Palestinians Have Another Chance, Thanks to President Bush

News Abroad

Ms. Klinghoffer is senior associate scholar at the Political Science department at Rutgers University, Camden, and the author of Vietnam, Jews and the Middle East. She is also an HNN blogger. Click here for her blog.

It was with great admiration that I watched George W. Bush cutting yet another Gordian knot - this time he told the Palestinians that they have to forget"the right of return" of the 1948-1949 refugees to Israeli territories. They will have to settle their refugees in their portion of Palestine.  Moreover, that portion will not necessarily follow the 1949 armistice lines.  Life goes on and it's time for the Palestinians and their supporters to realize that fact and stop pining over lost causes.  How important was it to insist that the Palestinians deal with reality, and stop living in dreams? Very.  This has been made doubly clear after the bombing in Spain.

After all, many Palestinians rejected the Oslo agreement because they saw in it a willingness to give up the Palestinian dream of eliminating Israel. Nizar Qabbani, the Arab world's most popular poet, wrote in October, 1995 a poem comparing the loss of part of Palestine with the loss of Spain (the poem was published in Al-Hayat. Fouad Ajami translated it in his must read book - The Dream Palace of the Arabs).  He, like Edward Said, is not an Islamist - but his message is that only cowards accommodate to reality.  By the way, this is the Arab intellectual response to the fall of Saddam. 

Arafat called the Oslo agreement, the peace of the brave - Qabbani called it something very different -

The last walls of embarrassment have fallen
We were delighted
and we danced
and we blessed ourselves
for signing the peace of the cowards
Nothing frightens us anymore
Nothing shames us anymore
The veins of pride in us have fried up.

Granada has fallen for the fiftieth time
From the hands of the Arabs
History has fallen
From the hands of the Arabs.
All the folk songs of heroism have fallen.

We no longer in our hands
Have a single Andalus
They stole the walls, the wives, the children
the olives and the old
And the stones of the street.

Qabbani even claims Jesus:

They stole Jesus the son of Mary
While he was an infant still.
They stole from us the memory of the orange trees
and the apricots and the mint
And the candles in the mosques.

He despised the idea of taking care of people as a way to exercise Arab leadership. This is what he wrote about Gaza.

In our hands they left
A sardine called Gaza
And a dry bone called Jericho.
They left us a body with no bones
A hand with no fingers . . .

Oh, we dreamed of a green peace
and a white crescent
And a blue sea.
Now we find ourselves
On a dung-heap.

I heard a Palestinian reporter say on the Lehrer News Hour that no one wants Gaza.  U.S. welcomed the world's"tired and poor." Ben Gurion accepted any part of the promised land in order to have a place to settle Holocaust survivors living in DP camps but not this"dreamer." Isn't is ironic that 7,000 Israelis delighted in making parts of that dung-heap bloom.  But such prosaic achievement does not interest the Arab dreamers still pining over Granada nor those who believe Islam mandates a no holds barred Jihad to recover every inch of territory from East Timor to Andalus to Bosnia which was at one time or another under Muslim rule. 

The UN decided upon a two-state solution, but then did nothing to enforce its decision.  From 1948-1967, the U.S. too engaged in creative diplomacy.  It never told the Arab states that it was committed to the permanence of Israel as a Jewish state.  Lyndon Johnson was the first American president to talk about peace in the Arab-Israeli dispute in a manner which made clear that Israel is here to stay.  He did it after the 1967 war in which the Arab states had a third opportunity to defeat Israel on the battlefront. Oslo was supposed to give Palestinians another chance to build the state they refused to establish in 1948. The world community led by Bill Clinton pledged to finance it. For Qabbani such generosity, too, was unforgivable:

The Dowry was in dollars.
The diamond ring was in dollars.
The fee for the judge
was in dollars.

The Cake was a gift from America
and the wedding veil
the flowers, the candles
and the music of the marines
Were all made in America.

And the Wedding came to an end
And Palestine was not to be found
At the ceremony . . .

Like a wounded bird
Palestine Shouted:
This wedding is not my wedding!
This dress is not my dress!
This shame is not my shame!

