And so I renew the appeal made in this place by Pope Benedict XVI: the right of the State of Israel to exist and to flourish in peace and security within internationally recognized borders must be universally recognized. At the same time, there must also be a recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to a sovereign homeland and their right to live with dignity and with freedom of movement. — Pope Francis, May 25 [my emphasis]
This raises many fascinating philosophical questions. Does every people have such a right? Does every group that calls itself a ‘people’ have one? Is it a ‘natural’, inherent right, like a person’s right to life, or does it have to be earned? What if there are conflicting rights? What if one group behaves as if the only way its rights can be realized is by denying them to another?
You get the idea. President Obama prompted similar thoughts when he said that “the Palestinians deserve a state.” Deserve? Why?
The earliest stirrings of Palestinian nationalism go back no farther than the early 20th Century. Before that, the Arabs living in the provinces of the Ottoman Empire that overlapped ‘Palestine’ — for the sake of argument, the area from the river to the sea, from today’s Lebanese border to Egypt — were just Arabs, like the ones in southern Syria.
There was no historical state of Palestine, nor an indigenous Palestinian civilization. There were Arabs, along with various other ethnic groups, including of course Jews. Some of the longer-resident Arab families may even have been descended from Jews converted to Islam during the Muslim conquest of the area in the 7th century!
The British promised to assist the development of a Jewish state in Palestine in accordance with the terms of the Mandate established at San Remo in 1920. Before it went into effect, they chopped off the three-quarters of the land that lay east of the Jordan and gave it to their friend Abdullah, who had helped them expel the Ottomans.
But the Arabs of the Mandate would not countenance Jewish sovereignty anywhere in Palestine. Incited by the man who would become their leader, Haj Amin al-Husseini, they engaged in deadly riots in 1920-21, perpetrated a pogrom in Hebron in 1929, rejected the Peel Commission recommendations of 1937 which called for partition of the remaining land into a small Jewish state (25% of what was left of Palestine) and a large Arab one, and began a violent revolt against both the Jews and the British — who nevertheless continued to do their best to frustrate the Jews’ aspirations for a state.
From the beginning the Arabs asserted a ‘right’, not only to a state, but to every inch of the land. More recently, they rejected several additional offers of partition. In each case the grounds for rejection appear to be the insistence on a ‘right of return’ which would in effect bring about Arab sovereignty over all of the land, and a refusal to agree to a final end of the conflict — that is, to admit that the Jewish state is here to stay.
Mahmoud Abbas has said that not one ‘Israeli’ (please don’t bother to argue that in this context it means anything different from ‘Jew’) will be allowed to live in the new state of Palestine. But, on the other hand, he demands that the descendents of Arab refugees must have a right to live in Israel, if they so choose. Indeed, these ‘refugees’ will not be invited to live in the new state — they can only go to Israel!
The Palestinian refusal to accept Israel as Jewish state — something that the historically ignorant Martin Indyk found so hard to understand — is the basis of the conflict, and has been such since the Mandate period, when the Arabs so strongly opposed Jewish immigration because they feared it might lead to Jewish sovereignty.
By what principle can this demand for all the land be justified, this demand not only for an Arab state, but for the negation of a Jewish one? Certainly not by an appeal to indigenous status or prior political control.
If they don’t have an absolute ‘right’, it could still be argued that for some reason they ‘deserve’ a state. But I certainly can’t think of one. The ‘father of their nation’ is al-Husseini, who was an ally of Hitler. Their most revered leader was Arafat, a mass murderer who popularized terrorism as a political tool, and who was probably more responsible for the automatic association of ‘Arab’ with ‘terrorist’ than anyone else.
Arafat exacerbated the ethnic conflicts in Lebanon leading to a bloody civil war, started a mini-war in Jordan in 1970, and was responsible for Israel’s 1982 invasion of Lebanon. It’s hard to find a single worse actor in recent history short of Stalin and Hitler. But he is the greatest hero of all time to Palestinians.
They lie about everything. The create fake atrocities to smear the IDF (one is in progress now). They have a made-up version of history that gets wilder every day. The Jewish Temple didn’t exist, they say. “Jesus was a Palestinian,” they say. Was he an Arab? A Muslim? A Canaanite? What Temple did he throw money-changers out of? This is so far beyond nonsense that it’s impossible to respond, but it’s used to justify both their crimes and their demands.
The culture, thanks mostly to Arafat’s educational and media systems, is obsessed with death, martyrdom, and revenge. Palestinians make it clear to anyone who is prepared to listen that their greatest aspiration is to destroy the state of Israel, kill or expel the Jews, and take the land that they believe they have a right to.
In a moral sense, then, are they ‘deserving’?
The Pope mentioned the “right to live with dignity and freedom of movement.” I presume he is referring to the security barrier. But the barrier was built because allowing Palestinians total freedom of movement led to hundreds of Israelis dead from bombings and shootings. Does the Pope think they have a ‘right’ to go where they want to kill whomever they want?
What does he think?