Not long ago, Ahmed Qurei' threatened to resign as Palestinian Arab Prime Minister. Supposedly, he had overdosed on Yasser Arafat's refusal to share any real power.
Many in the West and elsewhere have chosen to read into this major differences between Qurei' and Arafat over Israel. While they may have some small differences over this issue (i.e., Qurei' is said to be a more "practical" man), the reality is that this is largely wishful thinking.
Neither Arafat nor Qurei' -- or, for that matter, any other Palestinian Arab leader with any clout -- envision a long term, Jewish Israel in the neighborhood. Qurei' just believes more "delicate" means are needed to bring this about. Forcing Israel, for example, to absorb millions of real or alleged Arab refugees in a "right of return" would win more support abroad than blowing Jews apart on buses or in restaurants. It would allow international hypocrites to feel better about themselves while also still allowing Arabs their final goal The name of Qurei's game is public relations, not mutual acceptance.
The issue, therefore, of what will likely happen if Arafat relinquishes some power to the likes of an Ahmed Qurei' deserves further analysis.
Way back on July 3, 2003, the highly respected Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) translated an interview with Ahmed Qurei', a.k.a. Abu Alaa, who's now Arafat's chief marionette. Among other things, he was asked about the Arabs' problem with having the word "Jewish" placed in front of the words "State of Israel" at the summits leading up to the Roadmap. Here was his response:
"What is the meaning of a Jewish state? Do we say... Sunni state... Shi'ite state... Christian state? These are definitions that will bring... turmoil."
It is not unusual to hear critics of Israel, even some academics, proclaim, "If Jews can have a state, then why not Catholics, or Protestants, or Hindus, etc.?" a la Alaa.
Indeed, this was one of Ohio State University Law Professor John Quigley's favorite lines in his frequent presentations against Israel. Lately, Quigley has been writing op-ed columns allegedly about Israel's fence. Like Arafat, neither Quigley nor Qurei' accept Israel's very right to exist, but choose to hide behind particular issues like the fence to launch their attacks. I had the pleasure, on several occasions in the 1970s, of following Quigley around while in Columbus and nailing him in public.
Drs. Daniel Pipes' and Martin Kramer's Campus Watch reported on December 13, 2003, that several additional professors -- Joseph Massad, Erica Dodd and others -- had also come out very publicly on this matter. It is a favorite piece of anti-Israel ammunition.
Now think about this for a minute.
Someone from England is English, from Poland is Polish, from Sweden is Swedish, from Ireland is Irish, and so forth. While there are other ways of describing one's nationality or ethnicity (i.e., we're not Americanish), the addition of the suffix "-ish" denotes this as well. Indeed, that's how Webster's Collegiate Dictionary primarily defines it.
So what's Abu Alaa's and his buddies' problem here? It's no minor issue, after all, but involves the very acceptance of a state for Jews. If Abu Alaa is supposedly a "moderate," then he must be confronted on this.
What's going on here is really very simple.
If Qurei' and Co. admit that the Jews are a nation or a people, it makes Arab rejection of their national movement -- Zionism -- more difficult to defend; i.e., how could Arabs demand some two dozen states for themselves while denying Jews their one?
Well, they could - as they do with Berbers, Kurds, Black African Sudanese, and everyone else living on what Arabs claim to be "purely Arab land." But it makes the selling of the argument to reasonable minds that much more difficult.
So let's take a closer look at this issue.
"Jew" comes from the name Judah, originally the Hebrew tribe named after one of Jacob's sons and later Judah/Judaea as the land was known in the times of the southern kingdom and the Greeks and Romans.
Judaean equals "Jew."
When Rome suppressed the first major revolt of the Jews for their freedom and independence after 70 CE, it issued thousands of "Judaea Capta" coins that can be seen in museums all over the world today. Judaea was the land, Judaeans/Jews were the people of that land.
Now here's the somewhat confusing part.
That particular people also had a peculiar set of religious beliefs: They worshipped a totally spiritual G-d, whom no man could see and who demanded that man live by a strong moral code. The Roman historians -- Tacitus, Dio Cassius, etc. -- living at that time were amused and spoke of this peculiarity in their writings and had lots more to say about the Jews as a people. We'll return to Tacitus a bit later on.
