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The Ironies of a Palestinian State

Syria, Libya, Iraq, Egypt…why have Arab states had such a hard time of it lately? And would Palestine, if it were to become the newest Arab state, fare any better?

Published on: August 6, 2014
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  • Breif2

    So we created a twenty-third Arab state! That one burned down, fell over, and then sank into the swamp.

    “Or perhaps it’s a bit troubling if this happens to describe your own mental habit, dear reader, to which you, having now read this far, may not ever return.”

    Of course we will. All together now: This time, it’ll be different. And besides, it’s the Right Thing To Do!

    • El Gringo

      She’s got huge tracts of oil!

  • wigwag

    “Syria, Iraq, and Libya have pretty much fallen to pieces, and Lebanon breathes whatever vapors Syria wafts its way. Egypt is an economic corpse that doesn’t know it’s dead and so won’t fall down… Jordan is suffering a multi-sourced nervous breakdown, complete with anti-Hashemite mobs. Algeria and Bahrain are armed camps, albeit for different reasons. Tunisia is a political weathervane that cannot control its borders. Morocco is fragile and faces a rising Berber challenge. Yemen is an armed mess. Sudan is a truncated basket case. Only great gobs of resource rents keep Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Qatar afloat and seemingly quiescent. Oman may be the only Arab country that has managed to keep its balance, and it’s not a real state anyway—just a family with a flag.”(Adam Garfinkle)

    I presume that Adam Garfinkle neglected to mention Iraq because the less mentioned about that disaster in the making, the better. And then there’s the Comoros and Mauritania; unless I’m mistaken, technically they’re Arab nations. So maybe a new Palestinian state could take a lesson from those brilliant success stories.

    I think what many lay readers like me wonder about is whether the failings mentioned in this essay are really failures of the Arab world or whether they are more properly characterized as failures of the Muslim world. There are 49 Muslim majority nations in the world. They are a diverse lot ranging from Albania to Kosovo; from Burkina Faso to Chad; and from Gambia to Kazakhstan. Perusing the list ( makes one thing very obvious; very few of them are prosperous unless they have oil wealth and even fewer are liberal democracies. Of the few that some observers like to tout as modernizing, Turkey is moving backwards not forwards in terms of civil liberties and nations like Malaysia and Indonesia may not be as democratic or respectful of pluralism as they seem. Anyone who doubts this should read Eliza Griswold’s “The Tenth Parallel: Dispatches from the Fault Lines Between Christianity and Islam (

    What really struck me about the recent imbroglio in Gaza is that once you filtered out the noise coming from the Secretary General and employees of the UNRWA with European surnames, the only people who seemed to care one way or the other about what was happening in Gaza was the Obama Administration, the British, French, Austrians, Germans, Belgians and Spaniards (with a few inconsequential leftist governments in South America thrown in). The Chinese, Indians and Russians seemed indifferent (other than a few perfunctory votes in forums like the UN Human Rights Council which no one takes seriously except the Western Europeans). There was hardly a peep from the former Warsaw Pact nations. The Canadians and Australians were remarkably supportive of Israel and Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf States were virtually allies of Israel.

    Senior Israeli officials have complained about John Kerry’s messianic fervor for the two state solution and there is little doubt that Obama is equally enthusiastic. Could it be that we are witnessing the dying gasps of those western elites obsessed with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and that with each passing day the collective yawn of the rest of the world when they hear about this conflict gets louder and louder?

    As for the Palestinians getting their State and coming to regret it. I think it was Oscar Wilde who said, “There are but two tragedies in life. One is not getting what one wants and the other is getting it.

    • Anthony

      “I think what many lay readers like me wonder about is whether the failings mentioned in this essay are really failures of the Arab world or whether they are more properly characterized as failures of the Muslim world.” The historian Bernard Lewis intimates that historical lack of separation between mosque and state has been constant factor in Muslim countries (Muhammad was both a spiritual and political leader) and Islamic states generally show no distinction between secular and sacred. Failings mentioned may redound beyond Arab borders.

  • azt24

    If the Palestinians have the advantage of having observed Israel in action, they also have the extreme disadvantage of having defined their cause as destroying Israel rather than building Palestine — a cause to which half the world pays lip service and even donates funds, thus keeping hope alive.