Yassir Arafat assured such critics that his Jihad will continue. In 2000, the American policy makers realized that the Palestinian leadership had  found a loophole in the American position.  They would not seek the destruction of Israel as such, only its elimination as a Jewish state.  To Bill Clinton's horror, Arafat insisted that Israel was not the Jewish ancestral land and Jerusalem was not its ancient capital.

The same George W. Bush who cut the Afghani and Iraqi Gordian knots also cut the Middle Eastern ones.  He committed the U.S. to the continued existence of Israel, as a Jewish state and to the creation of a Palestinian state.  Such a solution mandates no return of refugees to Israel proper, and takes into account that 1949 is not 2004 and the 1949 armistice lines can no longer constitute realistic border line between the two states.  The consequences of repeated wars rendered them obsolete.

The Bush - Sharon agreement means that the Palestinians will have to set aside dreams and come to terms with the realities on the ground.  As Bush explained,  the Palestinian leadership will have to embark on the prosaic mission of building"a peaceful state, one in which money will actually end up helping . . . Palestinians to be able to grow their  businesses, and  . . . find wealth for their families."  Or more formally, as written in the Exchange of Letters between PM Sharon and President Bush : "The United States will join with others in the international community to foster the development of democratic political institutions and new leadership committed to those institutions, the reconstruction of civic institutions, the growth of a free and prosperous economy, and the building of capable security institutions dedicated to maintaining law and order and dismantling terrorist organizations."

Dreams die hard.  Egyptian president Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Rabin paid for killing them.  Yassir Arafat preferred to let thousands of Israelis and Palestinians pay for them.  Bush and Sharon are giving the Palestinian leadership another chance to step up to the plate.  If they cannot do so, perhaps it's time to revisit the Jordanian option.  It would be a pity since no Arabs are better tutored in democracy than those living in the territories, nor are better aware of its benefits even under difficult circumstances.  After all, as Munir Al-Mawari, a Yemenite journalist and columnist for the London Arabic-language daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsatwrote :"The reality is that Israel is more democratic than any Arab country, and the suffering of the Palestinian citizen in Israel is much less than the suffering of the Arab citizen in his homeland and his own Arab country, whatever country that may be."   Salman Masalha, Israeli Arab intellectual and poet agrees: "Israeli Arabs Are More Free Than Anyone in the Arab World." Then, of course, Arab states reject the emergence of a democratic Palestine for the same reason they reject a democratic Iraq.  They fear it.  It would deprive them of a useful scapegoat. 

Some members of Arab elites filled with spite and false pride also reject Western calls for reform.  In a recent article) Galal Amin, a professor of economics at the American University in Cairo noted that the combined GDP of members of the Arab League is less than that of Spain and that about 40 percent of Arab adults, or 65 million persons, are illiterate, two-thirds of these women.  He then proceeded to ask: What business have you interfering in our affairs? Have we complained to you about our democracy, knowledge and women, and asked for help?"  Note how reminiscent Galal's rejection, misinterpretation and hostility towards world concern for the people of the Middle East is of Bin Laden's view of the American initiative to help allay hunger in Somalia. In his latest tape, Bin Laden ( defines that initiative as an invasion. He writes:"killing them [Americans] in Somalia was after their invasion of it in Operation Restore Hope. We made them leave without hope, praise be to God."

Galal goes on:"The claim that the Greater Middle East Initiative aims, wholly or partly, to eliminate terror of the type seen on September 11, 2001 is unconvincing, for several reasons. One is that there is still doubt that the September attacks were the outcome of Arab and Islamic terror. No conclusive proof to this effect is yet available. Many writers, American and European, as well as Arab, suspect that the attacks were carried out by Americans, or with American assistance, or that Americans knew about them and kept silent." Still, there is hope. They are intellectuals such as Iraqi columnist Khaled Kishtainy  who fearlessly exposes the ideologues preying on the Arab world and it is in part for their benefit that Bush repeatedly cuts the Middle Eastern Gordian knots.  Those who thrive on the existence of the knots are livid.  Indeed, Bush may pay a heavy political price for his bravery but history is sure to appreciate his courage.