While Abraham and the Hebrew patriarchs lived centuries earlier, Jews emerged as a people/nation after the experience at Sinai, some twelve hundred years or so before Jesus. They came to inhabit a distinct land, had their own culture, language, history -- and, again, their own distinct set of religious beliefs.
The Amarna Letters, an amazing archaeological treasure from ancient Egypt, show repeated correspondence between Pharaoh and surrounding Hittite, Hurrian, Babylonian, Canaanite, Assyrian and other kingdoms. Guess what comes out, among other things, in the correspondence? Complaints about invasions by the Habiru and 'Apiru, the Hebrews. While there is some debate over details, the letters date back to just around the time scholars have dated the Biblical conquests of Joshua and the Hebrew people.
Jumping a thousand years or so ahead again to Roman times, listen to just this one brief quote from the many pages the contemporary Roman historian, Tacitus, devoted to the Jews: "It inflamed Vespasian's ire that the Jews were the only nation who had not yet submitted."
Do you think Tacitus was talking about the Jews' "religious affiliation" or their identity as a people? We don't have to ask; Tacitus tells us. Are you listening, Abu Alaa? How about you, John Quigley, Joe Massad, etc.? Look at the quote above again for your answer.
While it's true that one may join one's destiny to the peoplehood/nationhood of Israel via religious conversion to the faith of that people, faith itself, while a part of the picture, is still just that - one part of the picture. So, Ruth the Moabitess became a convert when she told Naomi in the Hebrew Bible, "Whither thou goest I shall go, your people shall be my people, your G-d, my G-d."
Note, please, that even here, in the religious writings of the Jews, peoplehood is mentioned before religion. Perhaps a coincidence, perhaps not.
Jews were repeatedly humiliated, massacred, demonized, etc., throughout subsequent centuries. So, as soon as Napoleon released them from the mandatory ghettos and granted them citizen rights, many tried to redefine themselves so that their peoplehood identity would not cause them future problems.
But that frequently didn't work either.
"Kanes" or their counterparts were tossed into the same ovens as Cohens, and the modern political Zionist movement gained its momentum because Alfred Dreyfus, "the Frenchman of Jewish faith," was still seen by his fellow Frenchmen, including enlightened ones, as simply another dirty, G-d-killing Jew.
The late 19th Century Dreyfus Affair opened another assimilated Jew's eyes, those of Theodor Herzl, who subsequently wrote Der Judenstaat, "The Jewish State", in response.
It is indeed ironic when Arabs such as Abu Alaa and their supporters bring this identity issue up. As usual, they rely on the innocent ignorance of most of their audience on such matters.
Consider, for example, how you identify an "Arab".
Because of their widespread conquests and forced Arabization (still going on in places like North Africa, where the once-majority Berbers' language and culture have largely been outlawed; in the Sudan, where millions of Blacks have been killed, enslaved, etc., resisting this; the gassings, massacres and such in Syrian and Iraqi Kurdistan; and so forth), the definition has come down to language spoken, paternal (so to claim the children of those conquered as their own) ancestry, and/or one's own actual or willingly adopted identity as such. Not exactly precise. As just one example of this, take a close look at the pictures the next time you see "Arabs" on television, in magazine articles or wherever. Frequently, you'll see some very obvious "Arabs" of Black African ancestry, many born of slave mothers, grandmothers, etc. Black slaves are still arriving into Arab lands via the Sudan and elsewhere. And these are the folks who speak of "Zionist racism" and who have been able to sell this to much of the world.
So there's no purity of blood, genes and/or nation demanded for the Arabs' own collective self-definition (even though there are ethnically pure Arabs).
Last but not least, Islam is the forcibly imposed official religion of state of virtually all of the almost two dozen Arab states that exist so far. Check out their constitutions, etc. And they let it be known in those same documents that the states are "Arab" as well, despite the blurriness of what that term really means and the presence of often millions of native non-Arabs in those lands.
Yet, this does not stop those like Mr. Qurei' from raising such issues of identity with the sole, microscopic state of the Jews.
The reality is that this is just the latest chapter in the Arabs' perpetual campaign to deny Jews their one, sole state and to delegitimize Israel.
As long as Abu Alaa indulges in such rejectionism, Israel must deal with him on the core issues, as it would any of the other Arab leaders who have Israel's worst interests on their agendas.