Palestine Versus the Palestinians? The Iron Laws and Ironies of a People Denied
An iron law of the conflict over Palestine has been the refusal by the Zionist movement and its backers, first Great Britain and then the United States, to make room for the existence of Palestinians as a political community. This non-recognition is rooted in historical forces that predate the existence of the Zionist movement and the Palestinians as a people. Consequently, there is a tension between identity and territory, with obvious repercussions for the following questions: Who are the Palestinians? What do they want? And who speaks for them? This essay calls for a critical reappraisal of the relationship between the concepts “Palestine” and “Palestinians,” as well as of the state-centered project of successive phases of the Palestinian national movement.
Beshara Doumani is professor of history at the University of California at Berkeley. He wishes to acknowledge the detailed comments by George Bisharat and Osamah Khalil that prompted many changes to an earlier draft. He would also like to thank Nadia Hijab, Rosemary Sayigh, Salim Tamari, and Issam Nassar for their helpful comments. Due to space constraints, this is an abridged version of a longer essay.