Yesterday, Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich made a statement regarding the Palestinian people that is factually true, but politically controversial, as follows:
"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." - Newt Gingrich to The Jewish Channel, as quoted in The Daily Mail
Gingrich's choice of words - "an invented people" - put him on the hot seat across the board as commentators agreed that he had missed the mark in terms of political strategy. For while "facts are stubborn things," the reality is that the Palestinian people are now bonded by a shared historical and cultural reality, and the world community, including Israel, accepts that they are a legitimate people. As (conservative) pundit Charles Krauthammer put it on Fox News, "that train has left the station." Similar sentiments were expressed by various other analysts on CNN as well.
It occurred to me, watching this, that Gingrich - clearly both knowledgeable and strategic - had made a tactical error on the communication front. Rather than focusing on the legitimacy of the Palestinian people, he could have talked about the legitimacy of the "anti-occupation movement." That would have helped him to articulate a policy position on the Middle East - why peace is so difficult to obtain there, despite so many decades of struggle and good intentions.
Focusing on legitimacy is an exercise in flawed logic because:
* From a political perspective, if a group believes that it is real, and if that group has the recognition of other groups, then it is real whether you agree with it or not.
* From a sociological perspective, we are all inventing our personal and group identities every day.
* Human beings act on our constructed identities both diplomatically and militarily: Countries are formed, deformed and destroyed both through mutual agreement and through war.
In short: "History is written by the winners." And those within the Palestinian community who wish to eliminate Israel know this. In Israel, a 2007 study of the textbooks used in the territories found:
"The teachings repeatedly reject Israel's right to exist, present the conflict as a religious battle for Islam, teach Israel's founding as imperialism, and actively portray a picture of the Middle East, both verbally and visually, in which Israel does not exist at all."
So the goal is not to argue what happened in the past, but to shape a desired reality - the things that we will look back on in the future.
The opportunity that Gingrich had, and still has, is to talk about how the Arab community created the Palestinian identity for the purpose of waging war against Israel. In fact the Arabs have declared war on their own brothers and sisters for the sake of obliterating the Jewish state. The occupation is an invented cause through which Jew-haters cast Jews, historically the victims of persecution, as active persecutors in their own right.
This is why Middle East peace still cannot occur: The Palestinians are human shields and the "occupation" is the excuse for continually carrying out attacks on, and politically de-legitimizing, Israel itself. Which is why the Palestinian logo eliminates Israel from the map.
In other words, from the perspective of those who hate Israel, a peace treaty is absolutely the worst thing that can happen. The only way to make the failure Israel's fault is to blame the "occupation." And therefore the "occupation" must continue, even if Israel tries mightily to withdraw from the conflict and build bridges between itself and the international community.
The book Son of Hamas, by the Palestinian Mousab Hassan Yousef, chronicles the former terrorist's journey out of the destructive world of these people and toward a universe of hope, change and reconciliation.
In the end, the only way out of this conflict is going to be mutual recognition or mutual destruction. Mutual recognition can bring prosperity to the region and the world and help us focus global resources on eliminating poverty, disease, and other social ills. Mutual destruction will only suck up our resources and end with illness, suffering and death. We are counting on our political leaders to call out those who only want "a culture of death," so that our energy is focused on living.
It seems to me that Gingrich was courageous in stating implicitly what is normally hushed up: The Palestinian people were created from the larger Arab community for the purpose of serving as human shields. But it seems to me that we ought to focus our attention on those who are actually holding them hostage, and using their suffering as leverage to rouse world opinion against Israel. And from that position, the so-called "occupation" is a more strategic target. Because there is significant momentum toward peace - but both sides have to embrace it for it to occur.
Have a good day everyone, and here's wishing us all good luck.
Image source here