If there is one thing Palestinian moderates are good at, it is showing just how extreme they are. Raja Shehadah does just this in his response, in the NYT of course, to Yossi Klein Halevi’s genuine and authentic attempt to explain the Jewish position on Israel to the Palestinians. While Halevi himself responded to Shehadah, and did so in an elegant and effective manner, his response was also reserved, owing of course to his genuine attempts at dialogue with any Palestinian who will listen. Unencumbered by any desire to win over the hearts and minds of Palestinians (and of the view that any such efforts are essentially a waste of time in the current environment), I have a slightly different take on Shehadah’s response.
I view the Palestinian national narrative as one based on numerous falsehoods. I also believe the Palestinian and Israeli narratives are not equally valid or historically accurate. While I acknowledge the reality that exists now of a Palestinian national narrative, and believe Palestinians should have autonomy over Palestinian cities, I do not support, and nor should Halevi, a Palestinian right of self-determination that undermines the Jewish right of self-determination. Palestinians have no “right” to a state on Jewish land and at the expense of Jewish sovereignty.
Going back to the competing narratives, on the one side, the Jewish side, it is beyond dispute that Jews have a historical and national connection to the land of Israel. Even Palestinian cities, like Bethlehem, Hebron, and Jericho, have Hebrew names. Jews prayed around the world for years to return to Jerusalem. There is historical evidence of the authenticity of Jewish claims to sovereignty over the land. On the other hand, the Palestinians usurp Jewish concepts, like calling Jerusalem their eternal capital, when there is absolutely no historical evidence that Palestinians, or even Arabs, claimed Jerusalem as a capital. The Palestinians believe bizarre and demonstarbly untrue ideas, like that Jesus was a Palestinian Arab, that the Palestinians are descendants of Canaanites (in order to “one-up” Jewish claims to the land), and in general that the Palestinian people have some longstanding national identity, which is historically false. Halevi, of course, I am sure agrees with me about all of these facts, but glosses over them in favour of a higher purpose of respectful dialogue with the Palestinians.
But even with his politeness and gestures of peace, he was rebuffed by a man like Shehadah, who I have never heard of, but I assume falls on the left-wing (“peace”) end of the Palestinian political spectrum. Not only does Shehadah completely miss the point of Halevi’s book, but he himself states facts as though they are objective truths when in fact they are objectively untrue. For example, Shehadah states, “you rehearse old and discredited narratives, like the suggestion that the region of Palestine was empty before Zionists arrived.” Of course, these narratives have not been discredited at all. There are multiple historical accounts of the barrenness of the region of Palestine before the First major aliyah. This is not to say some nomadic or Bedouin Arabs did not live in Palestine pre-1900, but it was certainly not populated by a cohesive people sharing a national identity called “the Palestinians.”
Shehadah’s biggest whopper of a lie was when he criticizes Halevi for trumpeting, “the notion that it was Israel that has constantly offered peace, which the Palestinians have persisted in rejecting. (I was involved in the Oslo negotiations and I can tell you that Israel shares plenty of responsibility for their failure.)” Palestinians have always negotiated on the basis that if they receive every last thing they want, they will sign a document stating they will make peace. So to Shehadah, the fact that Israel did not agree to give 100% of Judea and Samaria to the Palestinians, Israel shares responsibility for its failure. Shehadah ignores Palestinian rejection of Israel peace gestures in 1947, 1967, and even up until Olmert’s offer to Abbas in the waning days of Olmert’s administration. To suggest that Israel has responsibility for the failure of these peace negotiations is absurd. Even President Clinton acknowledged Arafat’s role in torpedoing peace and there is substantial evidence that the second Intifada was a planned terror war and not a popular uprising.
As I have long argued, a fundamental value underlying the conflict is the Palestinian failure to take responsibility for their actions and their lives. They are eternal victims, seemingly unable to control their own fate. This narrative is embraced by Shehadah in full force, stunningly stating, “These are actual realities, ones that only one side has the power to change.” (meaning Israel) True, if Israel wants to commit national suicide, it could unilaterally do what Shehadah asks of it. But the reality is that there needs to be an agreement between two sides for there to be peace. For someone to believe that a group of people who have relentlessly waged a war of terror for close to 50 years against a democratic state have no power to change the reality on the ground for the better is baffling.
Like the Palestinian national narrative, Shehadah’s response to Halevi’s book is nothing but lies, masquerading as indisputable truths. Even the most moderate of the Palestinians has beliefs that are factually false. And I seriously doubt that even Shehadah would pass Einat Wilf’s basic test of acknowledging the Jewish people’s historical connection and right to be in the Land of Israel.
Yossi Klein Halevi should be commended for trying to make some impact on the false narratives the Palestinians have been fed from birth. Someone eloquent and moderate is the right person to make those efforts. But by the same token, perhaps Shehadah’s response to Halevi was an eye-opener for him. There is not even an iota of common ground between Israel and the Palestinians when it comes to telling the truth about the facts underlying the conflict. And until there is, many Israelis and Palestinians may live in a managed stalemate that permits them to live their lives next to each other on a day-to-day basis without interference, but will not live as real neighbours.