[Published 8 April 2013]
Veteran Israeli peace activist and former Knesset member Uri Avnery points out in his latest article “Obama’s Empathy Deficit in Palestine” that there are two completely divergent Jewish and Arab narratives driving each other’s current claims to the territory once called Palestine.
“Our conflict is tragic, more than most. One of its tragedies is that neither side can be entirely blamed. There is not one narrative, but two. Each side is convinced of the absolute justice of its cause. Each side nurses its overwhelming sense of victimhood.”
Avnery is very upset that President Obama had apparently chosen to empathise with the Jewish narrative during his recent visit to Jerusalem, Ramallah and Amman.
“The trouble with Obama is that he has completely, entirely, totally embraced one narrative, while being almost completely oblivious to the other. Every word he uttered in Israel gave testimony to his deeply-rooted Zionist convictions. Not just the words he said, but the tone, the body language, all bore the marks of honesty. Evidently, he had internalized the Zionist version of every single detail of the conflict.”
The reasons Avnery attributes for Obama empathising with Israel are shallow and misconceived.
“It was really amazing. He must have studied us thoroughly. He knew our strengths and our weaknesses, our paranoias and our idiosyncrasies, our historical memories and dreams about the future.
And no wonder. He is surrounded by Zionist Jews. They are his closest advisors, his friends and his experts on the Middle East. Even from mere contact with them, he obviously absorbed much of our sensitivities.
As far as I know, there is not a single Arab, not to mention Palestinian, in the White House and its surroundings.”
This shabby explanation indicates little understanding of the multitude of advice that is received by any President from a variety of sources and the need for the President to ultimately sort the wheat from the chaff.
Avnery’s outburst regrettably leaves his readers in the dark by failing to actually quote President Obama’s carefully crafted remarks:
“For the Jewish people, the journey to the promise of the State of Israel wound through countless generations. It involved centuries of suffering and exile, prejudice, pogroms and even genocide. Through it all, the Jewish people sustained their unique identity and traditions, as well as a longing to return home. And while Jews achieved extraordinary success in many parts of the world, the dream of true freedom finally found its full expression in the Zionist idea – to be a free people in your homeland.”
It is indeed this Zionist idea that has been rejected both by Avnery personally and by the Palestinian Arabs in their narrative.
The Palestinian Arab narrative ignores Obama’s sweep of history - starting its narrative from 1948 by characterising the conflict as the “Israeli - Palestinian conflict”- thus allowing such narrative to completely ignore a host of critical events that occurred between 1917-1947.
This rejectionism is clearly evident in article 20 of the 1968 PLO Charter:
"Article 20: The Balfour Declaration, the Palestine Mandate, and everything that has been based on them, are deemed null and void. Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history and the conception of what constitutes statehood. Judaism, being a religion, is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of their own; they are citizens of the states to which they belong.”
The Palestinian Arab narrative conveniently ignores the fact that the two-state solution was first suggested in 1922 and actually proposed and rejected by the Palestinian Arabs in 1937, 1938 and 1947.
The Palestinian Arab narrative has no memory or remorse for the Arab riots in 1920 and 1929 that targeted and slaughtered Jews or the 1936-1939 Arab revolt which wrought similar havoc on Jews living in Palestine during those turbulent years.
Starting from 1948 the Arab narrative can avoid confronting the reality that Winston Churchill told a delegation of Palestinian Arabs leaders in 1921 urging him to halt Jewish immigration to Palestine:
“It is manifestly right that the Jews,who are scattered all over the world,should have a national centre and a National Home,where some of them may be reunited. and where else could that be but in the land of Palestine, with which for more than three thousand years they have been intimately and profoundly associated?”
The flawed Arab narrative also avoids accepting responsibility for the Arab pressure put on Great Britain to severely curtail Jewish immigration to Palestine between 1939 and 1945 - resulting in hundreds of thousands of Jews perishing at the hands of the Nazis when their lives might have been spared had Great Britain ignored such inhumane Arab demands.
The Arab narrative has always rejected - and will continue to reject - the will of the international community expressed in the 1920 San Remo Conference and the Treaty of Sevres, the 1922 Mandate for Palestine and article 80 of the 1945 United Nations Charter.
Avnery’s dismay at President Obama’s adoption of the “Zionist idea” is explained on Avnery’s own website:
“After some years of sporadic political activity, in 1946 Avnery founded the Eretz Yisrael Hatzira (“Young Palestine”) movement, also known as the “Bamaavak (Struggle) group” from the name of its publication, which he edited. This group provoked an unprecedented uproar because of its contention that the Jewish community in Palestine constituted a “new Hebrew nation” within the Jewish people, and that this nation belongs to Asia and is a natural ally of the Arab national movements.”
From Avnery’s viewpoint the Jewish community in Palestine in 1945 had no biblical or historical connection with Palestine - or any right to reconstitute the Jewish National Home in Palestine - despite the League of Nations imprimatur to do so.
Avnery’s rejection of the Zionist idea identified with the viewpoint of the Arab population of Palestine in 1945 - whose opposition to Jews immigrating to Palestine had been violently resisted ever since the Allied Powers decided in 1920 that Arab self- determination should occur in 99.99% of the liberated Ottoman Empire - whilst Jewish self-determination should take place in Palestine - the remaining 0.01%.
President Obama has indeed empathised with the Jewish narrative - which dates the “Jewish - Arab conflict” as having begun in 1880 - not 1948.
Until both narratives at the very least commence from an agreed starting date - one can confidently predict that any talk of peacefully resolving the ongoing and unresolved conflict is a complete waste of time.
Hopefully President Obama has taken the first step to ram this message home.