Beyond the naqba mindset:
What a real change in Palestinian attitudes would involve.... by Shlomo Avineri

Published: 21 January 2011
Briefing Number 276

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Summary:  The Catholic Church has undergone a fundamental change of attitude in recent decades towards Israel as the state of the Jewish people.  But no such change has occurred in Palestinian Arab society.  While moderate Palestinian Arab leaders claim to want peace, they and the Palestinian people are locked in the ‘naqba’ narrative: a narrative which avoids taking any responsibility for what happened in 1947-1948, and which simply regards the Palestinians as victims of ongoing Israeli injustice. They ignore the fact that Palestinian and Arab aggression towards the Jewish state have contributed to their current situation.  Until there is a real change of Palestinian Arab attitudes, the prospects for lasting peace and coexistence are small.  This Beyond Images Briefing contains an incisive article on these issues by Israeli left-of-centre scholar and public servant Professor Shlomo Avineri, which first appeared in the Jerusalem Post ( on 10 May 2009.

Shlomo Avineri as a leading advocate of the two-state solution

This Beyond Images Briefing contains the text of an article by Israeli scholar and academic Shlomo Avineri on Palestinian attitudes towards the Jewish people and the state of Israel. 

We believe that the arguments made within it are fundamental to the quest for peace and coexistence in the region, and therefore have provided the text of it verbatim.
Avineri is one of the best-known academics and commentators in Israel.  He is a professor of political science at the Hebrew University, and the author of several leading studies on modern Israeli history, and Israeli national identity.  He was formerly the Director-General of the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and is considered left-of-centre in his views. 

For decades Avineri has been a strong exponent of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is an additional reason why this is such an important article.  He explains how the current Palestinian Arab mindset which is locked into a ‘naqba’ narrative – ie the narrative that the innocent Palestinian Arabs were systematically expelled by Israel in 1948, and that is the reason for the conflict - frustrates the solution which he and so many others would wish to see.       

Avineri’s article first appeared in the Jerusalem Post newspaper on 10 May 2009.

Shlomo Avineri writes

The historic questioning of the Jewish people within the Catholic church.....

At first sight there is nothing in common between the visit of a Pope to Israel and the Palestinian ‘naqba’.  But one thing links the two: relations with the Jewish people.

For generations the Catholic Church advanced the idea that Jesus’ gospel had its roots in Jewish scripture, but that the New Testament annulled the original covenant between God and the Jewish people, which refused to recognise its messiah and thereby lost its legitimacy to exist.

The revolutionary change in attitudes in the Catholic Church
This traditional theological approach underwent a revolutionary change in the Second Vatican Council in the early-to-mid 1960s.  It not only absolved the Jewish people of collective guilt for crucifying Jesus, but recognised the continuing covenant between God and the Jews, paving the way for recognising the legitimacy of their existence.  This transformation, in turn, enabled the Vatican’s recognition of the State of Israel.  During his visit to Jerusalem years ago, John Paul II demonstrated tremendous magnanimity when in the note he placed in the Western Wall he asked the Jewish people’s forgiveness for the injustice brought on them by the church for generations.  The fact that the current Pope chose Mount Nebo to emphasise the deep link between Christianity and Judaism testifies to his awareness of the Jewish peoples’ ties to the Land of Israel.                  

The absence of soul-searching in Palestinian society

Such soul-searching is entirely absent from the way the Palestinians treat every 15 May, marking the pain of what befell them in 1948.  As Jews and Israelis we cannot be indifferent to this pain, as it is clear that the naqba is directly tied to the founding of the State of Israel.  But maybe it could be expected that the Palestinians recognise that their behaviour – their refusal to accept the UN partition plan and the decision to respond to it with force – is part of the reason for what happened to them.  None of this appears in the Palestinian narrative, which contains only the injustice committed against them.

The Palestinians refuse to recognise their enormous mistake of 1947-1948

It could all have been different.  Had in 1948 the Palestinians accepted the partition plan as did the Jews (albeit grudgingly) two states would have been born and hundreds of thousands of people would not have been uprooted from their homes and become refugees.  Arab and Palestinian literature and public relations completely lack this self-criticism.  Even today, when the idea is raised of matching Israeli recognition of a Palestinian nation state with Palestinian recognition of Israel as the home of the Jewish people, the moderates in the Palestinian Authority respond with unqualified refusal.  This is not a tactical rejection.  It is deeply rooted in Palestinians’ unwillingness to recognise that in 1948 they made an enormous, tragic mistake; even today they are unable to accept the principle of partition. 

The Palestinians have no comparable voices to Israeli writers AB Yehoshua, Amos Oz or David Grossman

The Palestinians are willing to talk about two states, but not for two nations, since that would imply recognition of the Jews as a people.  Maybe it is too much to ask the Palestinians to demonstrate awareness of the other side’s rights.  But while the finest Israeli writers – from S Yitzhar, to Amos Oz, AB Yehoshua and David Grossman – confront the moral challenge of upholding the justice of the Zionist enterprise while understanding the Palestinians’ pain and rights, we hear no comparable moral voice on the other side. 

To this day, no intellectual has arisen who is willing to recognise the Jewish peoples’ struggle and link to the land of Israel.

…. Without such willingness, it is difficult to hope that the principle of partition – two states for two peoples – will ever be realised.

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