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Andrew D. Todd - 7/19/2004

Well, it's a bit more complicated than that. For one thing, emigrating to Israel is one of several choices a Russian Jew faces. He can try to go to America or Germany, stay put, or go to Israel. Naturally, a Russian Jew would prefer to go to America, because if he went to Israel, he would have to do military service. The American economy went into a high-tech boom in the 1990's, and for people with proper qualifications, H-1B temporary visas were comparatively easy to come by. Interestingly, it seems that the educational level of immigrants to Israel dropped, because of course, they were the residue, who could not get H-1B visas. But with the downturn, H-1B's have been cut back, and as existing one expire, their holder will have to leave. Many of them may choose to go to Israel instead of going back to Russia. Others, back in Russia, are more discontented than they were previously, and more inclined to go to Israel, military service or not. I imagine the situation is roughly similar with respect to Germany.

That is something that has been noted about immigration-- it is not all in one direction, but involves a lot of back-and-forth motion. Here's an example: a friend of my family, a South African Jew, came to America in the late sixties, went to school in the midwest, and went to Israel when he couldn't find an academic job in the United States, stayed there for a couple of years, and then came back to America and settled in California.

On the other side, immigration to Israel obviously depends on whether the required military service is imminently likely to be peacetime service or wartime service. That means that if things quiet down, the immigration rate should rise. No doubt the Israeli Rabbinate will be able to make stipulations about religious education, and prospective immigrants will conform, since they are already willing to sign up for military service.

E. Simon - 4/30/2004

So are we talking pre-Camp David offers or pre-1967 "settlements?" Please be specific.

E. Simon - 4/30/2004

Honestly, not to disparage your position, but perhaps we disagree on the definition of "tangible," which I think does not extend to assurances. Perhaps you are more comfortable banking on the prediction that a moderate Palestinian leadership will evolve(?) if Israel only did you expect of them. I disagree based on my assessment of Arafat as someone who will hold on to power no matter what, his disinterest in seeing Oslo as anything other than a "Trojan Horse," and his extreme popularity in the international community. All the speculative sociology in the world won't alter his personal need to see himself as a confrontational revolutionary with no sincere interest in nation-building.

There's a reason why real statesmen don't wear green fatigues.

Matt Duss - 4/29/2004

I have been to Israel, and have taken a bus around both Israel and the Palestinian Territory, and what I saw confirmed my belief that the settlements and the occupation are the most significant roadblock to negotiated peace, and that no moderate Palestinian political movement will get off the ground until significant steps are made to withdraw the settlements and end the occupation.

Matt Duss - 4/29/2004

Ephraim, the Israelis are certainly being given something tangible in exchange for the withdrawal from Gaza: Bush's assurance that he will support their claim to large portions of stolen land in the West Bank.

Matt Duss - 4/29/2004

"The Israelis made bold moves under Oslo,"

True, that. The Jewish settler population on Palestinian land more than doubled during the Oslo negotiations, and over 300 Palestinian homes were demolished in Arab East Jerusalem alone.

E. Simon - 4/29/2004

The largest wave (~1,000,000 in 1990-91) has not been paralleled in any year since. No successive yearly rate of immigration from the former Soviet Union has even come close. Further, the local rabbinate controls definitions relating to national identity and is unlikely to make it easy for the government to allow in large numbers of 1/4 Jews once such a revelation becomes widespread. Nice try, though.

Ah, that slope is slippery but my how we still love to ski.

Andrew D. Todd - 4/29/2004

About a million Jews emigrated from the former Soviet Union to Israel during the 1990's. This fueled Jewish settlement in the West Bank, and ultimately, large numbers of land seizures. As Soviet Jewry was very assimilationist, there are huge numbers of part-Jews in the Former Soviet Union. Estimates run as high as twenty million with at least one Jewish grandparent. As the successor states are mostly in a self-perpetuating economic meltdown, the former Soviet Jews all want to get out. We are talking about a latter-day Volkswanderung. There will always be more Jewish settlers-- if anything, the rate will increase because the first batch of settlers serve as "guides" for their cousins. This means that any deal struck with the Palestinians is always provisional. As more Soviet Jews arrive, settle on the West Bank, and start voting, Israeli politics will grow steadily more intransigent.

