Goldblog reader David Salzman writes:
Joe Kanter raises an important and provocative point. I wish your response had gone further.
The despots running Arab countries (except Jordan and later Egypt) used the Palestinian refugees and the PLO almost entirely as instruments of their own national goals until 1991. Immiserating refugees by refusing to assimilate them hurt these fellow Arabs far more than it pressured Israel. Assad's disequilibrium following the collapse of his (and the PLO's) Soviet sponsor opened a window for the Madrid process to occur, after which the PLO's interests eventually diverged from his. He sought power, influence, and a greater Syria encompassing Palestine and especially Lebanon. The PLO sought opportunities for graft, mythical appeal to the Arab Street, and opportunities to claim glorious victories. Oh, and a Palestinian state too.
Is Hamas akin to the pre-Madrid PLO with Iranian instead of Syrian backing? Hamas is more authentic than the PLO because it is not fundamentally a creation or puppet of Muslim countries. (Hezbollah by contrast has something to lose in Lebanon and grim prospects if it loses Iranian backing by way of Syria.) The irridentists in Hamas and Hezbollah care about sharia, and see non-Muslim control ANYWHERE IN THE WORLD as a religious abomination, even if their present focus is on Jews in Palestine, with Hezbollah further focused on Jews in Argentina and of course on non-Shia in Lebanon. As Tom Friedman points out over and over (and over and over), Hamas is unlikely come to an agreement with Israel until it loves life for its people more than it loves death for the Israelis. Iran's weaponry broadens the opportunities for jihadists to become shahids, but it is hard to see how an absence of Iranian sponsorship would change the essential win-lose character of the Manichean game Hamas seeks to play.
The irridentists in the PLO and PFLP on the other hand care about the Ummah and wish to believe that Israel is a colonial implant, facts be damned. Colonists facing costs larger than benefits will pick up and leave -- if they are rational -- so the PLO sought trappings of legitimacy like the UN General Assembly to affect rationality. But why limit the scope to Israel's June 6, 1967 borders?
Also, I think you are giving Arafat too much credit when you suggest that his truculence was limited to ceding one grain of sand of Jerusalem. Arafat's fulminations about an absence of Jewish history in Jerusalem were in Arabic. More problematically, Arafat refused to compromise on a Palestinian "right of return" to overrun Israel, and everyone but Malley recalling the Sharm and Wye River meetings seems to have concluded that Arafat had never at any time intended to soften on that point. The Jews can stay, but only if their state commits to a path ending in its becoming yet another Arab state.
This by the way is Jimmy Carter's "why can't we all get along in a good Christian way?" recurring delusion. He wants to believe that there is something (the West Bank? An apology?) that the Israelis could give the Palestinians that would make everybody happy. What if there isn't? What if Mr. Barghouti (if he's released from his seven consecutive life terms) and his followers aren't satisfied by recovering the West Bank? Rationality cuts both ways.
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