What happens when the loser of a war demands reparations and territory from the victor? If the question seems ridiculous (and it should), it nevertheless accurately describes the decades-long conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. What's most remarkable though is that Israel continues to underwrite Palestinian society with territory, money and autonomy—all of which the Palestinians freely admit they will use to fight Israel.
The latest wrinkle in this bizarre situation finds the losing party refusing $50 billion in economic aid because the cash deal does not force the winning party to give up everything it has won since 1948. That's right, the Palestinians have refused to even negotiate the Trump administration's so-called "deal of the century" because they know that it will not grant them a "right to return" and claim land in Israel.
An international coterie of academics works to instill jealousy and anger in the Palestinians.
The Palestinians' bold sense of entitlement comes primarily from their leaders, both the PLO/Palestinian Authority and Hamas. But a close second place in the competition for encouraging Palestinian rejectionism goes to the academic world. Without both an elite class of Palestinian ideologues and an international coterie of academics instilling jealousy and anger in the Palestinians, there would likely be a Palestinian state today. Instead stateless Palestinians are encouraged and applauded for turning down offers that stateless Kurds and Tibetans would jump at.
Curiously, the fact that no one has seen Trump's mysterious "deal of the century" has stopped few from expressing certainty about how bad it must be. On May 6, Dov Waxman, professor of Jewish Historical and Cultural Studies at Northeastern University, argued that Trump's unseen deal should never be released. Likewise, on May 24, Chandni Desai, a member of "Faculty for Palestine" at the University of Toronto, also argued that it should be rejected, sight unseen.
"With expectations so low, there's less risk that the likely failure of the plan will trigger another round of Israeli-Palestinian violence," Waxman wrote, apparently under the impression that failed peace negotiations create violence. "That's what happened previously when U.S.-led efforts to make peace failed," he asserts.
Desai picks up Edward Said's comparison of the Oslo Accords to the Treaty of Versailles and dubs Trump's deal "Versailles 2.0." She pronounces it a "catastrophe, yet another iteration of the Nakba ["catastrophe," i.e., Israel's victory in 1948] ... which must be refused and rejected." From the safety and comfort of Toronto, she urges the Palestinians to continue their "organized resistance."
When the administration announced the June "Peace to Prosperity" workshop in Bahrain, directed by presidential adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, the floodgates opened. The next day NBC quoted Fawaz Gerges, professor of Middle Eastern politics at the London School of Economics and Political Science, who assured everyone that the Bahrain conference "exposed" Trump's goal of buying off the Palestinians "in exchange for them giving up their aspirations to establish a Palestinian state."
"Decoupling politics from economic solutions" is how Ibrahim Fraihat, associate professor of International Conflict Resolution at the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies, described the $50 billion deal on June 29 at Al-Jazeera. He called it "a deliberate deception" in a larger nefarious plot to annex the West Bank and warned Palestinians that "paying attention to Kushner's theatrics means falling into his trap."
On July 15, Stuart Rees, emeritus professor at the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at the University of Sydney in Australia, proclaimed Trump's deal the product of a "sinister policy objective: the crafting of every conceivable cruelty towards Palestinians." Trump is following a pattern of "cruelty as policy ... a consistent Zionist/Israeli theme." The Bahrain conference was nothing but the deceptive Kushner's "fraudulent claims," supported by "a toxic Zionist lobby." Rees celebrates the Palestinian rejection: "They know that you don't fight for freedom by giving it up."
If Boston, Toronto, Doha and Australia are the periphery of the Palestinian academic support system, New York City is the epicenter. At Columbia University's campus in Morningside Heights, Hamid Dabashi, Joseph Massad and Rashid Khalidi, the academic triumvirate of Palestinian sympathizers, preside over the Center for Palestine Studies, or what I call "Ramallah on the Hudson." All three weighed in on the Trump deal.
