BY JOEL POLLAK
It all began with a traffic accident. Twenty years ago this month, a fatal collision that killed four young Palestinians sparked widespread rioting in the West Bank and Gaza. Deadly confrontations with Israeli soldiers led to further protests. The intifada was born. Israelis woke up to the reality of two decades of occupation. Palestinians woke up to a long-suppressed national consciousness, and demanded a state alongside Israel.
That critical historical moment was all but forgotten at the panel discussion hosted by HLS Justice For Palestine last Thursday evening in Austin North, entitled “40 Years Since 1967, 60 Years Since 1948: Palestine, Israel, USA.” Ironically, it fell to me, in my capacity as president of HLS Alliance For Israel, to remind the 200-plus crowd that Palestinian history has been more than a series of helpless defeats.
The evening’s refrain was an admonishment to Palestinians not to take seriously the agreements and promises of last week’s Annapolis peace conference, and to reject the path to the two-state solution in favor of a more radical ideal. The speakers were Noam Chomsky (MIT), Beshara Doumani (Berkeley), and Nadim Rouhana (George Mason), who differed only in the precise details of the hopelessness they prescribed.
Chomsky threw up this gem: “If a constellation of forces arose that forced the Israelis to accept the right of return, they would use their nuclear deterrent to destroy the world.” Next, Doumani complained that “Palestinians in the occupied territories are being force-fed a state” and reiterated his published view that statehood would mean “preempting, rather than delivering, self-determination.”
Not to be outdone, Rouhana offered his own counsel of despair: “Israel as society and state is becoming ready to commit crimes against humanity on a scale that exceeds what is happening now. They are ready, prepared, and willing to do that.” Palestinians would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state, he declared. “We have to de-colonize Israel within the pre-1967 borders, and after the 1967 borders.”Hearing all of this, I was tempted to wonder whether Chomsky, Doumani and Rouhana were Zionist agents in disguise. If Israel really were committed to destroying the Palestinians, it could hardly have picked a more unscrupulous bunch of propagandists to convince Palestinians to give up the struggle for statehood and accept that they are doomed to be the passive victims of history, never its agents.
Even Chomsky’s exaggeration of Israeli nuclear capabilities and designs could well serve such purposes. Never mind that Israeli leaders have specifically rejected the idea of attacking civilian targets even if the existence of the state were at stake. It is useful for Israel’s enemies to fear the massive retaliation Chomsky promises; it’s the best way to establish an effective threat, short of actually nuking something.
But Chomsky’s effectiveness as an Israeli provocateur is limited by his disregard for the facts. For example, he claimed on Thursday that Arab states offered Israel a two-state solution in a UN resolution in 1976. However, that year’s UN resolution on the “Question of Palestine” failed to even mention the word “Israel,” and Yasser Arafat continued to reject the two-state solution until December 1988. Even small facts could not escape unharmed. Chomsky claimed, for example, that Ha’aretz is “Israel’s leading daily,” yet it barely has one-tenth the circulation of Yediot Aharonot. And neither Chomsky nor his fellow panelists mentioned Palestinian terror against Israeli civilians. They also repeatedly described the Second Lebanon War of 2006 as an Israeli “invasion,” neglecting Hezbollah’s initial raid as well as the thousands of rockets it fired at Israeli cities.
Doumani was more useful from a hard-line Israeli point of view, regurgitating radical slogans that would make even left-wing Israelis suspicious of Palestinian commitment to the peace process. “Palestinians have the right to use any means necessary including force,” he claimed, adding weakly that Palestinians had to “discuss” non-violence. And this after years of suicide bombing and self-destructive civil war!
Rouhana played right along, vowing: “There is simply no way that Palestinians will recognize Israel as a Jewish state.” He also argued that Israel’s achievements as a society “could not have been done without force and violence.” These are views one typically hears from the most intransigent Israelis, explaining why Israel should not negotiate at all, and why the Palestinian proto-state should be allowed to destroy itself.
The late Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir is often denounced for having said of Palestinians: “They did not exist.” But they still do not exist for Chomsky, Doumani, and Rouhana. There is no event in recent Palestinian history, good or bad, for which they hold Palestinians responsible. Everything is determined, in Doumani’s words, by the “iron law” of Israeli, British and American control.George Orwell observed that nationalism “may work in a merely negative sense, against something or other and without the need for any positive object of loyalty.” Such is the Palestinian nationalism of Chomsky, et al. These are not “pro-Palestinian” activists. They have little to say about the achievements and prospects of the Palestinian people. They are simply against Israel, not for Palestine.
If the Palestinian people are to succeed in fulfilling the aspirations they first began to articulate twenty years ago, they will have to ignore the Chomskys of the world and use Annapolis as the foundation of a new, positive nationalism that aims to establish a state alongside Israel in peace, security and harmony.
Joel Pollak is President of HLS Alliance for Israel.