Category Archives: Palestinians
The essay title “Jerusalem for Dummies” has been taken (go here) but I thought it was sufficiently descriptive so I appropriated it. There are of course any number of places where one can read about the history of Jerusalem and its various twists and turns with respect to legal standing, cultural icon, religious center, and capital. But below is a brief overview that helps place Trump’s announcement in context. You can listen again to Trump here: Trump’s bold statement about Jerusalem and the Jews.
Historically, Jerusalem was a small town on the outskirts of the Ottoman Empire. It was mostly significant for religious reasons as water and natural resources were scarce and not particularly strategically located. But as time went on Jerusalem became symbolically more important and a tense mixture of politics and religion. One of the nearby hills in Jerusalem was called “Zion” and it became the term to refer to the entire area and the base of the word Zionism which is the modern movement calling for the reestablishment of the Jewish people and state.
Still, Jerusalem was never automatically assumed to be “Jewish” because of its significance for both Christianity and Islam. Jerusalem is significant to the three Abrahamic religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. The Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount is believed to be the place where Mohammed ascended to heaven. There is no denying the significance and importance of these religious sites and whatever ends up happening Jerusalem must ensure access to these holy places.
The Zionist leaders were mostly secular and were unsure about the significance of Jerusalem Or, shall we say, they were uncomfortable with the power of the religious connection to Jerusalem and did not want a future Jewish state to be overly religious.
It is significant that when the United Nations divided Palestine into two states (one Arab, one Jewish) in 1947, it left Jerusalem out of this equation. Jerusalem and its surroundings were designated as a separate territory to be overseen by an international body. Many Jews were unsure about this but were satisfied with relinquishing Jerusalem in order to establish the state. But when the Arabs rejected the plan to divide Palestine and attacked Israel Jews considered themselves no longer bound by the UN partition plan and moved in on Jerusalem militarily. At the end of the war of independence Israel had taken the Western part of the city, the Jordanians the Eastern part including the old city and significant religious sites. By now the significance of Jerusalem was increasingly apparent and Jews fixated their identities more on Jerusalem. The city was divided by the new state of Israel and Jordan.
Israel declared Jerusalem as its capital after annexing West Jerusalem. The Jordanians annexed East Jerusalem and there were two capitals up until the Six-Day War in 1967. For 19 years, 1948-1967, tensions between Israel and the Arab world remained and no progress was made on the status of Jerusalem or its unification. The city was not recognized as either Israeli or Jordanian. During the Six-Day War Israel captured East Jerusalem along with a few neighborhoods that were not historically in Jerusalem. Israel has moved all of its government offices to Jerusalem including the Knesset and has consolidated their presence in the city.
Israel’s position is that they are not bound by the UN partition plan or the original partition of Palestine because they acquired Western Jerusalem while defending themselves. The two sides have hardened their position as Israel would now never give up Jerusalem as its capital and the Palestinians maintain a belief in their rights to the city also. Very little progress has ever been made on the status of Jerusalem and the city remains confused according to international law as well as the contradicting claims of each side.
For these reasons official recognition of Jerusalem has been moot for most countries. But Donald Trump changed all that.
The two-state solution to the Palestinian problem continues to be a hopeful image and a rational solution that benefits everyone. Historically there was considerable popular support for the two -state solution but surprisingly enough it seems to be waning. The two-state solution is now in jeopardy. Mosaic, a magazine of Jewish thought, recently published a thorough article reporting polling results that serve as evidence for what Palestinians actually think of the two-state solution. The most common line of thinking has been that everyone supports the two-state solution but leadership and provocative actions from both sides threaten its possibilities.
And we don’t have to guess Palestinian opinions about two-states because polling the Palestinians is persistent and, according to experts, of high quality. Moreover, a variety of reputable organizations frequently poll the Palestinians.
So what do the Palestinians think of the two-state solution?
When asked a direct question about their support for the two-state solution, over a two-year period (from 2012 to 2014), 52% of the Palestinians supported a two-state solution. That number dropped to just under 50% from 2014 to 2016. The average level of support by Israelis was 59%. Over time that number decreased slightly.
This general question about two states is by itself only minimally of interest but when it is converted into specific policy the results are very interesting. One polling study offered to Palestinians a solution package that was beyond what had ever been endorsed by an Israeli government. Palestinians were presented with a two-state solution in which the state was established in line with 1967 borders, East Jerusalem would be the capital and Palestinians would control the Al-Aqsa mosque, they would be allowed a strong security force, and provisions would be made for refugees. The solution package was considered to be acceptable to Israelis and include a generous response to all key issues.
This hypothetical solution was met with more opponents than supporters. There were more opponents 14 times out of the 16 times the package was presented to the Palestinian public. The deal was rejected about 54% of the time and decreased over time such that an average of 61% opposed the deal. Palestinian opposition intensified when they were presented with specific components of a resolution. They rejected the definition of East Jerusalem as their capital, did not think the proposal for refugees was sufficient, and strongly rejected the requirement that Palestine be a demilitarized state. Finally, only 39% of the Palestinians responded affirmatively to a statement that required the recognition of the state of Israel as the state of the Jewish people.
There are other responses to the specific planks of the proposal but the main point as of now is that the Palestinians generally indicate support for two-state solution, but continue to express opposition to the specifics of a generous offer available in the near future. I would add that a number of Palestinians (especially intellectuals) support a one-state or a binational solution, which has never been acceptable to the Israelis or discussed seriously as a political possibility.
But the most troubling finding reported in the Mosaic article is that there has been a regular increase (13% to 18%) in the number of Palestinians who support an “Islamic solution” which calls for a Palestinian state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean. This is a position more in line with a “liberation of Palestine” perspective rather than a negotiated political solution. When polls asked Palestinians to make a choice between a single state, or a two-state solution, an unexpected 62% indicate their preference for a Palestinian single state in all of historic Palestine. Subsequent polls found that “reclaiming historic Palestine” was the first choice of 60% of respondents.
