Palestinian Statehood Would be Another Beirut

A picture shows a destroyed silo at the scene of an explosion at the port in the Lebanese capital Beirut on August 4, 2020. (Photo by STR / AFP)
A destroyed silo at the scene of an explosion at the port in the Lebanese capital Beirut, on August 4, 2020 (STR / AFP)
Firefighter douses a blaze at the scene of an explosion at the port of Lebanon’s capital Beirut on August 4, 2020. – Two huge explosion rocked the Lebanese capital Beirut, wounding dozens of people, shaking buildings and sending huge plumes of smoke billowing into the sky. Lebanese media carried images of people trapped under rubble, some bloodied, after the massive explosions, the cause of which was not immediately known. (Photo by STR / AFP)

The horrors of the explosions in the Beirut port are fresh in our minds. The human toll is yet to have been fully evaluated but is a catastrophe of epic proportions. Hundreds likely dead, thousands injured, and hundreds of thousands homeless. Lebanon’s disaster is the result of a Hezbollah takeover of a country once considered the “Paris of the Middle East.” Allowing the creation of a Palestinian state with even less evidence for democracy and human rights than in Lebanon would bring pain and devastation that can reflect and even exceed the incredible suffering of Lebanon. But what about the right for statehood? What about Palestinian self-determination? For that, we need to look no further than George W. Bush.

 If there is one thing people from across the political spectrum can agree on, it is that the George W. Bush doctrine of exporting democracy and nation-building abroad have been an abysmal failure. The failure is recognized as both a moral and tactical one. Today, two decades later, we recognize it is not for us to disassemble and reassemble societies at our wish. Sadly, the only exception to this is when talking about the Palestinians where everyone from Peter Beinart to Jordan’s Abdullah II feel free to toss around their vision for the future of Palestinians. Forcing unwanted nationhood is immoral, politically imprudent, and does nothing to improve the facts on the ground. 

So why do so many urge forcing unwanted statehood on others? Perhaps it is because they forgot that states exist to serve humanity, not the other way around. The zeal to establish a Palestinian state or forcing statehood on Palestinians has become so fervent that it led some to forget why states exist, to begin with—to serve people. 

The founding fathers of the United States have changed the course of history when stating in the Declaration of Independence: 

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”.

Governments are there to serve people’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. When a government stands in the way of those rights, it loses its right to govern. The founders even spelled that out:

“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to affect their Safety and Happiness.”

Governance emanates from a combination of allowing for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, with the consent of the governed. Over the past thirty years, the fever to provide Palestinians with such a state, absent the demand of the Palestinian people, has become a messianic ideal for so many, an end that justifies all means. 

This fervor became evident in Peter Beinart’s controversial column calling for a binational Israeli Palestinian and Israeli state, offending both Israelis and Palestinians, as he dictated their future to a keyboard on the Upper West Side of Manhattan without consulting them.  

To be clear: there is nothing moral about imposing a manufactured Western statehood on Palestinians. It is in fact, immoral to try and do so. No one should work towards a Palestinian state they do not want. We do no one a favor by working towards that end. 

So, what do the Palestinians want? 

Well, the people have spoken. 

In the last Palestinian elections held—back in 2006— the terrorist organization Hamas won 80 out of 132 seats. While no recent elections have been held, Hamas has led in its popularity in the West Bank, and public support for peaceful coexistence with Israel is low. Throughout the conflict, there has been little thought given to what kind of state Palestinians would like to live in, as much as whom they do not want to be around—the Jews. There is a great deal of evidence of what kind of state a Palestinian state would look like: the evidence is called Gaza. 

I will not go on to site the rockets shot at Israel, the terror attacks carried out, or the being a front to Iranian terrorism in the region taking place in Gaza as evidence for what we can expect from a future Palestinian state. I will cite the fact that the chance of an American—or for that matter Swiss—Jew to walk into Gaza with a Kipah or other Jewishly identifying object, is a death sentence. An identifiable American Jew has a better chance of walking out alive of North Korea than walking out of Gaza—which is what gives us all a right to talk about what we would like to see happening thousands of miles away from us. 

