Commentary Magazine


Identities Have Consequences

Max notes that the identities of various nations have been “invented” relatively recently, including those of Americans, Italians, and others, and argues there is little point at this stage in disputing whether the Palestinians have forged a national identity, or whether they should have a state. But identities have consequences, and the Palestinian one bears on their claim to statehood, since identity and statehood are not synonymous (as the Kurds and Tibetans know).

The “Palestinians” have not been invented so much as renamed; not so much renamed as repurposed; not so much repurposed as redefined as “refugees” — under a definition that applies to no other people in the world. The number of all other refugees decreases each year, as they are resettled; the number of Palestinian “refugees” increases each year, as they are born, since they are the only people in the world entitled to inherit refugee status. Their refugee status is fundamental to their identity; it is the reason they reject offers of a state again and again and again: a two-state solution would require their acceptance of a Jewish state, but acceptance of such a state would require them to give up their identity.

The barrier to Palestinian statehood has never been the Jews or the State of Israel. The Jews offered Arabs a two-state solution in 1919; accepted the two-state solution of the Peel Commission in 1937; accepted the UN two-state solution in 1947. Israel offered the Palestinians a state in 2000; accepted the Clinton Parameters in 2000-01; and offered a state again at the end of 2008. The Palestinians rejected every offer, becoming the first people in history to reject multiple offers of a state and then set conditions for discussing another one.

The Palestinians continue to assert they will never recognize a Jewish state. They can’t – it is inconsistent with their identity, and the purpose for which the Palestinian identity was forged. From the Palestinian standpoint, the “peace process” is not about peace, or even about a state, but about reversing history: they seek a state on the 1967 lines to reverse the 1967 war, and a “right of return” to reverse the 1948 war — to return to the time before the wars the Arabs started and lost, and before there was a Jewish state. The real barrier to Palestinian statehood is the identity the Palestinians have invented.