E. Simon - 4/28/2004

So am I to infer that you agree with Kissinger's assertion that the tangible "power" Israelis are being asked to give up (i.e. control of territory) is only in exchange for something intangible (a promise of peace from an adversary of questionable motives)? The cards you wish them to relinquish are not trivial, as "bold" as it might be to do so. Let's not be unrealistic and arbitrarily assign the "responsibility" for peace around a power differential. Arafat has long had the power to stop the infliction of terrorism upon the Israeli populace, yet "bold" as he was, he only chose to do this for one year of his reign. Is/was it really too much to ask that this card be withdrawn for the sake of ongoing Israeli concessions and the continuation of good-faith negotiations toward that end?

E. Simon - 4/28/2004


If you don't put the failure of the accords "entirely" on the Palestinians, then what's the breakdown? Mostly? In large measure? Is the "right of return" which a large percentage of them still demand (and demanded at Camp David) in any way workable? In any event, why deviate from apportioning blame upon Arafat? Terminology such as "the Palestinians" implies that one dictator actually doesn't control their fate, and unfortunately, every bad decision made on their behalf at the bargaining table. But he does, and therefore owns many more of the cards on his side than does Sharon. He also controlled the security apparatus that willingly turned a blind, winking eye to the activities of politically competitive terrorist groups which he alloweed to flourish (in direct contravention Oslo and the D.O.P., I might add) under his corrupt perversion of what was meant to be a democratic evolution.

If you think Israel had any choice but military incursions in the face of such widescale terrorist acts, then I suggest you take a "goodwill" tour of their state, by bus, to show your solidarity with the sense of reality with which their body politic must contend. It's not without good reason that someone like Sharon would attain and remain in power in a democracy. They now realize that their military has done virtually all it could, but the only remaining political problem is the fact that Arafat's still in power. A "complete" unilateral withdrawal in the face of ongoing conflict is likely to yield about as stable an outcome as did the withdrawal from Lebanon (and that one was even certified by that legitimacy-granting organization we know as the U.N.)

Jesse David Lamovsky - 4/26/2004

I don't know, Mr. Battle: there’s always going to be a "from the river to the sea" contingent among the Palestinians. What I do know is that if the Israelis are planning on sitting in the territories waiting the maximalists to just go away, they're going to be waiting for a good long time. Should Palestinian extremists be in the saddle when it comes to a making policy in the territories?

As for Oslo, would you honestly put the failure of the Accords entirely upon the Palestinians? I certainly would not. Does the failure of Oslo close the door forever on the idea of cutting a deal? Or is it just going to serve as a convenient excuse for inaction from here on out?

I wasn’t prepared to furnish a policy proposal in the absence of one by the Israeli government (leave Gaza? Free Marwan Barghouti? Figure out an eastern border?). Anything that points toward the Israelis leaving the territories altogether, soon, would be a good thing; anything besides just sitting on the Palestinians, whacking terrorists in, not coming to any kind of decision regarding what to do with the territories, and relying solely on the military to solve a political problem.

David C Battle - 4/25/2004


The Israelis made bold moves under Oslo, but those were rejected by the Palestinians. The Palestinians made few to no bold moves, and no amount of revisionist retelling of it will change that fact; i.e., blaming Sharon's visit to the Temple Mount doesn't cut it anymore. So aside from more platitudes, can you offer something a little more tangible that the Israelis should do? And what convinces you that this too will not also be rejected by the "river to the sea" crowd?

Jesse David Lamovsky - 4/24/2004

Prof. Klinghoffer makes the same mistaken assumption that most pro-Israeli (government) pundits make: that the final responsibility for ending this conflict lies with the Palestinians. It doesn't.

For it is the Israelis that are holding all of the cards here. It is the Israelis who are in control in the West Bank and Gaza. It is the Israelis who possess the overwhelming military force; the legitimacy of national sovereignty; the first-world economy and infrastructure. They're the only ones holding anything tangible here. The Palestinians have nothing but their pride and their national aspirations. Yet Dr. Klinghoffer seemingly believes that the Israelis themselves can do nothing to stop the conflict; that it is up to the Palestinians to crawl to Sharon on their hands and knees, crying surrender. Does she honestly think this is ever going to happen?