Now to the issue of applying Israeli law to parts of the West Bank. 

As stated in the Declaration of Independence, the right to life, liberty, and happiness are sacrosanct. Sometimes they are provided by independence and statehood; in tragic cases, they are lost by statehood. 

Palestinian leaders have failed to clarify their national aspirations or what they would like to do if they achieve statehood. We have all heard the “no Jews allowed” part of their aspirations. We have not heard much else. All too often, “from the river to the sea Palestine will be free” is meant to say “free of Jews”. There is far more urgency and legitimacy to grant statehood to people like the Kurds, Catalans, and others who have an excellent record of self-governance and promote the wellbeing of those who will be governed by future independence. 

Senior Fatah official Jibril Rajoub, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, attends by video conference a meeting with deputy Hamas chief Saleh Arouri (on screen from Beirut) discussing Israel’s plan to annex parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, on July 2, 2020. (Photo by ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)

Ramallah’s frequent rebound romances with Hamas in Gaza and Hezbullah in Lebanon, every time talks with Israel don’t go well for them, are further assurance that we can expect to see Hamas in Ramallah in case of Palestinian statehood. This is not a practical concern, it is a moral concern. 

There is no moral justification—or imperative—to manufacturing a Kim Jung-Un style North Korea anywhere. There is no principled reason or justification for creating a Palestinian state with the motto of “just not Jews”, as its raison d ‘être. 

When the day comes, and a Hassidic Jew from Brooklyn can walk into a Gaza street and know he will not be killed within his first ten minutes there, we can talk about a moral justification for a Palestinian state. Until then, advocating for the manufacturing of a Palestinian state which we wished would behave as a Western democracy is an act of colonialism and fantasy. It is immoral. If life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are not at the foundation of your quest for statehood, you lose your moral justification for a state. 

When the Jewish undergrounds—even the most militant of them, such as the Irgun and Lechi—fought the British to have a state, there was always a vision of what that state would look like. There was a dream of self-determination, of a Jewish state, of the liberties they would enjoy, and the lives they would pursue. It was never about getting the British out, or who would be driven out of the land; it was about what they would build. 

Which brings us to the settlements and the issue of Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank. It is not my place to settle a dispute that is now more than fifty years in the making, with the world’s greatest minds thinking of ways to solve this dispute. As Aaron Sorkin, creator of the TV series the West Wing, says: “Decisions are made by those who show up”. Sadly, the Palestinian leadership has not shown up. 

While many Israelis were busy creating towns, farms, industries, and communities in the West Bank, Palestinian leadership has been continuously focused on the “just not Jews” agenda. Rather than focusing on investing in education, medicine, and infrastructure, Ramallah has allocated enormous resources its “pay for slay” programs, paying billions of dollars to families of terrorists who kill Israeli civilians. Rather than invest diplomatic capital in building recognition for their statehood, Ramallah has invested in encouraging an international boycott of Israel products. That is not to say that Palestinians living in the West Bank have not been industrious and creative. Palestinian individuals and communities who chose to focus on the future, on wellbeing, innovation, and prosperity, have significantly benefited from the opportunities that came from a peaceful and secure environment. 

Illustrative: Israeli Jews and Palestinians talk to each other during a coexistence meeting in the West Bank, on July 22, 2015 (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Unlike Hamas controlled Gaza, the West Bank whose security is maintained a strong Israeli presence allowed for higher rates of employment, education, and opportunity for many of the Palestinians living there allowing them to prosper in ways that Arabs in Gaza, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Syria, and Iraq, can only dream of. Yet this success has not been cheered on or championed by Palestinian nationalists or their political leadership; it has happened despite it. The idea of a government being the one enabling “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness”, has failed even to be a stated goal of the Palestinian Authority. Funding terrorism, promoting boycotts, and abusing your people just don’t make the cut for a “moral cause” for statehood. 

