Are the Palestinians acting like Zionists?

Listen to the Palestinians talk about Jerusalem; these days, they sound a lot like Zionists.

Here is Yasser Arafat's top religious official, declaring that the Palestinians "will never accept any piece of land as an alternative to Jerusalem."

Then there is the "Jerusalem Pledge," signed by many Palestinian personalities, which promises "to God and to the Arab and Muslim states that Jerusalem will remain in our hearts, our feelings and our minds, and we will not cede its sand."

It sounds even more Zionist in the next line: "We pledge to God to remain holders of Jerusalem's flag until we hand it over to our children and our grandchildren."

On occasion, Palestinian words exactly echo Israeli ones. Thus, when Jewish and Muslim leaders met Pope John Paul II in March, both claimed Jerusalem as their "eternal capital." (For good measure, so did the Israeli president and Yasir Arafat.)

The Palestinian love of Zion isn't just talk; Mr. Arafat's demands for sovereignty over eastern Jerusalem led to the Camp David II summit collapse in July.

Why do Palestinian feelings about Jerusalem so closely resemble the Jewish ones? Because Palestinian nationalism is a new phenomenon, dating back only to the year 1920. Lacking prior roots, it has in almost every important area - not just sentiments for Jerusalem - imitated its Jewish prototype. A few examples:

*Zionists base their claims on the Bible - so Palestinians do, too. Arafat once told a journalist, "You must read the Bible, because it contains abundant historic references that demonstrate the existence of a cultural and geopolitical Palestinian identity for many thousands of years."

*Just as Zionists created a "state in the making" during the period of the British Mandate in Palestine (1917-48), the Palestinians are doing so now. What the Jewish Agency was, the Palestinian Authority has become. This distinguishes the two movements from all other anticolonial efforts that simply inherited the colonial state.

*The Jewish National Fund buys land from Arabs for Zionist settlement; starting in 1995, the PLO has been in the business of buying land from Jews.

*The Zionist practice of planting trees has since 1994 also become a Palestinian practice, and both have the same goal - to enhance a moral claim to the land. Further, the Palestinian planting takes place one day before Tu B'Shevat, an ancient Jewish festival of trees.

*The PLO's declaration of a Palestinian state in November 1988 echoed Israel's 1948 Proclamation of Independence in subject matter, organization, and even specific phrasing. For example, Zionist leader David Ben-Gurion called on "the Jewish people all over the world to rally to our side" and Arafat called on "Arab compatriots to consolidate and enhance the emergence and reality of our state."

*The "Law of Return" holds that every Jew has an inalienable right to live in Israel and underpins the whole Zionist venture. Palestinians proclaim a "Right of Return," asserting that every displaced Palestinian has the prerogative to repossess lands left in 1948-49.

*Like Zionists, Palestinians rely heavily on foreign subventions. Zionists looked initially to fellow Jews for support, then to Western states. Palestinians also began by depending on co-religionists, then expanded to foreign governments.

*Zionist terminology does double work for the Palestinians. The latter now call the land they seek "the promised land" and actually sometimes use the term "Eretz Palestine."

Muslim thinkers are perfectly aware of this emulation. Sadik J. Al-Azm, a Syrian analyst, calls Palestinian agencies "carbon copies" of their Zionist originals. Khalid Duran, a historian of Moroccan origin, finds that "the importance of Jerusalem to Jews and their attachment to it is now usurped by Palestinian Muslims." Kanan Makiya, an Iraqi writer, observes that "the hallowed status of Palestinian dispossession in 1948 ... has become for Arab politics what the Holocaust is for Israeli politics: mirror images of one another."

Palestinian imitation has two major consequences. First, it assures maximum conflict. If something (Jerusalem, for example) is intensely valuable to Jews, it must therefore be intensely valuable to Palestinians. Compromise would be much easier if, say, the Israeli town of Ramle were the object of Palestinian ambitions.

Second, imitation turns every disagreement into a battle of wills. Who can plant more trees or raise more money abroad? Which side can make a more convincing case for its "return"? Who loves Zion more? A combination of Palestinian vigor and Israeli fatigue makes the answers anything but predictable. Strange as it sounds, Palestinian Zionism may be more vigorous than its Israeli prototype.

*Daniel Pipes is director of the Middle East Forum.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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