In recent days Israelis shifted their attention away from internal strife when they had to scurry to their nearest bomb shelters. Islamic Jihad, a wholly owned subsidiary of Iran, launched close to 1,000 rockets toward Israel after the latter attempted to prevent terrorist attacks by targeted assassinations of its leadership. Hamas watches from the sidelines as its Iranian rival’s strength becomes increasingly degraded. This is part of Iran’s effort to encircle the Jewish state by its proxies in Lebanon, Syria, the West Bank, and Gaza, with an assist from the Houthis in Yemen.
Meanwhile, as Israelis react to the omnipresent sounds of sirens, Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), an implacable enemy of Israel, attempted to use Congress’s Visitor Center to honor Nakba Day, the day of “catastrophe” when Palestinians were displaced during Israel’s War of Independence.
When Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) thwarted her efforts to use this space, fellow traveler Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) provided space in the Senate for her event, where she and others bashed Israel as an apartheid state engaged in terrorism and ethnic cleansing. She presented a resolution she wants to introduce in Congress recognizing this “catastrophe” as an ongoing historical event.
Instead of mourning this “catastrophe,” the Palestinians, like the Israelis, could have been celebrating the 75th anniversary of their own state. On November 29, 1947, U.N. Resolution 181 called for the establishment of an Arab state alongside a Jewish state, with the city of Jerusalem internationalized. Although the U.N. plan parceled Beersheva into the Arab state, Ben Gurion accepted its terms. Both the United States and the Soviet Union endorsed this resolution. And when the British left Palestine the following May, Ben Gurion and other political and religious leaders declared the establishment of the State of Israel.
What did the Palestinians and their Arab brethren do? They attacked the nascent Jewish state, inflicting significant casualties and displacing 750,000 Palestinians. Israel won at the dreadful cost of 1% of its population; that’s the equivalent, in U.S. terms, of more than 3,300,000 lives lost. Many survivors of the Holocaust fought and died in this war, with no relatives to say kaddish for them. As a result of this war, Israel expanded its territory to include all the Negev and today’s West Jerusalem. In the ensuing decade, Israel resettled more than 750,000 Mizrachi Jews who were forced to leave the Arab countries they called home for centuries.
What of the displaced Palestinian refugees? The U.N. established an agency, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency to meet the social welfare needs of this population. UNRWA was to be a temporary palliative as its sister agencies resettled tens of millions following World War II and the establishment of the independent states of India and Pakistan. All these other agencies fulfilled their mandates and were dissolved.
If temporary can be defined as 75 years of existence, UNRWA still cares for the original displaced persons and their descendants. Those qualifying for aid now exceed 5 million, the fourth generation dependent on the foreign aid dole. Of the 10 countries providing the most aid, none are Arab, and the United States pays almost a third of its budget.
Why haven’t the Arab countries or Palestinian leadership absorbed this population? One explanation is that these “refugees” have become political fodder, reminding the world of their plight, which was caused by the neo-imperialist Israelis. They can be used as a bargaining chip by applying the “right of return”; if it ever is invoked, that would mean the end of the Jewish state. That’s why the Nakba charade serves as a reminder of their so-called plight.
In the ensuing decades, Palestinians and their Arab brethren have rejected numerous peace proposals by Israel that would have included Palestinian statehood. Instead Israel was greeted by the infamous three NOs by the Arab League in Khartoum after the Six Day War, and by intifadas killing thousands. The Israeli evacuation from Gaza as an experiment in Palestinian self-rule has turned into a launching pad for thousands of missiles indiscriminately launched against Israeli civilians.
Palestinian leaders have made momentous blunders. They tried to overthrow King Hussein during Black September and backed Saddam Hussein during the First Gulf War, leading to the expulsion of 100,000 workers from Kuwait. The Palestinian Authority is corrupt; its president has served 18 years of his original four-year term, and there are no new elections in sight. Palestinian leaders provide annuities for the families of “martyred” terrorists, in violation of the Taylor Force Act. They are extremely unpopular and would lose an election to Hamas, if one ever were to be held. And now the EU Parliament may withdraw its funding to the Palestinian Authority, because its textbooks for schoolchildren spew hatred for Jews and exclude the Jewish state from their maps.
David Ben-Gurion and his colleagues developed the infrastructure for governance during the 23 years of the British mandate. So when Ben-Gurion declared independence, the ground rules and culture for a modern state were established. We still live with some of the shortcomings and compromises made in those early days, including the lack of a Constitution and the bargains made with the charedim to get them to accept the Jewish state. These will continue to fuel internal strife.
But Israel is the leading democratic light in the Middle East for its technological, military, and economic prowess, despite fighting countless wars. The success of the Abraham Accords testifies to this record of achievement.
It’s been 30 years since the Oslo Accords were adopted, by which the Palestinian Authority gained civil control for most of the Palestinian inhabitants in the West Bank. It’s been 18 years since Israel’s disengagement from Gaza. Any objective observer will judge the civil societies and governance there to be disasters.
We have accountability by holding free elections in Israel, the United States and other democracies. That’s when we can “throw the bums out.” Promoting accountability and autonomy are hallmarks of democratic statecraft.
Why is the Palestinian leadership exempt from these requirements? Why does UNRWA still exist? Why isn’t pressure applied on Arab countries to absorb these refugees as citizens in their host countries? Why is the Palestinian Authority so dependent on the foreign dole rather than promoting some sense of self-governance and economic autonomy? Is the victimhood narrative exemplified by the Nakba too powerful for Western elites and the media to overcome? Lowering our standards of judging Palestinian leaders compared to others reinforces the infantilization of them and their people.
The Nakba exemplifies the failures of Palestinian leadership over the course of three-quarters of a century. Let’s hope that the successes of the Abraham Accords can entice the next generation of Palestinians to join forces to promote greater progress for their people.
Max Kleinman of Fairfield was the CEO of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest from 1995 to 2014. He is the president of the Fifth Commandment Foundation and consultant for the Jewish Community Legacy Project.