    Furthermore, the Palestinians do have their own habits of autocratic misrule, established in the 1930s by the Mufti and continued by Arafat and his successors, which resemble the mukhabarat state, but without its sole virtue of stability.

    Until this changes, the Israeli/Pal conflict will remain a stalemate. Chances of an Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank have dropped to zero. Just look at the results of the withdrawal from Gaza! Israelis have no desire to see Hamastan duplicated within easy mortar range of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.

    • Eric2446

      Plus, Israel will forever be occupying 78% of their “historic territory”. Does anyone think their governments won’t fan hatred of Israel as a distraction from their internal problems?

    • Grigalem


      You need to keep the Palestinian-Nazi connection front and center.

  • jeburke

    Great piece. I think the Western nation-state, while born of the 17th century, has its origins much deeper in Western history, for example, in the Roman administrative state and concept of (near) universal citizenship, the Western division of spiritual and temporal authority, and not incidentally, the Church’s relentless opposition to tribalism and clannishness, which it viewed as agencies of paganism, and in particular its early ban on cousin marriage (you can’t sustain a tribe for long) unless your sons marry their cousins).

    • wigwag

      Consanguineous marriage is ubiquitous in Muslim societies in the Middle East and North Africa. In many of these societies, these marriages exceed 50 percent of the total. Ironically, the nation which has the highest rate of first cousin marriage, at least for a subpopulation, is Israel; consanguinity rates of Bedouin residing in the Negev region exceeds 80 percent.

      Before the advent of modern molecular biology techniques in the 1990s, Middle Eastern nations provided a treasure trove of data for investigators searching for genetic mutations that led to particular diseases, especially if those diseases were inherited in Mendelian fashion.

      The prevalence of some of these genetic disorders is astounding in some of these nations. Certain forms of autism for example are extraordinarily common; one example is tuberous sclerosis which is a brain disorder characterized by the growth of non-malignant tumors. It leads to seizures and intellectual delay.

      I have rarely seen it mentioned in the non-scientific press but the impact of first-cousin marriage on Arab societies is undoubtedly profoundly negative for health, longevity and perhaps intellectual acuity. The ubiquity of consanguinity is almost certainly one of the reasons that these societies fail to thrive.

      By the way, both multiple marriages and consanguineous marriage is extremely common (but declining) in Gaza with a rate of about 40 percent of marriages;. See this article for the details,

  • Andrew Allison

    Masterful exposition. “The modern territorial state, as a post-imperial era expression of nationalist ideology in the West, does not so well fit the Arabs (and many other non-Western ethno-linguistic groups) whose history supplied none of the predicates.” should become the guiding principle of Western foreign policy.

    • Johnny May

      If you look at the results of polls conducted among Israeli Arabs, there is a huge majority that in no case wants to be part of a Palestinian state, no matter whether they would be given the option to resettle there or whether the land on which they live would be transferred to a Palestinian state.

      That doesn’t stop many of the same from disliking Israel and protesting ‘For Gaza’, but it seems that when their own hide is on the line, Israeli Arabs are nonetheless pragmatic enough to prefer living in a functioning, democratic and wealthy Israel then in a most likely disfunctional Palestine, even though the former is not only dominated by Jews but entirely Jewish in its definition.

      • Andrew Allison

        Agreed, but not relevant. Israeli Arabs are citizens of Israel. Should a Palestinian State come into being, any of them who wished to emigrate would be free to to do so. My point was, and is, that I don’t see a better alternative than the two-state solution.

  • What a great education! Thank you.

    Having lived for the first 22 years of my life in India, a lot of this makes sense to me even without an introductory course 🙂 Many of the Arab issues are also, very possibly, in places like India and China although they seemed to have made some progress transcending it.

    I am wondering though if the United States is regressing from the Weberian ideals. Is there something in human nature that just desires someone stronger and bigger taking care of them? That is the path we are on – more big brother handouts.

    • Eliyahu100

      before the Arab/Muslim conquest, India and what is today Pakistan were part of the same civilization basically (yes, I know of ancient differences between Tamils and Gujaratis, etc). But now India has moved ahead of Pakistan in several areas of social development. Can anybody imagine a thriving computer programming industry in Pakistan? But look at Bangalore in India.To what do we attribute the discrepancy? I think that it is obvious.