This more extreme position does not bode well for negotiations or solutions to problems. It indicates a radicalization that will only further divide the two groups. It represents a rejection of the recognition of Israel as the state of the Jewish people and polarizes the discourse by assuming positions that are untenable or considered extreme by the other side. The next post will explore in more detail the implications and the explanations for this liberation preference.
Some believe things are quiet in the Middle East but actually they are stagnating. The governance situation in Palestinian territories is getting worse and both Israel and Palestine are facing untenable governing situations. For starters, the legitimacy of the Palestinian Authority remains limited. And these limitations will eventually affect US policy and interests with the US doing relatively little to influence Palestinian politics.
There is simply no substitute for strong political parties and institutions. Hamas is a terrorist organization that cannot be dealt with and should not be recognized. Then again, if Hamas were a genuine partner in the peace process (something, as of now, difficult to imagine), and they were truly committed to establishing some sort of stability, than they should be part of the process. Fatah, on the other hand, suffers from corruption, lethargy, and a general lack of professionalism. Some of these issues can be addressed by the United States but they also require a political will lacking in the PA.
It’s curious to note that the Palestinian Authority seems to respond more to local values and rhetoric than it does international influences. This limits the role of the United States. The US has negligible influence when it comes to the technical details of Palestinian governance and institutions. This leaves the US doing little more than publicly making statements about deficiencies and problems and subjecting the Palestinians and the Israelis to a discourse of criticism on the international stage. If there were actually consequences of this criticism that it might serve some productive value, but generalized statements criticizing the democratic behavior of the Palestinians or the Israelis seems to have little effect on either.
But as research in the peace and development process indicates, civil society is one of the most important entry points when trying to create new structures and improved relations. Civil society is that level of the polity that includes trade unions, professional associations, educational exchanges, mid-level business activity, and government exchanges. Here, the United States can maintain some influence and viability. It should support NGOs providing services to the public and require the PA to manage civil society effectively. Some NGOs have been controversial in the past with questionable goals and activities indicating that transparency is important.
The US should direct its attention more to working with the legitimacy and effectiveness of Palestinian institutions, especially at the civil society level. The US can help encourage technically skilled reformers and stimulate improved stability and effectiveness. Assistance at this civil society level avoids the ceremonial and political trappings of negotiation among state leaders and still positively influences the institutional development of society. An emphasis on the negotiation communication process at the state level inevitably encounters the stagnation and recalcitrance of Palestinian institutions which makes it even more difficult to initiate new productive directions toward peace and stability. The civil society level makes for interactions that are rationalized through business exchanges and necessary governing processes but still require contact among citizens.
I’m referring here to the Palestinian Authority and the development of its institutions as opposed to the Israelis. Israeli institutions are of course well established within their culture and society but in the future this civil society level will apply equally to the relationship between Israelis and Palestinians. Right now the US is in no position to create powerful conditions for change or improvement of prospects for peace. But they can still be influential in preventing the continued undermining of governance, and the development of the all-important civil society that provides a stable foundation for institutions.
The Palestinians have been politically dominated by two organizations. Fatah is a secular liberation movement that has had the most influence on Palestinian politics. The other group is Hamas and they are an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hamas became more popular in the 1990s and had a very successful winning election season in 2006. Hamas is violent and has a tense and difficult relationship with Fatah. There have been other political movements but none have been successful. Hamas is governed very poorly in the Gaza Strip and has little confidence from the public. But the public does appreciate Hamas’s aggressive and challenging stance toward Israel.
A poll reported in an article on Palestinian political rejuvenation (available here), which asked participants what party they would choose in a parliamentary vote, indicated that 32.1% of the Palestinians preferred Hamas, 36.9% preferred Fatah and a full 24.1% said none of the above. These data illustrate how “stuck” the Palestinians are. Minor parties have no traction at all and a significant portion of the population is unsatisfied with either of the two major parties.
Progress toward political legitimacy and independence is hindered by the authoritarian nature of both parties. Both parties have the mechanisms of failing political machinery built into their structure. Unfortunately, these mechanisms include control over government institutions, patronage, and the suppression of dissent. Human rights organizations report that both the PA and Hamas have fashioned the politics of failure by creating standard structures of corruption which include unlawful arrest, poor court systems, suppression of expression, and patronage.
One serious problem is that the PA and Hamas define themselves as liberation movements rather than political development movements. Even after all these years, the PA still uses the language of struggle and presents a narrative rooted in oppression and vulnerability. Clearly, oppression and vulnerability are characteristic of the Palestinian political situation but focusing on these things and ignoring all attempts at genuine political reform is the reason for stagnation when it comes to possibilities for new Palestinian politics. Both Hamas and the PA define the occupation as definitionally tied to the Palestinian identity and anything that does not address the occupation directly is misguided or irrelevant. Those Palestinians attempting genuine change (e.g. Salam Fayyad) are quickly marginalized and labeled as stooges of the United States or Israel.
Moreover, the PA cares more about international attention – and the accompanying international condemnation of Israel – than it does about internal reforms. Such international attention would wane if the PA were focused on building institutions and structural change. In fact, progress in those areas is almost discouraged because it would give the impression that the occupation is less important.
Opinion polls in Palestine show support in the public for change but as of now the support has not been converted into political authenticity. Although the international community is sympathetic toward the Palestinians, they too want change. It does not seem like internal political reforms will be a successful platform for a new Palestinian politics. A solution to the problem will require not only outside help but progress on the key contentious issues between Palestinians and Israelis. Palestinian leaders are probably correct – the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must come first.