The boorish Dabashi, professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature, took a break from defending Iran on June 26 at 4:56 a.m. to post a rant on Facebook, offering his insight on the "Deal of the Cenrury [sic]." In Dabashi's mind the Bahrain conference was simply a diversion, assigned to the "arrogant" and "stupid" Kushner, to distract from the "Saudi-Zionist plot to have US bomb Iran."
Massad, professor of modern Arab politics and intellectual history, reached beyond Facebook and wrote an actual essay on the Trump deal, published on July 16 in the Middle East Eye. His Marxist explanation of Trump's deal demonizes a handful of Palestinian millionaires who are selling out the masses in the "final part of the Oslo trap laid for Palestinian political elites."
Through the Oslo Accords, according to Massad, Israel achieved a great victory by turning the radical PLO into the bureaucratic P.A. and by tying the Palestinian business class to the peace process. Trump's deal, he claims, will force the P.A. to cede its power to the business class. His admiration for the "democratically elected Hamas" is unmistakable.
Perhaps the most influential of Columbia's experts in all things Palestinian is Khalidi, himself a former PLO member. Khalidi, the Edward Said professor of modern Arab studies, took his rejectionist rhetoric to The New York Review of Books, where he railed against the "neocolonial arrogance" of what he calls the Kushner plan, predictably, a "proposal to buy off Palestinian opposition to a plan that obviates a negotiated political settlement."
Khalidi's conceit is that Kushner is like Lord Curzon and Lord Balfour, British colonialists who shaped the futures of the Indian and Arab natives of their empire without consulting them. Kushner (not a real aristocrat, but a "trumped-up one") is following their pattern with his "condescending" approach to the Palestinians.
The most laughable part of Khalidi's silly article is when he complains of Kushner's ignorance of the "Palestinian economy" being "strangled" by Israel and the U.S. "decision to cut both direct aid to the West Bank and Gaza and its support for UNRWA."
Khalidi inadvertently admits that the Palestinian economy consists almost exclusively of handouts from the world, especially the United States and Israel. Cash installments to the P.A. are used to pay everyone from terrorists to counter-terrorists. Israel collects taxes for the Palestinians and supplies most of their electricity and water. Many of the real job opportunities for Palestinians who reside in Judea and Samaria, the so-called "West Bank," are provided by Israeli companies. Three quarters of the payroll taxes withheld from these workers are sent straight to the P.A..
In fact, Palestinian society has chosen to abandon any kind of normal economy. In Gaza, they destroyed thousands of greenhouses left behind by Israelis who were evicted in 2005. It seems they have only mastered the construction techniques necessary to create underground tunnels into Israel, and are only interested in the kind of entrepreneurial genius that weaponizes the mundane, like kites and balloons modified to start fires in Israel.
Khalidi closes his article by returning to the Curzon/Balfour analogy, pronouncing that the days of colonialism are over. Kushner "and his Israeli allies," he proclaims, "are swimming against the tide of history." Khalidi has gotten this entirely wrong. Until they acknowledge the reality of their situation as the losers of a war, it is the Palestinians who are swimming against the tide of history. In fact from his comfortable post at Columbia University, Professor Rashid Khalidi of the Center for Palestine Studies is urging them to swim uphill.
So long as legions of comfortable academics encourage their rejectionism, Palestinians will remain stateless.
So long as they are led by fools who never miss a meal, whose electricity never goes out and whose bank accounts are in the black, Palestinians will remain stateless, continuing to turn down offers of a state, as they did in 1947, 2000 and 2008. And so long as legions of equally comfortable academics encourage their rejectionism, the Palestinians will likely press on, refusing to recognize their defeat and renounce violence.
By continuing to push for a Palestine "from the river to the sea" and inculcating that unrealistic dream into the next generation (and the one after that ad infinitum), the Palestinians are like the Japanese soldiers stranded on remote islands, still fighting years after having lost World War II.
A.J. Caschetta is a Ginsberg-Ingerman fellow at the Middle East Forum and a principal lecturer in the English Department of the Rochester Institute of Technology.