    • Breif2

      There is no reason to believe that advanced civilization as we understand it is the inevitable endstate of humanity, nor that it is especially stable. Civilization is the result of generations of continued luck and hard work (and if you’re a believer, divine providence). Garfinkle well describes those members of Western Civilisation who unthinkingly assume otherwise and commit the basic fallacy of considering their environment to be universal. Evangelizing for civilization is certainly a noble and worthwhile endeavor, but let’s not get our hopes up. In fact, we would be well served by adopting a more tragic worldview and giving much more thought to the state of our own civilization, and whether we have been maintaining it or endangering it.

  • Jim Speed, CPA, CHAE (ret.)

    Thanks again for giving me a perspective I am not getting anywhere else –
    As Stated “If you take an introductory Middle Eastern politics course … or just read the material assigned on the syllabus on your own …something I have to assume virtually no members of the American political class have ever done”.
    When I was a young officer in the US ARMY – I was told that there is ONE answer that is the CORRECT ANSWER to almost any military question – and that was “You Must Know The Terrain”. To take it a step further – in the case in point – make that terrain = Physical AND Political AND Cultural Terrain. Period.

  • gvanderleun

    “They have been culturally pluralized. They know there is another way for a state to exist and operate. They know there can be such a thing as an independent judiciary, a free press, open debate, and so forth. They have a sense of what individual agency is, and of what equality before the law looks like. Second, they have no baggage, no legacy of failed administrations and regimes going back half a century, unless one counts the very recent experience since Oslo in the West Bank and Gaza. ”

    And those acting on it will have their throats slit in the first six months.

    • As will those who wish to explore their ancient Jewish heritage. DNA tests and historical analysis suggest that Palestinians are mostly descended from Jews who converted to Islam under sever oppression.
      Perhaps its time to protect those who wish to reconnect with their ancient Jewish heritage.

      • EllenO

        More information or references please. Sounds anecdotal to me and so easily fitted into a particular narrative. You mean they have DNA that overlaps with say the Ashkenazi Jews?

        • Many reports are available on the web on the DNA research. If you check history, it too confirms a Jewish majority at the time of the Moslem/Arab conquest.

          Feel free to google this issue. Email me at jude1 at virtualdba dotcom if you have trouble.

  • There
    is no “Palestinian” people. The name obtained its current meaning
    (Arabs living in the boundaries of ancient Israel) in 1964 with the
    formation of the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) by Yasser
    Arafat. This was a great PR move by Yasser. He could not have called it
    the “Arabs who live in Israel Liberation Organization” hence the PLO.
    This name masks the fact that these folks are a grouping
    of tribes, sub tribes and families of questionable origin with no
    distinct cultural or spiritual connection to the land. Internal PLO
    communications confirm this charade.

    Latest DNA testing reveals
    the Palestinians to be most closely related to Ashkenazi (Northern
    European) Jews. This is because more intermarriage and conversions to
    Judaism occurred among Sephardic (of Spanish or north African Origin)
    Jews over the centuries.

    Historical evidence indicates that
    Israel was Majority Jewish until the Moslem conquest in 634. Severe
    Byzantine and Moslem oppression forced many to convert to Christianity
    then most to Islam.

    The name Palestine is derived from the
    Biblical Philistines, now known to be Greek Sea people (probably Minoans
    from Crete) who invaded Israel and Egypt. They were quickly turned away
    from Egypt, but gained a foothold on Israel for about 300 years. They
    were long extinct when the Romans renamed the country “Palestinia Syria”
    after the Jewish revolts against Roman rule.

    Palestinians are mostly Jewish genetically with a smattering of Greek,
    Roman, Arab, Egyptian, Turkish and crusaders thrown in.

    culture is Levantine Arabic, similar to Lebanese Jordanian and West
    Syrian thus no unique. There has never been an independent
    “Palestinian” government.

    “Palestinians” should be encouraged
    to study their ancient Jewish Heritage. Those who show sincerity and
    dedication could convert to Judaism and right an ancient wrong to their
    ancestors. Over the next 100 years, given favorable conditions, many
    could convert. The rest will be a dwindling minority intermarrying with
    Arabs and others. An increased Jewish birth rate and immigration to a
    prosperous Israel will tilt the balance to a Jewish majority west of the
    Jordan river. Thus the “Palestinian” problem could be solved

  • EllenO

    Excellent article though somewhat dismaying.

