In the flood of commentary elicited by Newt Gingrich’s remarks about the ‘invention’ of Palestinian national identity, a more than two decades-old article by Daniel Pipes has been referenced by several writers. Under the title “The Year the Arabs Discovered Palestine,” Pipes reviews the events of 1920 and explains why the developments of this year gave rise to the first expressions of Palestinian nationalism .
Since I’ve argued in a recent post that would-be peacemakers all too often overlook the problematic fact that Palestinian national identity is to a large degree based on opposing Zionism, I was intrigued to read that Pipes also emphasized:
Ultimately, Palestinian nationalism originated in Zionism; were it not for the existence of another people who saw British Palestine as their national home, the Arabs would have continued to view this area as a province of Greater Syria. Zionism turned Palestine into something worthy in itself; if not for the Jewish aspirations, Sunni Arab attitudes toward Palestine would no doubt have resembled those toward the territory of Transjordan — an indifference only slowly eroded by many years of governmental effort. Palestinian nationalism promised the most direct way to deal with the challenge presented by Zionist settlers.
Putting it perhaps even more starkly, Pipes notes in his conclusion that “Palestinian nationalism is just one variant of anti-Zionism.”
Reading this, I remembered that at the beginning of the article, Pipes describes Palestinian nationalism as “the most widely supported but possibly the least successful nationalist cause of this [i.e. the 20th] century.”
Maybe, just maybe, there’s a connection somewhere?
But since Daniel Pipes seems to be not everyone’s favorite and most trusted Middle East expert, let’s see who else thinks that anti-Zionism is a central part of Palestinian identity: writing in the Guardian almost exactly four years ago, Ahmad Samih Khalidi, a former Palestinian negotiator who is now at Oxford, described the re-emergence of a distinct Palestinian identity that, according to him, had been “lost” in the wake of the “nakba”:
It was only after the 1967 debacle that a new Palestinian national identity began to take shape. At its core was the notion of the armed struggle as a galvanising force. Armed struggle, according to Fatah, restored Palestinian dignity and gave the Palestinians a say in determining their future.
Statehood and state building had no real place in this scheme. Indeed, the first tentative proposals to establish a state in Palestine (ie the West Bank) were rejected as defeatist and a betrayal of the national cause. […] Today, the Palestinian state is largely a punitive construct devised by the Palestinian’s worst historical enemies; Israel and its implacable ally, the US. The intention behind the state today is to constrain Palestinian aspirations territorially, to force them to give up on their moral rights, renege on their history and submit to Israel’s diktats on fundamental issues of sovereignty.
Khalidi concludes his article by suggesting that the Palestinians might pursue a “one-state-solution” or that they “could simply continue to say no to a state that does nothing to address its [sic] basic needs.”
His final sentence is:
Either way, it’s hard to see how Israel can win this struggle in the long term.
In April of this year, Khalidi argued in another Guardian article that there was
a slow but sure manifestation of a new transnational movement, centred less on statehood and more on forging a national project that will traverse the existing Palestinian divides – diaspora, occupied territories and Israeli Arab citizens – and bypass the notion of an independent Palestinian state on part of Palestinian soil. […]
What this approach, still in nascent and tentative form, reflects may be profoundly important for the future of the struggle; a move away from seeking the ever-shifting goalposts of an inevitably constrained and incomplete form of statehood that would come at the expense of equally fundamental rights to a much broader interpretation of self-determination that includes all the divergent Palestinian constituencies, and a much wider and continuing confrontation with the Zionist enterprise in Palestine.
Well, if Pipes is right that Palestinian national identity first began to emerge in 1920, it’s just a few more years until the Palestinians will be able to mark the 100th anniversary of their “continuing confrontation with the Zionist enterprise in Palestine” — 100 years of national anti-Zionism.