Not every people get to have its own independent country. Ask the Kurds, the Tibetans, and the Catalans. Each of those peoples has its own distinct culture and ethnic identity. Each has a long history and has claimed the right to be independent nation. However, the world at large does not agree.
Governments and international organizations have rejected, ignored, or disparaged their pleas for national independence. What criteria are used to deny them? Whatever those criteria are, they would apply to also deny the Palestinian claim. However, despite the Palestinians having few of the attributes of legitimate national identity, half the world somehow finds it compelling that there should be a country called Palestine. But is there anyone who supports a Palestinian state who can enunciate a set of neutral principles that explain why the Palestinians should get a country and the Kurds, Tibetans, and Catalans should not?
There are several major reasons an independent nation of Palestine should never come into existence. First, most basically, the concept of a historical Palestinian people is a blatant hoax. Countries are for real nationalities with a real history: not for those like the Palestinians who have no history. Not to be harsh, but it is a fact that the people who call themselves Palestinians now did not call themselves Palestinians a century ago.
The myth that there once was a people, the Palestinian people, who were the indigenous people living happily on their own land for thousands of years, is just that: a myth. They are not the indigenous people. Most of the current Palestinians descend from people who immigrated into the area since 1880, people who considered themselves members of different tribes, people who regarded themselves as ethnically Arabs and who identified themselves as members of the larger Arab nation and its culture. They did not say they were Palestinians, nor think of themselves as a nationality till many years later, starting in the mid-1960s. The leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat, was born in Egypt, like many other Palestinians of his generation.
Going back just over a century, Palestine itself was sparsely populated and many buildings claimed as central to Palestinian identity were abandoned and in disrepair. The state of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem in this picture from 1875 speaks volumes.
Mark Twain described the land as desolate:
“There is not a solitary village throughout its whole extent (valley of Jezreel, Galilea); not for thirty miles in either direction… One may ride ten miles hereabouts and not see ten human beings. For the sort of solitude to make one dreary, come to Galilee… Nazareth is forlorn… Jericho lies a mouldering ruin… Bethlehem and Bethany, in their poverty and humiliation… untenanted by any living creature. — Mark Twain, “The Innocents Abroad”, 1867
Related to the fact that idea of the Palestinian people is a historical hoax is the fact that the narrative that the land was stolen from them is also a complete falsehood. Nothing was stolen from the Palestinians. In fact, the modern Zionist movement began buying up land for Jewish settlement legally under the laws of the Ottoman Empire in the 1880s. Jews constituted a majority of the small population of Jerusalem at the time. Elsewhere there were Bedouins who used public lands, but they seldom had actual title to specific plots. Some Arabs lived in villages as poor peasant farmers who were bought out by a few rich Arab landowners. They in turn sold some of their least desirable land to the Jews. Jewish economic activity helped spark Arab migration to the area and Arab population in the villages increased. Jews did not steal land from the Arab villages. The only real land thefts from 1880–1947 were the result of Arab riots in which Jews were slaughtered and their houses were seized, for example as happened during the 1929 pogroms against the Jews of Hebron.
In the 1947 war, some Arabs did leave their homes and villages at the behest of Arab leaders who wanted a clear zone in which their armies could operate. Those who left chose incorrectly and many ended up refugees after their side lost the war. They were put in camps by their fellow Arabs and not resettled and integrated into nearby Arab countries. As for Arabs who did not flee, they became Arab citizens of the state of Israel. They own land, they have bank accounts. Their property was not stolen. Meanwhile a slightly greater number of Jews were kicked out of Arab nations at the same time and were resettled in Israel. Many were not allowed to bring all their property or were forced to sell at rock bottom prices. Surely there are some individual inequities that occurred, but there is a rough balance overall and one could see the outlines of financial settlements that could be negotiated to compensate individuals.
Another objection to creating a Palestinian state is that the development of a separate Palestinian identity came very late and is not well-established as an identity distinct from nearby Arab nations. Jordan once ruled over large parts of Judea and Samaria from 1948–1967, land many now think should be part of a Palestinian state. During the time that Jordan ruled no one thought of making that area a separate country of Palestine, least of all the Jordanians and the people who later said they were Palestinians. Jordan is and was the Palestinian state, in all but name, at least for all the Palestinians living outside Gaza. As for Gaza, it was ruled by Egypt from 1948 -1967. During that time, no one, least of all the Arab residents of Gaza, thought of themselves as Palestinians.
