Salam Fayyad
Salam Fayyad. Photo by Alex Levac
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In his address to the U.S. Congress and Senate, Benjamin Netanyahu praised Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad for his efforts to improve the Palestinians' quality of life. Unless Netanyahu was saying this with his tongue in his cheek, like so many other things in his speech, perhaps he did not realize the significance of what he was saying: for Fayyad is trying to do what David Ben-Gurion did.

Guests from Israel and abroad sometimes hesitate before they ask Fayyad about this, since after all, Ben-Gurion is identified with the Palestinian Nakba. But Fayyad is proud of the comparison. He would be glad to be remembered as the Palestinian Ben-Gurion, he says repeatedly, and by this he means not only because Ben-Gurion was the father of the Jewish state, but even more so because of what he has learned about the statesman's modus operandi: First you act, then you declare. The Zionist enterprise developed itself for 30 years before Israel declared independence.

The Zionists understood that history is made with actions, not words, Fayyad says: settlements, roads, jobs, a school system. In the 30 years of British control over the Land of Israel, approximately half a million Jews settled in the country. They built hundreds of new settlements, including several cities. By the time the United Nations General Assembly resolved to partition the country into two states, the Jewish state already had its infrastructure.

Fayyad is building Rawabi ("hills" in Arabic ), a new Palestinian city in Samaria. The efforts to persuade the UN General Assembly to recognize Palestine's independence are less interesting. In a week marked by meaningless speeches, Fayyad can say to himself that he is right. Declarations are not important.

Ben-Gurion wasn't keen on even the Balfour Declaration at first. At the time it was issued, in 1917, he was living in America, after having been exiled by Palestine's Ottoman rulers due to his Zionist activity. In the United States, Ben-Gurion traveled from town to town and tried to persuade his listeners that Jewish history necessitated Zionist settlement of the Land of Israel. He presumed that Turkey would be among the victors in the world war and that Eretz Israel would remain under its control.

He admitted his mistake reluctantly, and when Britain announced its support for establishing a "national home" for the Jews in the Land of Israel, Ben-Gurion's initial response was chilly: "England has not restored our land to us," he proclaimed. "Precisely now at this moment of triumph, it should be emphatically stated: It is not in England's power to return our land to us. ... No people can establish title to a land except through its own toil, creative effort and settlement. ... The Hebrew people itself must transform this into a living fact. Through its own efforts of body, soul and material assets it must set up its national home and complete its national redemption."

Salam Fayyad couldn't have said it any better.

Ben-Gurion was nonetheless wrong about this: The Balfour Declaration swept up masses of apathetic Jews and turned them into enthusiastic supporters of Zionism, and Ben-Gurion did what not even Netanyahu or Fayyad did: Instead of receiving rights in the Land of Israel, he demanded recognition of the Jews' rights to the Land of Israel. Some 2,000 people stood up and cheered him in New York when he made this demand at a public assembly, and even The New York Times quoted him. That was on November 29, 1917, exactly 30 years before the UN General Assembly resolution on partitioning the land into two states.

At a 1955 cabinet meeting, an argument broke out between Ben-Gurion and Moshe Sharett. Ben-Gurion proposed "expelling the Egyptians from the Gaza Strip," in other words conquering the Gaza Strip, in order to end the Palestinian terror. Sharett warned about how the UN might respond and pointed out that the State of Israel had been established thanks to the General Assembly's 1947 resolution. Ben-Gurion replied: "No, no, only the daring of the Jews established the state, not an Oom-shmoom resolution." ("Oom" is the Hebrew acronym for "United Nations. ")

Salam Fayyad could adopt "Oom-shmoom" as if he'd coined it himself.

The UN partition resolution indeed did not lead to the establishment of the State of Israel, but rather to war. The world's sympathy helped, but history was determined by the expulsion of the Palestinians and Israel's defeat of the Arab armies. The Palestinians too will not get their state from the UN but at best "through toil and creative effort," just as Ben-Gurion said.