Why Newt Gingrich is Wrong about Palestinian Identity / Ray Cook

10 Dec 2011
Newt Gingrich’s leaked comments which describe Palestinian identity as ‘invented’ have a profound importance in the Middle East conflict and these remarks have to be challenged.

One of the reasons that the Gingrich view has to be confronted is that when Jewish peoplehood is questioned by the Palestinians and their cheerleaders on the Left, Muslims and Arabs remain silent in tacit agreement. The Palestinians’ outrage at Gingrich’s remarks are, therefore, hypocritical.

The Mail Online reports Gingrich’s words here.

This is the quote which has caused the outrage which comes from an interview with a Jewish news channel:

‘Remember, there was no Palestine as a state — (it was) part of the Ottoman Empire. I think we have an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs and historically part of the Arab community and they had the chance to go many places,’ Gingrich said, according to a video excerpt posted online.

In a way, he is right; Palestinian peoplehood may be the first instance of a nation being formed explicitly and deliberately to destroy another nation – the Jewish national home – Israel.

You may wonder what would have happened if the forces of the Arab League had triumphed in 1949. Would the land ‘from the River to the Sea’ be a separate state called ‘Palestine’?

Perhaps we already have the answer to that conundrum.

From 1949 to 1967 the West Bank and Gaza were occupied by Jordan and Egypt respectively. Did they create a Palestinian state on the land which subsequently became the focus of Palestinian national aspirations? No.

Why not?

The PLO, which I remind you stands for the Palestine Liberation Organisation, was formed in 1964. What ‘Palestine’ were they trying to liberate in 1964 before Israel occupied the West Bank and Gaza? For those of you too young to remember or starved of facts, let me explain. The PLO’s ‘Palestine’ included Israel. In other words, the PLO and its offshoots, Fatah and the current Palestinian Authority leadership, were formed with a single objective: to destroy Israel, to wipe it off the map, and to create an Arab state in all of the Western portion of the original British Mandate for Palestine.

The PLO was, therefore, formed to deny Jewish peoplehood, and it has not shifted one iota from that position. It has had at least three chances to create its own own nation but because it was more interested in destroying the Jewish nation, it has consistently failed to do so.

Not only has it not shifted, it continues to demonise Jews in its education system, deny Jewish connection to the land, Islamise Jewish holy sites and support narratives which pervert the history of the Jewish people and seek to delegitimise their claim to their historic homeland.

So whilst Palestinian peoplehood could be seen as a ruse with which to deny Jewish peoplehood, and is, in that sense ‘an invention’, nevertheless, as a result of this 100 year conflict, and as a result of the PLO’s half century of establishing a Palestinian identity, the Palestinians, a nation no older than 100 years, has as much right to peoplehood and nationhood as the Jews, a people whose roots are at least 3,500 years old.

It could easily be argued that all nations are inventions. Gingrich’s own nation, the United States is as much an invention as any other. Many of the countries in the Middle East whose borders are not in dispute – Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan – are recent ‘inventions’ of colonial Britain and France. No-one denies that Syrians are a nation or that they are merely a bunch of Arabs living in a particular place.

Denying Palestinian peoplehood gets us nowhere. When enough people regard themselves as a nation then no-one has a right to deny them their nationhood.

The problem with Palestinian nationhood is that it refuses to live alongside Jewish nationhood.

The problem with Palestinian nationhood is that because it is a relatively recent occurrence (or invention if you like) it struggles to place itself as a separate Arab culture with a distinct history, civilisation, art, music, literature.

But none of that matters; the same could be said for Jordan or Syria. In fact, it has all these things. The problem is that it spends too much of its cultural patrimony in denying someone else’s. It spends too much time in ‘inventing’ its own history. It has no need to do that. It only does it to air-brush out Jewish history and connection to the Land. It is why Jesus is a Palestinian not a Jewish Rabbi; it is why Ibrahim is a Muslim not a Jewish Patriarch who founded monotheism.

Newt Gingrich did no-one any favours when he denied Palestinian peoplehood.

He, like everyone else, should concentrate on ensuring that there are two recognised peoples in the conflict: the Jewish people and the Palestinians, and only recognition of the former by the latter can ever be the foundation of a meaningful and lasting peace.

This week I heard Israeli ambassador to the UK, Daniel Taub, tell us that the conflict is not a zero-sum game; support for Israel does not mean that you cannot also support the Palestinians. Too often supporters of both sides see the conflict that way. It continues to be the position of Israel’s neighbours. It continues to be the position of Israel-haters across the world. Their solution to the problem is to deny to the Jews what they claim for the Palestinians.

So, it may surprise you that I take this view, but let’s think what not taking this view will mean. For the Palestinians it means that they dream of a day when the Jews will disappear and they can have their ‘Palestine’. But would that really be an ideal scenario for them? Decidedly not; and the reason why not is because they have invested so much treasure and so much political and religious capital in basing their identity on hate for Israel and Jews that were the object of that hatred to vanish, their peoplehood would lose its meaning.

This is not a sound basis for national aspirations.

The same cannot be said for the Jews of Israel. If the Palestinians were to disappear one morning the national identity of the Jews would not be affected. The Israelis have not based their cultural identity on hatred. It is based on shared history, culture and values. The Israeli experience is the very epitome of nation-building. Very few Israelis want the Palestinians to ‘disappear’; those that do are decidedly in the minority.

So forget Gingrich and his ignorance. Israelis and Jews must not be seduced by these negative narratives.

But neither must the Palestinians.

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Bravo David!And thank you Rabbi for allowing this hgneacxe.I am one who finds your demonizing of Israel to be of disservice to Israel, the Jewish People and the cause of peace. Your blog creates a distortion by focusing on the perhaps real and/or perceived faults of Israel, while ignoring Palestinian actions and those of the Arab world. Peace will never be established if the demonizing continues. Balance and wisdom is something I seek from a Rabbi, not rhetoric. Understanding the emotions, drives, desires, and needs of the Palestinians, does not require ignoring the same of your own People. Millions of Jews live today in Israel. They face existential threats and it would be morally wrong to turn away from them. A two state solution will only be realized when both peoples recognize each other's right to self determination. That can only come through a balanced approach that recognizes the past, but insists on moving forward. It is my opinion that the Jewish People always remember the past, but always keep moving forward with optimism and hope. On the other hand, the Palestinians seem to only remember the past at the expense of the future. I hope and pray that this may one day change.

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