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A Peaceful Palestinian's Perplexing Plan

Author: Elliott Abrams, Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
January 2011


Sari Nusseibeh is a man without a country. Nusseibeh is a member of one of the most distinguished Arab Jerusalem families and is now president of Al-Quds University there. He holds degrees in philosophy from Oxford and Harvard, has received dozens of awards and citations for his activities on behalf of Israeli-Palestinian peace, and has served as an offi cial of the Palestinian Authority. But he is a Palestinian, and there is no Palestinian state. In his new book, he asks how much it matters for Palestinians to “have” a state. What is a Palestinian state worth? His answer is, not much: “There is no absolute need for us to have a separate or socalled independent state.”

“What would a state be for, anyway?” he asks. “What needs would it satisfy?”

In his view, only individuals count, so in politics “you are searching for the best way to realize yourself as a Palestinian, as a citizen, as a human being.” This leads Nusseibeh to some interesting speculation about the relationship between Palestinians and the many entities in which they live. Palestinians are refugees without rights in Lebanon; refugees with citizenship in Jordan but in a state that is clearly not theirs; members of a global diaspora where they may live in democracies and be loyal to the states of which they are citizens. And Palestinians, he writes, live in Israel with full political rights but, again, in a state that another group, Jews, controls. They are citizens, but it is not “their” state. “Palestinian Israelis,” he writes, “can feel they have a state in the weak sense (they belong to it) but not that they have a state in the strong sense (it belongs to them or they own it).”

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