A Broken Language, a Crippled
Debate, and the Gift of Art

Palestinian Nationalism and Nationhood

Nationalism and nationhood are two different terms. The former refers to one’s sense of belonging to a people with a common language, heritage, and homeland. The latter refers to a political state with borders, government, diplomatic relationships, community services, etc.

In The Jewish State, Theodore Herzl wrote that the Jewish people in diaspora did not think of themselves as being a people with a common identity until oppression and discrimination forced them to do so. The same could be said for the Palestinians.

Palestinian nationhood is not a term familiar to many Americans, in part because the U.S. did not even recognize this as a legitimate aspiration until 1993, when President Bill Clinton along with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat signed the Oslo Peace Accords that put the U.S. officially behind the idea of a Palestinian state. The Bush administration’s road map for peace also recognizes the aspirations for a Palestinian state.

Within the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, both Palestinian nationalism and Palestinian nationhood have been contested issues. One argument used by the proponents of Israel in defense of their taking of land claimed by Palestinians is that the latter do not constitute a real group. Consistent with this argument, Palestinians who never fled the territory inside what is now Israel but continued to live there, are referred to by Israelis as Israeli Arabs, not as Palestinians. Israel also has placed many qualifiers on its acceptance of a Palestinian state. As one example, Israel insists that a Palestinian state be de-militarized. This would make a Palestinian state substantially different from all other nations. It would also put the U.S. in the interesting position of having helped to create an unarmed, demilitarized Palestine tucked into the geography of one of the world’s most highly and heavily militarized states.

Recognize the PLO

Artist: Thomas Kruse (Denmark)

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