Buchanan on Palestine

In a column that derides Boston Globe reporter Jeff Jacoby’s celebration of the death of Yasser Arafat, Pat Buchanan offers the following:

That Arafat’s PLO harbored terrorists and his Fatah committed acts of terror is undeniable. And some of those acts were done with Arafat’s approval. But if, as Jacoby writes, Arafat “inculcated the vilest culture of Jew-hatred since the Third Reich,” why did Ehud Barak offer him 95 percent of the West Bank and a capital in Jerusalem? Why did “Bibi” Netanyahu give him Hebron?

Why did Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin share a Nobel Prize with him? Why did Bill Clinton invite him to the White House more times than any other leader? Were they all enablers of terrorism?

No. All realized something that neoconservatives reject. For better or worse, as the explosion of grief at his death demonstrated, Arafat came to personify and symbolize the just cause of Palestinian nationhood. And if one desires peace for Israel, that cause must be accommodated.

And he’s absolutely right on this. I got a bit of flack for an earlier post in which I said that we should send a high-ranking American to Arafat’s funeral — not as an offer of absolution for one man’s sins, but in recognition of the aspirations of the Palestinian nation.

But for some reason there’s this denial among some that such a nation even exists. Among the most ignorant things I’ve ever heard is when people actually profess that “there is no such thing as a Palestinian.” Wrong. National identities exist because people self-identify as members of a distinct group. They’re all imagined communities, all social constructs. The Palestinians exist in the same way that the Americans exist — because they believe in their peoplehood just as we believe in ours.

What Buchanan is saying in the above passage is that even some of the most hawkish Israelis realize this. Security for Israel will come only through the recognition of a Palestinian state. This is a political problem that requires a political solution. If Peres, Rabin, Barak, and Netanyahu understand this, why can’t Americans?

Deifying one side while demonizing the other is simply not a constructive approach.

(cross-posted at Professor Chaos)

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Leopold Stotch
About Leopold Stotch
“Dr. Leopold Stotch” was the pseudonym of political science professor then at a major research university inside the beltway. He has a PhD in International Relations. He contributed 165 pieces to OTB between November 2004 and February 2006.


  1. LJD says:

    True. There is no benefit in demonizing either side. One wonders though, why Arafat, when given most of everything he wanted, including a Palestinian state, walked away from the table. He represented the “just cause”, just not the appropriate means…

    We can only hope and pray that the Palestinians will come up with a leader capable of accepting such an offer. Also, that the militants bent on the total destruction of Israel will change their ways, or be ousted by their peers.

  2. Rusty says:

    If a nation can be created, then it can be uncreated. As a social-construct, as you argue, this is a truism which follows from your definition.

    Our national security would be best served by uncreating the Palestinian people.

  3. Rusty: that sounds a bit like a “final solution” to me. Are you comfortable with that?

  4. Alene says:

    I don’t doubt the existence of the social construct denominated Palestinian people, nor do I doubt that Arafat is its icon. The problem is that Arafat was Janus. The west, and the hopefulIsraeli leaders who dealt with him, hoped for a reformed terrorist in Mandela mode. His people got a different message, and it is that message–of continuing the battle, to include “all means necessary”–until Israel is destroyed, that resonates, and elevates him to iconic status.

    Thus the difficulty of legitimizing Arafat: it legitimizes that message and those means. If there is to be hope for peace, Arafat’s Arabic-speaking face must be disavowed. His status as icon is itself an obstacle to any solution consonant with Israel’s survival; it is his irredentism and refusal to accept pragmatic compromise with real life beneficial consequences, the romantic equation of compromise with defeat, that makes progress impossible.

  5. McGehee says:

    Rusty: that sounds a bit like a “final solution” to me. Are you comfortable with that?

    Rusty could have phrased it better, but your question, Leopold, is uncalled for.

  6. McGehee says:

    Furthermore, Buchanan is hardly someone I would turn to for temperate advice on anything having to do with Israel.


    In fact, leave off the “…having to do with Israel” part and what’s left will suffice.

  7. Rusty says:

    Dude, come on. If the so-called ‘Palestinians’ have only been in existence since the formation of Israel, than their nationalistic feelings can be undone. Give the Gaza strip to Egypt and the majority of the West Bank to Jordon. I hear both countries know just what to do with terrorists and the PLO.

    The point is that if nationality is subjective, than it can be redefined. The Arabs around Israel lost how many wars now? It’s time for them to start acting like the losers they are.

    Or maybe you are proposing that the East Prussians be returned to Lithuania?

  8. Rusty: you make my point by calling them the “so-called” Palestinians and suggesting they can be “given” to two other states. You deny that they even exist as human beings with self determination. You don’t get to say from without that a group doesn’t exist, they self define from within and we need to deal with that reality instead of deluding ourselves into believing that the problem will go away if we ignore it.

    Or worse, that we can simply tell an entire nation that they don’t merit recognition as people, which is what my “final solution” comment refers to.

  9. Rusty says:

    I don’t think they merit a state, and nationalistic feelings can be undone.

    Unless you think that Mexicans in America deserve their own state simply because they feel like they aren’t Mexican or American than I suggest your argument needs rethinking.

    Further, why should the Arabs in Palestine get moved to the front of the list? There are plenty of other nationalities that have been in existence for far longer than the short 50 year time span the Palis have. Literally thousands of self-defined nations exist, including hundreds within the US.

  10. Your Chicano analogy seems silly to me; I suppose the comparison would be if the US annexed Baja California and if in 50 years the Mexicans living there had distinct territory and identified as something other than Mexican, then they would have a right to self determination.

    However, what your first and last comments betray is that you don’t recognize that Buchanan is right in saying that if one wants peace in the Middle East, then Palestinian nationhood must be accomodated. Again, Peres, Rabin, Barak, and Netanyahu all recognized this.

    So if peace in the Middle East is a priority, then that’s why Palestinians get bumped to the top of the list.