Sunday, 2 October 2011

A Century of Palestinian Rejectionism

Casual observers of Middle Eastern politics must be somewhat confused by reports that the West Bank Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, currently in the 81st month of his 48-month term, plans to roil the region by having the United Nations recognizePalestine as a sovereign state. Leave aside that this proposed state has no currency, no recognized boundaries and no support from a Gaza controlled by Hamas. There are also sizable complications in that the Palestinians are bound by official agreements to negotiate directly with Israel and that they have twice in the last decade refused the very state they’re now asking for from the U.N. In 2000 and 2008, Israel agreed to the creation of a Palestinian state with virtually all of the territory it had before the 1967 war. Unfortunately, Palestinian leaders have never been, and are not now, prepared to permanently give up the claim to all of the land first laid out by their Islamist leaders in the 1920s.

For readers perplexed by the knotted history of a region in which Pan-Arabism turns out to be an artifice of Pan-Islamism, and the reverse, Sol Stern’s new 50-page broadside from Encounter Books, "A Century of Palestinian Rejectionism and Jew Hatred," can smooth your wrinkled brow. “To a degree that has still not been fully appreciated,” explains Stern, who draws on a wide range of recent scholarship, “the Palestinian Arabs’ obsession with the Jews and rejection of all political compromise was inspired by Islamic teachings as well as by European fascism.” (Full disclosure: Stern and I have co-written articles on a range of subjects.) 
At the center of his account is the neglected and little known -- yet central -- figure of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Haj Amin al-Husseini. As the grand mufti of Jerusalem, he was the leader of the Palestinian movement from its inception in the 1920s in the wake of the British Balfour Declaration, into the 1950s, after which he was succeeded by his nephew Yasser Arafat. The mufti exercised power as both a religious and secular leader through the use of death squads to eliminate potential rivals who might compromise with the Jews.
Like Arafat and Abbas after him, time and again the mufti rejected any compromise. Driven by a sense of Islamic entitlement and Arab resentment of the West, insensible to the economic growth made possible by the relative prosperity of the Jews, the mufti urged his followers to embrace implacable hatred. His journalistic flacks insisted that “if we don’t use force against the Zionists and against the Jews, we will never be rid of them.” And violence there was in the pogroms of the late 1920s and in the late 1930s after the mufti once again refused an offer to divide the land, this time on terms even more favorable to the Arabs. The Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann agreed to partition, even if the territory assigned to the Jews “were the size of a tablecloth.” The mufti and his followers -- he had silenced the opposition -- rejected any compromise.

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