Maybe Dr. Klinghoffer and the other pro-Israeli (government) ideologues ought to "set aside dreams and come to terms with the realities on the ground" as well. The realities are that, in this two-sided struggle, the Israelis are the player with the most power. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the Israelis, not the Palestinians, to make bold moves for peace. This complaining that the Palestinians are just unregenerate dreamers who won't play the role Dr. Klinghoffer has assigned for them... well, it won't bring about an equitable solution, will it?

As for Dr. Klinghoffer's touting of the "Jordanian option", the less said about this, the better. That door, if it ever was open, closed a long time ago. The Israelis can't fob this mess off on the Jordanians, or anyone else. They have to deal with the problem; they have to be proactive. There's no other way.

Daniel B. Larison - 4/23/2004

One wonders what Dr. Klinghoffer would have said if Lloyd George had rejected and torn up the Balfour Declaration, because it was "unrealistic." Perhaps if Truman had agreed with Marshall not to recognise Israel, he could have said that the establishment of Israel was "unrealistic." This would have given Jewish people everywhere a new chance to stop living on tired and anachronistic dreams about returning to Palestine!

The principle of irredentism behind Zionism and Palestinian nationalism is one and the same, which is why they have been in perpetual conflict with one another. There had been indications in the past that both sides might be willing to set aside these all-encompassing claims, but in the past week Messrs. Sharon and Bush have chosen to scrap this approach. If one side absolutely rejects the basic, sine qua non claims of the other, which is essentially what has happened, then the other will have no option but to do the same in turn. Messrs. Sharon and Bush have just vowed that there will be no compromise on those claims taken most seriously by Palestinian nationalists, and so they have chosen to perpetuate conflict. How this can be greeted with admiration by any thoughtful person genuinely escapes me. Indeed, anyone with any great attachment to Israel can probably only be saddened by the unending rounds of violence that this will eventually allow to resume.

The basic presumption in Dr. Klinghoffer's article is that the aspirations of some nations have no merit whatever and are simply delusions, while the aspirations of others should receive respect as legitimate. It is the language of supremacism, which might not be so objectionable if it were at least honest and forthright about its claims. Here there is the supremacim that pretends to embody objective and rational justice, and this is perhaps the most awful kind of all. If HNN considers an article such as this to be a respectable expression of serious historical interpretation, then that only confirms the bad reputation it has received in the views of many of its readers.

Rod Siberine - 4/23/2004

I am sorry Kristen... in the future, I will be certain to only criticize those who have less education than me or those that have had classes and/or lectures I've attended... regardless of the clearly biased arguments they present that do nothing more than point blame for one side of a conflict.

Ken Melvin - 4/23/2004

..res ipsa loquitur.

chris l pettit - 4/23/2004

its her ridiculous viewpoints.

I am sure she is a fine orator, and as Mr. Moshe notes, condemning her article for a silly writing mistake when everyone makes them is not a good practice to engage in.

Hitler was a fine is Daniel Pipes. However, fine oration does not make up for bigoted and highly inflammatory rhetoric. This is not to compare your professor to either of the gentlemen just spoken of, but she is supporting two of the most vile regimes in the world today...and as Mr. Melvin points out, the ridiculousness of her arguments stand by themselves as an indictment of her bias (or is it ignorance?) of the issue.

I am not quite sure why you would be proud to claim Rutgers as an alma mater...although I must say that it makes no difference where you go to school but what you make of the resources you have, so you have as much a chance to reach brilliance as the rest of us (probably a much better chance than I)...but with professors spouting such nonsense as the above article it sure doesn't help your quest for real knowledge any.

And why bother asking about qualifications when what matters is the intelligence of the points made? Granted the statements above are brief, but your professor obviously has a Phd and still has no grasp of the historical, legal, moral, or cultural ramifications of the situation or her commentary on it. I would suggest to you that this is not a letters behind our names contest and that what matters is the quality of your knowledge, not necessarily the quantity (though it helps). I assure you I have plenty of room for letters after my name, but it says nothing about who i am or the depth of my knowledge (or lackthereof). I assure you i have both the authority and knowledge to challenge your professor on the issue, as do many on this site. I will concede that many who post do not, however, all you need do is read some of the longer posts to perceive who those individuals are. I would welcome a debate with your professor on the issue should she care to join the conversation. I would suggest she look at the above comment on water as a start to her research, as well as relevant international law, and the history of the region dating from prior to WWI. If you look back through prior articles on this topic you will find that there are many quality debates on the issue your professor prattles about. Mr. Moshe is particularly knowledgeable on the topic and, while he and I disagree on many of the issues and he might support some of what your professor is saying, he would articulate it in a much more intelligent and defensible manner. Adam...i apologise if you wished me not to speak for you, but I wanted to take the invitation to pay you a compliment on your scholarship and debating skill.


