Hassan Al-batal
Al-ayyam (Opinion)
May 20, 2008 - 3:54pm

Some Arabs and Israelis have started to take pleasure in asking Palestinians about their claim of being nation builders, and pointing specifically to their failure in building a nation of their own.

The Palestinian claim is not just a claim. It is based on facts, and most important is the fact that, as a result of the Nakba, Palestinian refugees have played a role in developing many of the nations that became their host. It is possible to explain their role because the fragmented Palestinian refugee society came from the nucleus Palestinian coastal society that had already made inroads in their quest towards urbanization, modernization, culture, and education.

Not all of the Palestinian exiles settled in desperate refugee camps. And not all of these refugee camps became secluded ghettos. In fact, many of the refugee camps soon became centers for education, and later into sponsors of political radicalization and struggle against the Nakba.

Even before Palestinian radical struggle took place against the Nakba and exile -drawing with it clashes between the Palestinians and Arabs-, UNRWA had noticed a shinier outlook that came as a result of the refugees. Specifically, refugees are an asset for their host countries, and are not a burden on the resources of the international community. Palestinian laborers in their host countries, unskilled or experienced, and the use of Palestinian refugees in the educational and managerial sectors of the Arab world played an integral, and in some cases unique, role in building the infrastructure of Arab state sand in the higher education sector, including foreign universities in the region. These effects didn’t only reach the neighboring countries of the Palestinians, but also reached and affected the Gulf States.

It is possible to say that the Nakba was caused by the regional national Arab crisis. But what role did the Palestinian refugees play in creating the crisis of Arab statehood?

Some people summarize the reason behind the Palestinian violent struggle against the Nakba by quoting Charles Malik, a Lebanese professor and ex-foreign minister. Malik said that the Sykes-Picot agreement led to the creation of four countries and five nationalities. This means that there were a people without a country. As a result, the Palestinian struggle has shaken the very nationalistic state structures that they helped create as refugees in the first place.

Which country in the region of greater Syria was not shaken by the struggle of Palestinian refugees? And which country, even in the Gulf, didn’t formulate from those Palestinian “shakes” a notion of state-based national identity?

Special attention should be paid to the increasing role that state-based identity plays for the people and the leaders of Arab countries within Palestinian proximity. Slogans such as “Jordan First” and “Eternal Lebanon” are now commonplace. The mini-Nakba that was suffered by the prosperous Palestinian diaspora in Kuwait was an indirect result of Iraq’s quest to achieve national dominance over Kuwait. The Palestinian insurgency in Lebanon resulted in the revival of Syria’s quest for regional dominance over Lebanon. Even the plight of Palestinian refugees in Iraq is related to the role of the Nakba in revealing the crisis of state-based national identities, and in the rising power of such identity.

The Palestinian struggle failed in creating a united Arab nation, but succeeded in creating Arab states. It is true that the countries of Lebanon and Syria were a result of the Sykes-Picot agreement, but it is also true that their crisis with the Palestinian struggle strengthened their identity. The Nakba and the struggle against it highlighted the importance of identities. And so, the outlook became Palestine is Palestine, Jordan is Jordan. For example, the settlement of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon is no longer a threat to Lebanon’s identity because both the Lebanese and the Palestinians rejected it.

Arab nationalism benefited the Palestinian identity insignificantly. However, the Nakba and Palestinian struggle against it greatly benefited Arab countries by intensifying their national identities. Creating a Palestinian state has become a Palestinian, Arab, international, and Israeli project, and as such the Palestinian struggle has also benefited and strengthened Israeli identity.

No matter how prejudicial the new Palestinian-Israeli borders will be towards Palestinian’s historical, moral, humanitarian, and territorial rights, a Palestinian state will result in a new equation: five nationalities and five countries. This is how Palestinians have succeeded in changing the map of the Sykes-Picot agreement.

In a geopolitical sense, the idea of a Greater Syria, as well as the idea of a greater Zionist nationalistic country (Greater Israel), have not materialized. Consequentially, Palestine and Lebanon both struggle from the remnants of the Syrian and Israeli projects of having greater power. They also struggle from the renewed Iranian interest in creating an Islamic project to take over the idea of Arab nationalism and combat the Western project of Israel.
There will not be a new Middle East order without having a stable Palestine, Lebanon, and Israel. This is similar to what happened in Europe after the two World Wars, and what finally resulted in creating a Europe that is filled with opportunities.

The Palestinian Nakba, and the struggle against it, had more than one effect. First came chaos, and second should come containing and then stabilizing that chaos.

(Translation by Mike Husseini from ATFP)


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