    I also recommend “Why the Arab World Is Lost in an Emotional Nakba, and How We Keep It There” by Landes as a complement to Garfinkle’s article:

  • CincinnatiRIck

    And the wise young rabbi said to those who would confound him: “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and render unto God that which is God’s.” It took many centuries to flower and there were many, sometimes ghastly, relapses but the freedom of conscience and religion we enjoy today has its basis in that insight.
    Mr. Garfinkle is spot on….without the cultural and ideological basis, the modern nation state is not possible. We are functioning under an illusion that lines arbitrarily placed on maps of the Middle East and Africa in European Drawing rooms somehow mean something.

  • Johnny May

    I’ve have for a long time been under the impression that not only Arab statehood but also many states in other areas of the world where the concept has only recently been introduced by Western colonialism are eerily similar to the workings of a cargo cult. They have prime ministers, presidents, parliaments, elections, etc. but under the surface non of those institutions work like they are supposed to in a functioning democratic state.

    Obviously, the reason for this is a lack of understanding of the necessary processes of a civic society, of which those institutions spring: the willingness to compromise, to solve conflicts of interests by negotiations, to respect differing opinions as also valid world views and most importantly to disavow violence as a means of solving political differences. It’s like a Papuan tribe building a wooden airstrip, a wooden ATC tower and wooden planes and wondering why they don’t work. Without grasping the fundamentals of aerodynamics, of the internal combustion engine and radio communication they have no chance to understand their failing in replicating Western technology.

    Even truly free an fair elections (and a lot of elections in those countries most definitely are neither) are meaningless, when the necessary underpinnings of democracy are lacking in a society. What we end up with in the best of cases are political divisions along ethnic lines instead along different opinions. If those factions can manage to work together and resolve their conflicts peacefully, the result can even work, e.g. Lebanon (whose instability is due to foreign influences, not mainly domestic). But even in these cases there is no place for the basics of democratic politics: arguing about ideas and trying to convince other people of your own ideas. If you cannot increase your parties electorate this way, because Maronites will always vote for Maronites, Shiites always for Shiites and Sunnis always for Sunnis, there is just no incentive to learn how to do this.

    The other possible outcome is not a tribalistic modus operandi but a government, that beliefs because it has won a majority, it now has the right to unlimitedly rule over the minority. Morsi, Maliki and Erdogan probably are current prime candidates for this process, many more entrenched dictatorships probably also truly belief that they have been given a mandate to rule as they do.

    But the West is not entirely innocent with respect to these developments. While we have been very active in advertising what we belief was democracy, what we truly did was propagating what can be called a “fetishism of the ballot box”. Because most of us don’t truly understand how our political systems works, when we try to explain and propagate it, we tend to focus on its exterior characteristics instead of the basic underpinnings which enable those in the first place.

    Another problem is the prevalence of concurrence democracy in the Anglo-American tradition. In this system we have two almost equally strong parties, which alternate in the positions of government and opposition. Here moderation is achieved because every side knows, that in the next term the sides could be reversed. In my opinion, a much better model for emerging democracies would be the concordance model, which emphasizes inclusion of all political actors in the decision-making process and decision-making by agreement before decision-making by majority vote.

    • Even in Europe, they gave up the state (the sovereign body-politic) for a welfare organization ruled over by the elaborate, confusing and cross-cutting machinery of the EU and NATO. The USA appears to be the one functioning sovereign democracy on earth (India and Israel are trying), but with the advent of millennial progressives one wonders how long America will go on.

  • Mahon1

    Palestine is a geographical concept, like Iberia or the Pampas. Has there ever been an independent political entity comprising the bulk of Palestine that was not a Jewish state (going back 3000 years)? The two-staters are trying to create something that never was and has no reason for being. If the people of Gaza are to have a better life, it will be as a province of Egypt; the West Bank could be a prosperous group of autonomous cantons in association with Jordan. But they would have to accept that Israel is here to stay, and that they themselves are part of the Arab world but not some imaginary country. Or we can all go on for another 50 years as we have for the last 50. It’s up to them, really.

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