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Palestinians not ready for statehood

Posted By Obadiah Shoher On November 30, 2009 @ 9:52 am In History of Palestinians | 3 Comments

People have to grow used to statehood. It is one thing to submit to the violent threats of an occupier or warlord, and another to willingly accept the societal contract which underpins statehood. Tribes submitted to colonizers, but tribes cannot organize themselves into the intricate framework of a state. Democracy, liberalism, free-market capitalism, and statehood—among other concepts—cannot be imposed on just any society; the target society has to grow up, learn from its own errors, and slowly accept more and more elements of the concept. The example of the communists taught the world that planning economies is impossible; it is still less possible to plan societies. Palestinian Arabs have never had an experience of statehood, but were organized in cross-village clans. Statehood is foremost a territorial concept; clans are extra-territorial. A state cannot jump up and move to another land; clans can. Territorial identity comes to the Palestinian Arabs a distant third after clan and village identity. It is unusual to hear from an Arab, “I’m from Jerusalem area,” for he identifies himself with, say, Abu Ghosh clan and the relevant village. That’s in contrast to Jews, who find it normal to speak of living in the “vicinity of Jerusalem.”

Patriarchal societies are particularistic, while developed societies are cosmopolitan. Statehood requires a certain level of development and the degree of cosmopolitism that comes with it. Progressing further, cosmopolitism breaks the states and molds transnational identities. Jews wrongly complain of the Palestinian Arabs unwillingness to accept responsibility, rein in their militants, and form a peaceful state alongside Israel. Palestinians just cannot do that; they are no more suitable for modern statehood than any tribe in the jungle. No one would dream of lecturing a surgeon, but it’s a common belief that any group of people can form, dissect, and repair an organism no less complex than a human being—a society. A people few decades from the hills cannot develop an intricate society with checks and balances, media and public control, transparent elections, and responsible politicians. Some lines, like that between the police strength and abuse of power are too narrow for primitive societies to walk. Palestinians can only submit to a warlord (even an evil clown like Arafat), or an occupier, but cannot govern themselves and will not be able to for the foreseeable future. Israel won’t be able to wall ourselves off from them and forget them: the West Bank will continue to be lawless, accommodating anti-Israeli militants.

Parallel to their inability to form a state, Palestinian Arabs cannot organize any other large-scale activity. Just decades from their past as a dispersed rural society, the Arabs haven’t developed the habits or infrastructure for large-scale organization. Palestinian Arabs failed to form trade unions, a matter of practical and urgent importance for them since 1920s, especially given the background of Jewish labor’s successes in extorting concessions from entrepreneurs. The Arabs are still less able to organize on matters of remote significance, such as nationalism, statehood, or war.


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