Kristen Canavatchel - 4/22/2004

Mr. Melvin and Mr. Siberine: As a student of Dr. Klinghoffer's, I take great offense to your criticisms. Have either of you ever taken a course at Rutgers, or with Dr. Klinghoffer? I assure you she is a brilliant speaker. From what authority or position do you attack her work? Surely you know that internet protocol is not the same as completing a doctorate. But then again, neither of you have doctorates, so I suppose the internet is the only domain in which you are capable of ridiculing an academic such as Dr. Klinghoffer.

Antonio Calabria - 4/21/2004

What venom!!

Andrew D. Todd - 4/20/2004

I do not know that I am overly enthusiastic about Sharon's peace plan. In the Middle East, the question is usually about water, not about land. There is plenty of barren desert for everyone. That said, look at topographical and rainfall maps of the Middle East. What you find is that Gaza gets its water from underground rivers-- aquifers-- which come down from the heights of the Israeli Negev, Edom, and Judea. These aquifers are not very rich. In their natural state, they approach the ground surface only as the ground surface comes down to sea level. By putting in drains in the right way, Israel could divert this water to farms on the shores of the Dead Sea, about a thousand feet below sea level. And then Gaza would die of thirst, its wells infiltrated by salt water from the Mediterranean.

Jewish settlers in the West Bank have become notorious for water-poaching. On their own land, they drill deeper wells than their Arab neighbors are allowed to drill. By so doing, they lower the water table. The Arab neighbor's well no longer works; and his land dries up and blows away. It thus becomes vacant land, and liable to government seizure. I anticipate that this process will continue.

The most modern form of well drilling is slant drilling. The drill bit can be electronically steered in any desired direction, up, down, or sideways. Slant drilling was developed to extract oil from worn-out formations in the United States, but of course, once developed, it has also been used in the Middle East to reduce costs. One of the causes of the 1991 gulf war was that Kuwait was using slant drilling to tap into oilfields in Iraq. A technological form of milking the neighbor's cow through the fence. Slant drilling is about to drop down to the consumer scale, in much the same way that other technological goods such as computers, VCR's, etc. have. In the United States, small-scale slant drilling would be primarily a cheaper way to convert houses to geothermal heating and cooling. In the desert, however, small-scale slant drilling would lend itself to water piracy.

Let us consider a scenario. Imagine, if you will, a Jewish settlement on a ridge line, two hundred feet above and between two valleys with arab villages. This ridge line will have been historically unpopulated, on account of the difficulty of irrigation. Suppose that the settlers drill a series of four hundred foot wells along the ridge, and then use slant drilling to connect them up at the bottom. This gives them a modernized version of what in the Middle East is called a Quanat, a type of aquaduct. The settlers also send horizontal branches out towards the Arab villages. They pump some water to the surface for their own use. But mostly, they run their underground pipeline towards the point of their ridge, say, two miles away. At this point, the valleys have sloped down another two hundred feet, so that the ground is at the same level as the bottoms of the wells up on the ridge. The valleys give out onto a larger valley, in which there is a larger and more established Jewish settlement, with farms. Here, the ridge line settlers sell the water coming out of their network. No questions are asked about where the water comes from.

Ken Melvin - 4/19/2004

Yes indeed. Far, far better to let such dismiss itself. My dear Rutgers; is this your offering?

Marc "Adam Moshe" Bacharach - 4/19/2004

Mr. Siberine,
I am sure the obvious typo is an embarrassment to the author, but it seems rather trivial to dismiss an argument based on it.

Rod Siberine - 4/19/2004

"It was with great admiration that I watched with admiration..."... yeah, well said. Same holds true for the rest of your rambling.