Ghaith al-Omari
The Jordan Times (Opinion)
September 23, 2007 - 12:00am

As Palestinians struggle with the implications of the recent Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian-American community must decide for itself the vision for a future Palestine it embraces, and the way it seeks to partake in its achievement.

The Palestinian national vision has been defined by the Palestine Liberation Organisation since 1988 as the realisation of the two-state solution: Palestine and Israeli living side by side in peace and security. Despite the setbacks and challenges facing this vision, it remains the view of the overwhelming majority not only within the officialdom of the international community but, as polling has consistently shown, also among Palestinians. While this remains the view of the majority of Arab-Americans, a vocal challenge to this vision has recently emerged from some Palestinian-Americans in the shape of the so-called ?bi-national one-state solution?.

According to this vision, Palestinians and Jews will live in the whole of historic Palestine as equal citizens in a polity that transcends national and religious definition.

That such a vision goes against the very foundations of modern nationalism, that it requires both Jewish and Palestinian peoples to abandon their nationalist dreams and identities, or that it requires such a fundamental shift in the basic tenets of the whole international system seems of marginal importance to its advocates. They prefer to stress the purity and seeming inclusiveness of this concept.

Relying primarily on the false South African analogy, the idealism of student followers and the inflated influence of cyberspace list-servs, they promote an impossible illusion that both distracts dangerously from difficult yet achievable goals and makes their achievement even more challenging.

While the noise created by one staters in the US is considerable, this vision has almost no support among Palestinians living in the occupied territories, who understand that realistic solutions, not idealistic fantasies, be the way out of their daily misery and humiliation.

Lacking a constituency among Palestinians, advocates of this view cling to illusionary allies, mainly non-Zionist Jews who are irrelevant among their own Israeli and Jewish communities.

Ironically, these advocates become unwitting allies of the hardline US and Israeli right when declaring the two-state solution dead, giving fodder to those who deny Palestinian statehood out of bigotry and racism.

In addition, and as we have seen recently after the violent Hamas takeover of Gaza, they inevitably ally themselves with Islamist movements that oppose the two-state solution.

The one staters, many of whom are socially liberal, end up supporting organisations and ideologies that have failed to present any coherent moral, social or political plan, and whose behaviour in Iraq, Palestine, and elsewhere has been one of repression, terrorism, violence, intolerance and stifling of pluralism.

Outlandish ideas are not the exclusive domain of the Palestinian-American community, and as long as these ideas remain within the realm of individual thinking, they are not damaging. Alarm bells must be rung, however, when such visions become identified with the community at large.

The Palestinian-American community is prone to this since it is largely absent from its adopted country?s political system in an organised fashion.

What underlies the tension within the Palestinian-American community is not only the struggle of ideas, but, more importantly, the struggle to define the political role the community wants for itself.

If it presumes to speak for the Palestinian people and to take leadership over from those in Palestine, it will find itself left behind; national decisions will be taken by Palestinians living in the homeland based on their own considerations of reality and achievability and their economic and political interests, not on the visions of purity advocated by a distant and detached diaspora.

Similarly, if the community fails to be part of the American political life, if it chooses to simply condemn and criticise the new country, to play the role of the perpetual victim, it will consign itself to irrelevance and, even worse, suspicion and exclusion.

This would be a real shame for a community that exceeds the national average in education and standard of living, and whose ancestral history is one of tolerance and religious pluralism.

The only space in which the community can be effective is within the America body politic, with special sensitivity to Palestinian interests that are aligned with US interests. Within that space, the margin of action is quite wide. Whether within the party system - for or against any given administration - or in a nonpartisan issue-oriented setting, one can point to numerous American-Palestinian organisational and individual success stories. The Palestinian-American community must decide. It can either live in a political and national no-man?s land, away from Palestine but not really part of America, or it can get its hands a bit dirty, embrace the Palestinian and American reality, and make a difference.

The challenges facing the Palestinian-American community as a newcomer on the American political scene have been faced before by other groups, including Jewish Americans. However, they can be overcome with unity of community and message and, above all, with participation in the political system of their adopted country, America.


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