Merit is no qualification for freedom…. Freedom is enjoyed when you are so well armed, or so turbulent, or inhabit a country so thorny that the expense of your neighbour's occupying you is greater than the profit.
T. E. Lawrence to the Editor of The Times July 22, 1920
This quote from a letter written by "Lawrence of Arabia" almost a century ago, setting out a case for the political independence for the Arabs in the Middle East, has current relevance in assessing the flurry of statements over the last few years - particularly from senior US politicians - that "the Palestinians deserve a state of their own."
Indeed, such views have been explicitly expounded by US Administrations for over half a decade from Colin Powell through Condoleezza Rice to George Bush who has incorporated the idea into his "vision" for the Middle East.
Several pro-Israeli pundits have tried to dispute the widely accepted contention that "the Palestinians do indeed deserve a state" Some like Naomi Ragen have warned of the unsavory nature that such a state would take – devoid of any semblance of law and order and due process, tolerance of religious diversity, political dissidence, freedom of expression, or regard for the status of women. Others, like Natan Sharansky, have attempted to condition the establishment Palestinian statehood on the development of Palestinian democratization.
However, it would appear– regrettably – that neither of these objections, in spite of their factual accuracy and moral validity, can serve as a binding political criterion for national independence. For if tolerant pluralistic polities, in which the rule of law and civil equality flourished, were the touchstone for recognition of national sovereignty, such recognition would have to be denied numerous states across the globe – from Myanmar through Belarus to Zimbabwe.
Similarly, if democratically elected regimes were the litmus test, many of the states in the international system, and the Middle East, would not qualify – including several that Israel recognizes as having a major role to play in the region such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan where the sovereigns are not elected at all, and Egypt where the elections are hardly free and fair.
To adopt these positions would demand from the Palestinians criteria for national independence that are demanded from no other people. Moreover, are figures like Sharansky really proposing that Israel could accept Palestinian sovereignty if its government were democratic but revoke that acceptance as a result of regime change?
Palestinian failure undeniably staggeringHowever, the Palestinians have undermined – indeed invalidated – their claim to statehood by even the more lenient and clearly measurable empirical criterion set out by Lawrence above. For the Palestinians' ongoing failure to achieve statehood reflects the converse – but necessary - corollary of the practical yardstick he stipulates.
If success in achieving statehood is the sole criterion by which to judge whether such statehood is indeed deserved, then surely it follows that the reverse is true: Failure to achieve statehood is the ultimate indicator in determining that it is not.
And the Palestinian failure has been undeniably staggering. In fact a strong case can be made for the claim that, in the history of modern national independence movements, none have enjoyed conditions more conducive to success, and yet achieved such miserable results, than that of the Palestinians. Indeed, the proponents of Palestinian statehood must be compelled to respond to a simple but trenchant question: Why hasn't it happed up to now? For it should not be forgotten what the Palestinians had in their favor:
- Decades of unmitigated support and patronage of the USSR, one of the world's two post-WW II superpowers
- Almost universal international endorsement of their claims
- Highly supportive coverage in nearly all major international media
- Massive financial backing making the Palestinians the highest per capita recipients of international aid on the face of the globe
- Almost two decades of highly accommodative Israeli administrations which not only acknowledged but often even identified with their claims of statehood
Yet in spite of these highly benign circumstances the Palestinians have not managed to produce any semblance of a sustainable society. The Palestinian leadership has done nothing but bring about a repressive and regressive interim regime that provided little but the pillage of the Palestinian people and the squander of the vast amount of resources provided by donor nations.
Nearly a decade and a half after the Oslo Agreements, the Palestinians have shown the world that they simply cannot "cut it." All they have been able to establish was both tenuous and dysfunctional, from a corrupt kleptocracy to a tyrannical theocracy – both now sliding into abysmal anarchy and chronic chaos accompanied by fratricidal fury. Indeed the Palestinian state has perhaps the unique, if dubious, distinction of attaining "failed state" status before it was in fact established.
So today, decades after other movements for national liberation across Africa and Asia, with far less financial and political support, managed to throw off mighty empires, the Palestinians with all the might of the Muslim world, and its vast petro-riches, behind them, have been unable to wrest independence from a tiny mirco-state like Israel – not only when it opposed such independence, but even when it did not!
Clearly then, the time has come for the international community to recognize that rather than a coherent, cohesive national entity, the Palestinians comprise an amorphous amalgam of clans, gangs and bands whose overriding aspiration to not to establish a state for their own people but to dismantle a state of another people.
Clearly the time has come to remove the issue of Palestinian statehood from the international agenda – for the Palestinians themselves have shown that they are patently incapable of maintaining such statehood. Indeed, while "(moral) merit" may not, as Lawrence points out, be a "qualification" for self-determination, continual and chronic failure to attain it, even under the most benevolent conditions, must surely be clear grounds for disqualification.
Accordingly, the time has come challenge the validity of the conventional wisdom which holds unquestioningly that "the Palestinians deserve a state of their own.” Not because of any objections raised by the opponents of such a state, but because the Palestinians themselves have manifestly failed the test of history.