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THE PALESTINIANS LOSE (AGAIN)
IRAN, HEZ CRUSH BEST HOPE FOR STATE
by Amir Taheri
New York Post
August 23, 2006

August 23, 2006 -- WHILE Iran and Hezbollah celebrate their "strategic divine victory," the real losers of the Lebanon war may be the Palestinians.

The narrative woven by Iran and Hezbollah around the Lebanon war is designed to achieve three goals:

* To turn Palestine from a political issue into a messianic cause. This means that Palestine is no longer about such issues as statehood, boundaries, security and diplomatic recognition. The redefined Palestinian cause is about "wiping the Jewish stain of shame" off the map as a prelude to driving the United States and its allies out of the Middle East.

* To make the redefined Palestinian cause into a small part of a much bigger cause: challenging the global domination of the "infidel" led by the United States, and creating an Islamic world order.

* To transfer control of the Palestinian cause to "the Ummah." This means that no Palestinian leadership, not even Hamas, has the right to make a deal with Israel without the consent of whoever happens to lead the Ummah at any given time. (Currently, Iran and Hezbollah claim leadership.)

If this narrative succeeds, the achievements of three decades of diplomacy, which culminated in almost universal consensus over a two-state solution, could be in jeopardy.

The Islamic Republic has always opposed the two-state solution. It proposes a "one-state" solution that envisages the reunification of the whole of Palestine as put under the United Nations mandate after World War II, and the return of all Palestinian refugees. In such a "greater Palestine," Jews would become a minority in a majority Arab state. The hope is that most Jews would then emigrate rather than live under Arab-Islamic rule.

The one-state solution was backed by all Arab states, and a majority of Muslim countries, until 1979, when Egypt made peace with Israel. Egypt was soon followed by Jordan and, from 1984 onward, by other Arab states which, while not extending formal recognition to Israel, no longer called for its destruction. In 1994, the Palestine Liberation Organization, led by Yasser Arafat, endorsed the "two state" formula.

Thus, by the mid-1990s, for a majority of Arabs and Muslims, Palestine was no longer a cause but a political issue to be resolved through negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. The only Arab country to continue to defend the "one state" policy was Libya.

Some Palestinian radicals may be happy that the "two state" formula is challenged by Iran and its allies, including Syria, Hezbollah and parts of the Hamas leadership. Yet the truth is that, whenever Palestine became a cause exploited by others for ulterior motives, Palestinians ended up as losers.

In 1948, the Arab League turned Palestine into a cause and prevented its solution as a political problem. It rejected the partition proposed by the United Nations and provoked a war, which it lost. It then did everything to prevent the settlement of the refugees. The Second World War produced more than 50 million refugees across the globe; by the mid-1950s, all had been resettled. Meanwhile, the Arab League insisted on maintaining 450,000 Palestinians in camps as the living symbol of its "cause."

After the 1952 coup d'etat in Egypt, it was the turn of Pan-Arab nationalists to seize control of the Palestinian "cause." The late Gamal Abdel Nasser opposed the creation of a Palestinian state in any part of the former U.N. mandate territory: His pan-Arab ideology was aimed at creating a single state to encompass all Arabs, not at adding yet another mini-state.

Nasser's views were rooted in the Arab psyche. Unlike nation-states in Europe and elsewhere (including Iran and Turkey), the 21 Arab states are not named after any ethnic community or nation. The names of Arab states are geographic terms, often preceding the appearance of Arabs in history. (Even Morocco, which in Western languages means "The Land of The Moor," becomes al Maghrib - "the West" - in Arabic.) The ultimate goal of pan-Arabists is to unite all those geographical bits and pieces into a single state. Thus, the idea of a narrow Palestinian nationalism was abhorrent.

The same is now true of pan-Islamists. They dream of a universal Islamic state, either under Iranian Shiite leadership (as with Hezbollah), or under the leadership of Salafi movements. In their vision, there can be no distinct Palestinian identity, let alone Palestinian nationalism.

Muhammad Khatami, the mullah who was president of the Islamic Republic, has dismissed nationalism as an illegitimate child of the European Enlightenment which led to colonialism, imperialism and world wars. In this view, the idea of a nation-state of Palestine is a Western concoction, alien to Islam. Even the "one state" formula (the fusion of Israel and Palestine) is only an intermediate step. Such a state would eventually be absorbed into the single universal Islamic domain.

The Palestinians, including Hamas leaders, need to do some hard thinking. Do they want their problem to be transformed into a messianic cause again, and geared to larger strategies in the shaping of which they have no part?

As a problem, Palestine could be resolved through political, diplomatic and economic means. The Palestinians could live with that problem while a solution is shaped. As a cause, however, Palestine could be an excuse for the "clash of civilizations" imagined by radicals both in the West and in the Muslim world, and the trigger for endless violence and war.

The Palestinian must insist that, while Iran has the right to pursue its strategies, it has no right to annex Palestine as part of a "bigger cause."

What the Palestinians urgently need is a state of their own based on their national identity. They do not want to destroy Israel, let alone "pull down the American empire," as Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad promises. They do not want to die so that others can play heroics on TV and in their name.

Israeli Premier Ehud Olmert is wrong in putting Ariel Sharon's policy of unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank on hold. For the two-state formula to work, it is imperative for Israel to decide exactly where it wants its frontiers to be drawn. Once it is clear where Israel wants to be, it would be possible to discuss where Palestine could be as a state.

One of Iran's goals in the Lebanon war was to undermine the two-state formula and advance its one-state alternative. By freezing the two-state formula, Olmert may be playing into Ahmadinejad's hands.

Amir Taheri is a member of Benador Associates.

 

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