Op-Ed: When will Israel recognize Palestinian nationalism?

Mourners carry the casket of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during her funeral in Jerusalem's Old City.
Mourners carry the casket of slain Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh during her funeral in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday.
(Mahmoud Illean / Associated Press)

Like many Palestinians, I was elated when Palestinian President Yasser Arafat shook hands with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in a White House ceremony on Sept. 13, 1993. Visuals of Palestinians waving Palestinian flags and olive branches in Ramallah were mesmerizing to many of us. Israeli TV news anchors flashed the red, green, white and black Palestinian flag along with the Israeli blue and white flag.

Just days before the signing of the Declaration of Principles, Israel and the Palestinian Liberation Organization exchanged letters of recognition for each other.

Two years later, an Israeli extremist killed Rabin and ever since we have had years of Benjamin Netanyahu and mostly right-wing Israeli leaders (with a brief period of centrist government under Ehud Barak).


The recent violence in Israel is a reminder that the war with the Palestinians can’t just be stashed indefinitely on the back burner.

I remembered those long-ago scenes after seeing video of Israeli police officers using batons to beat Palestinians as they tried to carry the casket of Shireen Abu Akleh, a hugely prominent Al Jazeera journalist, to a nearby church. Abu Akleh, who was a Christian, was shot in the head and killed by a sniper’s bullet on Wednesday as she was covering an early morning Israeli raid on the occupied West Bank city of Jenin.

What happened to the mutual recognition? Palestinians insist that they still are looking to end the Israeli occupation and to establish a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital next to a safe state of Israel. A lot of blood has been spilled since 1993, but if the sea of flag-waving Palestinians that was featured on television Friday says anything, it is that Palestinian nationalism is still alive.

Israelis’ right-wing ideologues want nothing to do with Palestinian nationalism. Netanyahu gave lip service to the two-state solution while working hard to build illegal Jewish colonies in the occupied territories. The current Israeli prime minister, Naftali Bennett, is more honest about being an opponent of Palestinian nationalism. He has said that he will not meet with Palestinian political leaders and has no peace plans to discuss with Palestinians.

The only solution to our conflict is to share the power (a two-state solution) or share the land (one binational state). The status quo we have now is one of an apartheid rule in which Palestinians who live between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea are dealt with differently than Israelis. This is what Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights organizations have said. The apartheid condition was also recently acknowledged by the United Nations special rapporteur for human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories.

If anyone doubted that Israel is opposed to Palestinian nationalism, one needs only to see what has happened with Abu Akleh’s killing and the violence against the crowds at her funeral. The Israeli response is always to negate Palestinian nationalism. Recognizing Palestinian national rights has to include the right to self-determination. Occupation is the opposite of the right to live freely by your own choosing.

In Jerusalem, where Abu Akleh lived for most of her life, the Israelis say that the city’s Arabs are permanent residents and that Israeli civil law applies to them. But since 2001 Israel has closed many Palestinian institutions and blocked events as mundane as a Palestinian puppet festival just because it had a connection with the Ramallah-based Palestinian government.

In shutting down 28 Palestinian civil society institutions this spring, the Israeli government has had to resort to using the 1945 British Mandatory emergency regulations. They closed nonprofit organizations and think tanks like the Arab Studies Center, the Palestinian Tourism Council and the Orient House.

Israel’s latest move is an attack on Palestinian civil society organizations that would outlaw our work and even criminalizes public expressions of support.

It is not only that Palestinians are being punished for raising their national flag (which is not illegal according to Israeli law), but Palestinians are denied their political rights in their own city. Even absentee voting in East Jerusalem has been made difficult, frustrating attempts to hold Palestinian parliamentary and presidential elections.

Israelis and Palestinians have nowhere to go in this troubled land. Denying the nationalism of either side has proved its futility. The time has come for Israel’s strongest patron, the United States, to insist on applying the principles announced 29 years ago on the White House lawn — allowing Palestinians to live in a free and democratic state of their own.

Without a political horizon for Palestinians, what we witnessed this week we will see forever. We need a vision for peace with active efforts to carry out that vision.

Daoud Kuttab is a Palestinian journalist and a former professor of journalism at Princeton University. @daoudkuttab