Another strike against Palestinian statehood is that the Palestinians have not availed themselves of the opportunities they have already had to get a state for themselves. Having a state seemed a lower priority for them than continuing the campaign for destruction of the Jewish state. They have repeatedly rejected offers of statehood, from the plans of the Peel Commission in 1937 and the UN partition plan of 1947 to the generous deals offered by Israeli Prime Minister Barak and later by Prime Minister Olmert. What is notable about the Palestinian rejection of these peace plans is that there were no public counter-offers. Instead the response of the Palestinian Arab leadership to peace plans has been to step up the violence, to begin wars, or start intifadas. There is no Arafat plan, nor Abbas plan for peace.
Another key problem is lack of requisite Palestinian unity. There is no single entity to negotiate statehood with, no group that can speak for all the Palestinians or deliver on any agreement that is negotiated, and no entity that can impose its rule over the new state. The problem is both territorial and political. Gaza and the West Bank are physically non-contiguous and are politically divided between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. Hamas kicked the Palestinian Authority out of Gaza in 2007 in a bloody but short civil war. It is not about to give up control of Gaza. Hamas was founded on the absolute rejection of peace and is dedicated to the utter destruction of Israel and the slaughter of its Jewish population. Statehood with such divisions makes no sense. To address the lack of Palestinian unity, some have called for two more Palestinian states: Gazan Palestine and West Bank Palestine. But this idea is truly ridiculous: both countries would be small and scarcely viable as nation states. However, one can argue that Gaza and the Palestinian Zone A of the Oslo accords are already two semi-autonomous regions: thus, a partial version of this extra partition plan has already become reality. Going further to full statehood with such a serious split risks civil war and degeneration of the new country into the status of a failed state. Syria, Libya, and Yemen provide concrete examples of what a new country of Palestine could quickly become.
Finally, a key factor becoming more relevant over time is that the invention of a Palestinian people no longer serves much of a useful purpose to the Arab nations. To understand what this means first requires one to realize the idea of the Palestinian people was a tactical maneuver made in response to the defeat of Arab nations in their attempts to conquer Israel militarily. All along, it was not that the Palestinians wanted a state of their own so much as the Arabs needed the Palestinians to come into existence as a weapon in their fight against the Jewish state.
As Zuhair Muhsin, military commander of the PLO and member of the PLO Executive Council, stated,
There are no differences between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. We are all part of one nation. It is only for political reasons that we carefully underline our Palestinian identity… yes, the existence of a separate Palestinian identity serves only tactical purposes. The founding of a Palestinian state is a new tool in the continuing battle against Israel.
Over time many Arab nations are reluctantly but realistically starting to see the value of a tacit alliance with the Jewish State in stopping Iranian Shia expansion and in fighting the terrorism and wars spawned by ISIS and Al Qaeda Islamist fundamentalists. They also see Israel as a backstop against any attempt by Turkey to revive the Ottoman Empire. Possibly the key point. Israel may lay claim to Judea and Samaria, but it inherently has no larger territorial ambitions in the wider Arab or Muslim world. It does not want to rule Gaza, much less Jordan, Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, Libya, Qatar, or any other Middle Eastern or North African country. In contrast the ambitions of Iranian mullahs and ISIS jihadis know no such bounds. Similarly, it may hurt Arab pride for Israel to rule Jerusalem, but as long as Israel is giving Muslims and Christians control over their holy sites, and providing those sites good security protection, the status quo is stable and tolerable. Splitting the city, on the other hand, invites perpetual unrest which ultimately does no one any good. Israel also has value to the Arab nations as a stable land corridor for shipment of goods to the Mediterranean. In that context, the Arabs want to see a settlement of some sort between Israel and the Palestinians, but Palestinian statehood is not necessarily so crucial and certainly should not stand in the way of larger strategic concerns.
Virtually everyone in the Middle East realizes an independent Palestinian state is no longer a viable concept, if it ever was. It truly has no future. Western European and Leftist parties can’t see this as they have a stronger attachment to the idea than the Arabs themselves at this point. What the Deal of the Century needs to do is to give the Palestinian Arabs an attractive offer with economic incentives, sufficient but limited sovereignty, and adequate homage to their wounded pride to let a clear majority accept something less than a state they don’t really want. Peace will also require the total defeat of Hamas and other rejectionist factions who won’t be satisfied with a state either. Either way, Palestinians should be given a livable future in which there won’t be an independent country of Palestine, at least not until the Tibetans, Kurds, and Catalans have countries of their own.