There are two basic narratives to the nearly century-old Jewish and Arabs-of-Palestine dispute. The sheer truthfulness of these narratives is so unbalanced that Obama or his panel of oddly partisan experts must have felt obliged to tamper with real history. What is most brazen or, at best, bizarre in Obama's historical recitation is the stark omission of the whole Zionist enterprise. Instead, he chose to understand the Jewish presence in Palestine as a sort of restitution for the Holocaust. For the president, the balancing of claims--and they must always be balanced; he does not tolerate asymmetries, which would make his divine even-handedness impossible--requires distortion of what actually happened. First off was to diminish the determination of the Jewish people through the ages, and especially since the age of nationalism in the mid-nineteenth century, to reclaim their homeland, to bring its very earth out of desolation and restore its dispersed sons and daughters to Zion--all this not as a reparation, but as a right. By the time World War II--before the Holocaust, that is--began, there were already more than 500,000 Jews in Palestine. Most of them had arrived as their palpable reply to the 1917 Balfour Declaration, to the approval by the League of Nations of a British mandate for a Jewish homeland in Palestine in 1922, to the recommendations of the Peel Commission for a two-state settlement. None of this enters the president's text, not even a hint of it, perhaps because it might muddle the clarity of the equal-claim argument.
What perhaps the president doesn't recall from the history he studied is that Jewish sovereignty in postwar Palestine was only one of several rearrangements contemplated for the vast territories that had been governed by the Ottoman Empire, now expired. From this land mass emerged the states of Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, North Yemen, and various other adjustments of frontiers on behalf of the Wilsonian principle of the self-determination of nations. These countries, composing almost the entire Fertile Crescent, were vouchsafed to the Arabs, their first experiments at self-government in history. (Did these experiments work? That's for each of us to judge.) Tiny Palestine was intended for the Jews. They were already at work in the desert, in the swamps, in their kibbutzim, in their new cities, including Tel Aviv, in their bourgeois enterprises, in their universities and research institutions. And, moreover, they had revived their ancient language, making it a living tongue with ancient cadence and modern purpose. Hitler had exactly nothing to do with this revolution. Is all this not a revolution worthy of presidential recognition?
When Obama attributes the establishment of Israel, and also Israel's fear that the Iranian government and many Arabs would quite happily visit another devastation on it, to the Holocaust, he is in fact accepting Dr. Ahmadinejad's analysis of the Zionist triumph and also one of the tenets of Palestinian rejectionism, which is that the Palestinians are correct in their phobia that they have paid the price for what the Nazis did to the Jews.
Narrative Dissonance by Martin Peretz
What the Cairo speech got wrong.
Post Date Wednesday, July 01, 2009