Palestinians don’t want a state

Hatred of Israel outweighs the desire to build a functioning, flourishing nation


Do the Palestinians really want a state? It seems like a rhetorical question. The Palestinian struggle for self-determination has been a feature of international politics for decades and a Palestinian state has been the ultimate goal of negotiations with Israel since the Madrid Conference in 1991.

Hasn’t it? An article in the April edition of the prestigious Atlantic Monthly suggests otherwise. In it, Robert Kaplan, a fellow at the Center for a New American Security, argues that the main reason the Palestinians don’t have a state is that they know, deep down, they are better off without one.

The basis for his assertion is another recent piece, by associate Johns Hopkins professor Jakub Grygiel in Policy Review, about the rise of stateless groups. Grygiel’s thesis is that, for the past three centuries, groups needed state power to organise populations, participate in international relations, defend themselves and gather resources. Not so today. New technologies allow revolutionary groups to mobilise large numbers of people and play a strategic role in international relations; lethal weapons can be attained by small bands relatively cheaply and easily.

Moreover, having a state can actually be a burden. For example, because it is vulnerable to physical attack, a state is vulnerable to political pressure, too. But non-state actors are harder to defeat militarily because they can disperse so easily, as the US has discovered with the Taliban and as Israel found with Hizbollah. Then there is the tedious business of governing, which involves a willingness to compromise.

For the Palestinians, Kaplan extrapolates, “Statehood would mean openly compromising with Israel, and, because of the dictates of geography, living in an intimate political and economic relationship with it. Better the glory of victimhood, combined with the power of radical abstractions! As a stateless people, Palestinians can lob rockets into Israel but not be wholly blamed in the eyes of the international community. Statehood would, perforce, put an end to such licence.”

While Kaplan does urge the US to pressure Israel to compromise with the Palestinians, he concludes that “the US should also brace itself for an Israeli-Palestinian conflict that may never end, because the Palestinians may already have what they want”.

Certainly, it is clear that had the Palestinians truly wanted a state, they could have achieved one during Oslo. In the Camp David Summit in July 2000, Ehud Barak offered them well over 90 per cent of the West Bank, and yet Yasir Arafat walked away. Holding out for 100 per cent, however, is not negotiation; it is grandstanding. Compare the Palestinians’ attitude with that of the Jews in 1948. The Jewish state, after partition, was bitty and narrow, an administrative and defensive nightmare. And yet the Jews grabbed this cobbled-together mish-mash, so desperate were they for sovereignty. The Palestinians claimed that the state offered to them was not viable because it was fragmented. This did not stop the Jews 60 years ago.

But the Palestinians’ intransigence is not just because, in Kaplan’s terms, they prefer the fantasy world of statelessness to the adult world of statehood. The real reason the Palestinians do not have a state is that there is one thing they want even more — the destruction of Israel. Egged on by their leaders, media and education system, they work hard at wearing down the Israelis in a war of attrition, and helping Iran bring its missiles to Israel’s doorstep, while they could be making their desert bloom.

Perhaps one day their love for themselves will be stronger than their hatred for Israelis. Until then, don’t expect a Palestinian state.

    Last updated: 11:43am, May 7 2009