But there’s a twist. 

While Ramallah was working with its allies abroad to boycott Israeli products, factories, wineries, farms, and startup companies, were started by Israelis in the West Bank. These benefited the Palestinian population significantly too. Companies like SodaStream, Rami Levi, Barkan industries have greatly benefited Palestinians and Jews in the West Bank and have become a model for mutually beneficial coexistence. The Yesha Council and other regional councils representing Jewish communities in the West Bank have gone on to do phenomenal collaborative work with local Palestinian communities working on road safety, energy, commerce, and more. 

Now, the Israeli communities in the West Bank, some of which have been there now for fifty years, are tired. They are tired of being a none-entity, and they are tired of a Palestinian leadership that does not show up. Yes, their claim is disputed. Yes, the West Bank is a disputed territory. I am not going to settle that dispute. I will leave it at fifty-fifty. Yet when one of those fifty-fifty sides says: “we want to apply our law on our citizens—whom we democratically represent, care for, and whose lives we enhance— they should have every right to do so. If an Israeli living in the West Bank wants to have a proper mailbox, let him have it. If an Israeli living in the West Bank wants a speeding ticket from a regular traffic officer rather than the military police, so be it. Decisions are made by those who show up. 

Road safety sign reading “Jews and Arabs want to return home safely”, part of a joint project of Sameria regional council and local Palestinian leaders. (photo courtesy of Shomron regional council)

Is democracy for the Palestinians going to be the same as it is for Israelis in the West Bank? Sadly, no. That is because decisions are made by those who show up. I wish Palestinian leadership would have shown up. I am thankful that Palestinians in the West Bank have been blessed with the nicest neighbors in the Middle East who will treat them with dignity no matter what. 

To the Peter Beinarts of the world who believe Israel has a moral obligation to give Israeli citizenship to West Bank Palestinians: stop colonizing people when they never asked for it. Have Palestinians ever expressed any desire to be Israeli? If not, how can you suggest imposing it on them? I am reminded of the rage many Palestinians felt after Beinart wrote his colonizing article. Does anyone really think there is a moral obligation to force a Palestinians to be part of a state they despise?

There is no moral obligation to colonize, nor is there an imperative to create a state for the sake of creating a state. In the meantime, Israelis who live in the West Bank and want the full application of Israeli law on their neighborhoods should not be denied that right. They showed up. 

Israel may decide not to apply its sovereignty over the West Bank for diplomatic, economic, or national security reasons. I am not here to weigh on it. That is a decision that must be made by Israelis. Yet to say that there is a moral global imperative to support the establishment of a Palestinian state at the cost of on the ground developments in Judea and Samaria, despite the evidence that such a state will not sanctify life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as its raison d ‘être, has no moral justification. To use the state we would like to see the Palestinians establish as a justification for the kind of state they have shown they would like to establish is at least a logical fallacy, if not a moral failure; to the contrary, forcing statehood on Palestinians is immoral. 

Granted there is no evidence for a ground-up Palestinian majority democratic government that would secure the rights of the individual and avoid the horrors we have seen in Beirut; we should let lives of safety and prosperity continue in the West Bank. There is a moral imperative to offering humanitarian aid to Beirut; there is no moral imperative to try and fore on the Palestinians the kind of state they never asked for. 

Hatemongering profiteers and NGOs that make a living from creating a sense of crisis in the West Bank can go to Lebanon and help address a real humanitarian crisis. God bless Israel, God bless Beirut, and God bless the lives being built in the West Bank with inspired by life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.  

 

About the Author
The writer is a rabbi, writer, teacher, and blogger (www.rabbipoupko.com). He is the president of EITAN-The American Israeli Jewish Network and lives with his wife in New York City.
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