Arab culture is based on tribal loyalties, lacking internal democracy and centered on competing tribal interests. This tradition is so strong that it has undermined any effort at unity, assuring failure to form an integrated govt.
· Palestinians see their history as one of struggle against Zionism and Israel. But the reality is more complicated, and marked by repeated failures to create a coherent body politic, even when historical opportunities beckoned.
· The first failure occurred in the 1920s, when the British Mandatory government in Palestine encouraged the two national communities - Jewish and Arab - to establish communal institutions of self-government to look after education, welfare, housing, and local administration.
· The Jews - then less than 20 percent of British Palestine's population - set up what became known as the National Committee (Vaad Leumi), based on an elected body, the Representative Assembly of Palestinian Jews. Regular elections to this assembly took place, sometimes with more than a dozen parties competing.
· This autonomous institution became the forerunner of the political structure of the nascent Jewish state, and its leaders - David Ben-Gurion among them - emerged as Israel's future political elite.
· The Arabs living on this land, however, never created similar embryonic state structures: an Arab Higher Committee was established, made up of regional and tribal notables, but no elections ever took place.
· The mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amin al-Husseini, became its chairman, but it never succeeded in creating a generally accepted national leadership or in providing the Arab community the panoply of educational and welfare services offered to the Jewish community by its elected institutions.
· The second failure occurred during the Arab Revolt against British rule in Palestine in 1936-1939, which was accompanied by attacks against Jewish civilians.
· A split within the Arab community resulted in two armed militias - one based on the Husseini clan, the other on the more moderate Nashashibis. They turned on one another. More Arabs were killed by contending militias than by the British or Jewish forces.
· The third failure - even more tragic - occurred in 1947-1948, when Palestinian Arabs rejected the United Nations partition plan. This would have provided separate Arab and Jewish states after the departure of the British.
· While Jews accepted this compromise, the Arabs, supported by the Arab League countries, rejected it and went to war against the emerging state of Israel.
· The Arab defeat in this endeavor, and the resulting refugee problem, was a defining moment for the Arabs who once lived in the land now called Israel.
· What sometimes gets lost in this narrative is these Arabs were unable to devise coherent political institutions and a unified military command with which to confront the much smaller Jewish community.
· By contrast, the besieged Jewish community, under Ben-Gurion and the Jewish self-defense force (the Haganah) was able to mobilize, through its democratic institutions and with only marginal dissent, the resources needed for a successful military campaign.
· Many Palestinian political leaders absconded to Beirut or Cairo once violence broke out. The Husseini clan set up its militia in the Jerusalem area. Near Tel Aviv, in adjoining Jaffa, a competing militia under Hassan Salameh, took control. In the north of the country, a Syrian-based militia, under Fawzi al-Kaukji, attacked Jewish villages.
· Disunity made the Arab defeat almost inevitable. Moreover, the scars of the 1930s virtual civil war have still not healed.
· The last failure occurred when the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization set up the autonomous Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat.
· Arafat created a security state.
· He did this instead of instead of creating the infrastructure of the future Palestinian state, with various functions slowly transferred from the Israeli Army to the Palestinian Authority.
· Arafat and his Fatah-based supporters (Abbas) established almost a dozen competing security services - sometimes indistinguishable from clan-based militias - which consumed more than 60 percent the Palestinian Authority's budget, at the expense of education, housing, welfare, and refugee rehabilitation.
· Into this vacuum burst Hamas, with its network of schools, welfare services, community centers, and support organizations. The Hamas takeover of Gaza was but the latest step in this development.
· It is easy to blame the current Palestinian crisis on individuals - be it Arafat or Abbas. It is even easier to blame the Israeli occupation or American policies. It is easiest to accept no responsibility and thus become perceived by the West as the victims.
· To victims flow monies, sympathy and weapons. It also gives the Arab people an external target to focus upon so their daily plight can be tolerated.
· A victim population deceived by its own leaders nonetheless is easily controlled by these same leaders.
· From 1948 until the present these Arabs have had the opportunity, the funding and international support to not only create a unified governing structure but also to create the necessary social and welfare infrastructure needed for the creation of a sovereign state. It is their behavior that has led them to the current dysfunctional place. Arafat and Abbas, given the management opportunity under Oslo in the 1990’s failed miserably even when handed the control by Israel. In part this was due to lack of ability and it was also due to other Arab countries and organizations intentionally interfering and causing havoc. There is much Arab blame to go around!
Thanks to: Daily Star, July 18,2007
Aggie Hoffman for her introductory comments