestinian cause.
Understanding this difference is crucial to understanding why an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement has remained so elusive.
Makdisi's main concern is that a Palestinian state would only represent its citizens, whereas the Palestine Liberation Organization enjoys international recognition "as the sole legitimate representative of the entire Palestinian people." According to Makdisi, the groups that make up the Palestinian people include "those living under occupation, those living in Israel and those living in exile or as refugees."
Obviously enough, for those Palestinians living under Israeli occupation, the establishment of a Palestinian state should mean a vast improvement of their situation. The same should be true for Palestinian refugees: Just as the newly established Jewish state took in hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees fleeing discrimination and persecution in Arab countries, the newly established Palestinian state could provide a haven for those Palestinians who have been kept in refugee camps for generations.
But while the Palestinians garner worldwide sympathy for their plight as an occupied and stateless people, Makdisi is not primarily concerned with ending the occupation and statelessness; instead, his priority is the preservation of the PLO's claim to represent "the entire Palestinian people."
The most notable aspect of this claim is the PLO's ambition to represent Israeli citizens. Makdisi apparently believes that this is an internationally recognized claim, and he asserts that there are "1.5 million Palestinians living as second-class citizens of Israel." This is inaccurate on two counts: Not all of Israel's 1.5 million Arabs define themselves as Palestinian, and Israeli Arabs are not "second-class citizens," even if, like minorities elsewhere, they may often face disadvantage or discrimination.
While we can only speculate how many of Israel's Arab citizens would like to be represented by the PLO, it seems unlikely that this would be an attractive proposition for an Israeli Bedouin who is a career diplomat, like Ishmael Khaldi, or Israeli Druze soldiers who serve with distinction in the Israeli Defense Forces. Doubts about the eagerness of Arabs in Israel to be represented by the PLO seem warranted in light of polls showing that even among the Arabs of East Jerusalem -- claimed by Palestinians as their capital -- many would prefer Israeli citizenship to Palestinian citizenship.
In any case, Makdisi's concerns are justified insofar as Israeli citizens who consider themselves Palestinians would obviously not be represented by a Palestinian state, unless these individuals acquired Palestinian citizenship. However, the "Palestine Papers" published in January reveal that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas believes Israeli-Palestinians should not be entitled to apply for citizenship. Characterizing his response as "strategically" motivated, Abbas explained during a meeting in March 2009 that a Palestinian with Israeli citizenship was already living in his homeland and did not need a passport "to prove" his Palestinian identity.
Makdisi may well share this view because he argues that "U.N. resolutions do not limit the Palestinian people or their rights merely to the territories occupied in 1967; General Assembly Resolution 194, for example, expressly recognizes their right of return to homes in what is now Israel."
Leaving aside the contentious questions about the validity of Palestinian claims to a "right of return," Makdisi's argument implies that establishing a Palestinian state may not be desirable if this risks diminishing the chances of the descendants of Palestinian refugees to claim Israeli citizenship. But when Israeli citizenship is prized higher than the citizenship that would come with a Palestinian state, Palestinian refugees become mere pawns in a political poker game. Likewise, the claim that Israel's Arab citizens need the PLO to represent them is revealed as rank hypocrisy.
Interestingly, Makdisi emphasizes that the U.N. has already recognized a "very broad set of Palestinian rights." But in his determination to safeguard these rights, he seems blind to the fact that whatever rights the Palestinians can legitimately claim, the "right" to deny the Jewish people their right to self-determination is surely not included.
-- Petra Marquardt-Bigman
Photo: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks before the General Assembly at the United Nations in New York on Sept. 23. Credit: Dennis Van Tine / Abaca Press