Origins of the Palestinian Identity
Newt Gringrich says Palestinians are an "invented people."
No one denies that the Palestinians are a "people." The Israeli government, the United Nations, and the European Union have all recognized the Palestinians as a people with national aspirations.
The question is whether these aspirations evolved organically, or else they were inspired by greater influence from the former Soviet Union and late Arab republics.
Forty years ago, when the Palestinian Liberation Organization was founded, the original charter made no claims to the lands of Israel. The Palestinian leadership emphasized its status as part of the greater Arab struggle against Israel, and any spoils acquired from a conquered Israel would be given to Jordan and Egypt.
Later decades saw several break-ups of the original Palestinian founders. Many joined Baathist Syria, a government that claims all of Israel -- and Jordan -- as part of Greater Syria. Never has a Syrian leader recognized a Palestinian nation independent of Syria. Others disappeared, fled to Israel, or completely abandoned the Palestinian government. The civil war in Lebanon decimated the PLO and forced Arafat into exile in Africa.
Meanwhile, the Jordanian government remained firm in its position toward Palestine. For nearly thirty years, the West Bank was considered sovereign Jordanian territory. Jordan unilaterally annexed the land, granted all Arab residents citizenship, and conquered East Jerusalem. Unrecognized by the international community, but not challenged. Not the Arab League, the U.N., Israel, nor the Palestinians themselves considered the land "occupied" Palestinian territory. The Palestinian movement delegated all authority to the reigning Arab nations.
Beginning in the 1970s, the Palestinian leadership initiated a campaign to reframe the conflict and invent a local narrative. Riding on the coattails of globalized media, the Palestinians became a post-Soviet Union third-world victim. The alliances the Palestinians made with nations not interested in the creation of a unique Palestinian state were washed from history. Within the halls of the United Nations General Assembly, inflammatory rhetoric comparing Israel to Nazi Germany and South Africa became a defining activity of the organization. The U.N. General Assembly has since passed more resolutions against Israel than all other nations combined.
Though the Palestinian Authority no longer has to smuggle drugs, extort businesses, and engage in blatant theft to support their leaders' wealthy lifestyle, the manners remain the same. The Palestinians of the 1970s are still the Palestinians of 2012. The Palestinians who siphoned humanitarian aid and sold it on the black market; the Palestinians who engineered the hijacking of over a hundred aircraft; the Palestinians who were responsible for the mass murder of Israelis, Europeans, and Americans -- all remain in power.
And this is the problem. It is easy to simply write off the Palestinians as an invented people, because as far as the facts are considered, their singular purpose is to act as force against Israel. There is no evidence to suggest that the Palestinian government is making meaningful, good-faith attempts to negotiate a state according to realistic conditions. And assuming that they actually did, the Palestinian Authority is so dysfunctional and fractured that any agreement with Israel could not possibly be enforced. In Gaza, the Palestinian government has grown exponentially more belligerent. Currently, the Hamas government is dedicated to the destruction of Israel and the establishment of an Islamic state in replacement of Israel. This is unacceptable. Every month, missiles are fired at Israeli cities, forcing millions of citizens into bomb shelters. Does anyone seriously believe that granting the Palestinians more power will bring an end to this unwarranted aggression?
For those who have a vested, honest interest in normalizing relations between Arabs and Israelis, the best course of action is to accept and acknowledge the realities of the situation. For far too long the peace process has been premised on the assumption that the Palestinians want a state truly divorced from Israel. No doubt some Palestinians support such an idea. Some have even tried. Many have been killed, most jailed or imprisoned -- not by Israel, but by the Palestinian government. Why is this?
Considering these facts on the ground, the growing settlement programs in the West Bank, the shrinking Palestinian Authority, and Iran's domination of Palestinian politics, it is hard to a define a uniform Palestinian identity -- an identity independent of Israel. We know that the Arab governments care very little about the Palestinian people. We know that the European Union's presence in the Middle East peace process has nothing to do with securing peace and normalized relations between all involved parties. We know that Iran exploits the Palestinian people to fight Israel and, to a greater extent, challenge America's defense umbrella over the region.
The argument should not be if the Palestinians are an "invented" people. The reality is that their representatives are descendants of terrorists, gangsters, and warlords. The Palestinians of today were never invented. Their identity has yet to be defined. The only defining feature of the Palestinian people is their singular purpose to destroy Israel.
Newt Gingrich should have clarified his views. He should have explained why the Palestinians are an "invented people." The image of the Palestinians is invented. It has been shaped, written, and carved by foreign benefactors. The Jews of Israel do not base their identity on opposition to non-Jewish self-determination. Place the state of Israel anywhere on planet Earth, and it would remain the same. But in the absence of Israel, the Palestinian identity would fall apart.
The author wishes to remain anonymous for personal reasons. He or she can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.