The ‘negative space’ argument: another reason why the U.S. should back Palestinian statehood (and why Hamas opposes it)

"Negative Space" left behind by proposed "1967 borders" of the 2011 UN Palestinian Statehood proposal would mandate an acknowledgment of a state of Israel.

"Negative Space" left behind by proposed "1967 borders" of the 2011 UN Palestinian Statehood proposal would mandate an acknowledgment of a state of Israel.

A University of Iowa colleague of mine, Dr. Ahmed Souaiaia, Associate Professor of Islamic Studies, and I were discussing the planned Palestinian proposal for statehood to the United Nations this week. Dr. Souaiaia mentioned that Hamas, the militant Palestinian faction that controls the Gaza Strip and actually engaged in a Palestinian civil war with the larger Palestinian political party, Fatah, was one of the only Arab organizations actually opposed the proposed Palestinian bid for statehood (a little-reported fact I later confirmed in a number of articles that U.S. media outlets apparently don’t want you to see).

In fact, despite the fact that the 22 nation-members of the Arab League have endorsed the Palestinian bid for statehood, Hamas does not. This is because the negative space left behind by the proposed pre-1967 borders of the Palestinian state to be proposed at the United Nations would, by default, define a state of Israel. That is, the area that is not claimed within the borders proposed by Palestine (encompassing the West Bank and the Gaza Strip), and, that is not claimed by adjacent nations must belong to someone, and that someone is Israel.

This is precisely why Hamas does not support the bid: it has less to do with political representation of Palestine by Fatah (which Hamas opposes), and more to do with a simple acknowledgment of the reality of the state of Israel.

Hamas would rather not have a Palestinian state than acknowledge an Israeli one.

And that is precisely why Hamas should be ignored, and why Fatah should move forward with the bid on behalf of Palestine. It is why the 22-member Arab League has endorsed the bid, why Israel should concede (if they cannot politically support the plan), and why the United States should not veto the bid.

Palestinian statehood through recognition at the United Nations is the two-state solution. Israel and Palestine should set aside old arguments over olive trees (hat tip: Thomas Friedman) and allow the bid for Palestinian statehood to move forward. It’s the win-win for Israel and Palestine that everyone has been seeking for decades. It allows for something that has never existed: an internationally recognized Palestinian state! It allows Israel to save face by allowing them to oppose a unilateral Palestinian bid for statehood, and yet concede that the United Nations is the same organization that set the foundation for an Israeli state in 1947. It allows the United States to support its own policy of a two-state solution. (President Obama just needs to articulate the fact that a vote in favor of the Palestinian statehood bid forces Arab League states to recognize Israel.) And, it thumbs an international nose at Hamas, the terrorist organization that has stood in the way of peace (or at least has been the Israeli excuse for avoiding it) for decades.

And if Hamas so much as fires a single shot in an attempt to sabotage the process, the newly formed coalition of neighbors – Palestine, Israel, the Arab League, the US, the UN, and anyone else who wants to join in – should once and for all end Hamas’ reign of terror and oppression of its own Palestinian people. We can remind those in Gaza that Hamas would rather forfeit a Palestinian state than make peace with Israel (and Fatah). We can remind them what life has been like under Hamas leadership. And, we can point out the imminent reality of their centuries-long dream of an internationally recognized Palestinian state is near.

All that needs to happen is for President Obama and the United States not to veto the Palestinian bid for statehood. Until this, we wait, and we hope that 2012 electoral college math doesn’t influence Mr. Obama’s judgment on the matter at hand.

Robert R. Cargill

11 Responses

  1. Dear Dr. Cargill,

    Recognition ny default is all well and good, but, with all due respect, I think you are ignoring several key points. One of the most important, is the fact that there are over 700.000 Jewish settlers still over the green line and there is no resolution to the problem of what will happen to them. As well, you have the fact (also incredibly important) that this new Palestinian state will not be demilitarised, which puts many Israelis in danger, including my girlfriend, who is an Air Force lieutenant (she knows the dangers, better than most, of having these borders and has said what the result of having them will be). As well, I’m not sure you heard the story where one of the higher up PA officials said that this was just the beginning and the idea would be to go back to ’47 borders. He also stated that he felt that the countries that had recognised Palestine had done so with the understanding these would be the borders (don’t know how he got that idea). We also have the problem that in past peace talks, the PA has been completely unwilling to accept even recieveing 100% of the West Bank (with Olmert in ’99). There are some other things, but they escape me at this moment as I am on my way to class.

  2. Israelis were also living in Gaza, and now they are not. In WB Israeli settlements that Israel wants to retain, they can swap out land elsewhere. They can do what they did in Gaza. Or, if the land has religious value, they can live as minorities in Palestine. (Of course, Palestine has stated they don’t want this, so may be willing to negotiate the land/housing swaps.) Methinks talk of ’47 borders is a negotiating tactic. Other than that, it can happen. I’ve been on both sides (Israel and West Bank). I too have been blown up and know the dangers. But it can happen.

  3. “And, we can point out the imminent reality of their centuries-long dream of an internationally recognized Palestinian state is near.”
    ?????????Centuries OLD????
    Why not just point out that once the Arabs have 22 states instead of 21 states that this means World Peace!

  4. yes, centuries old. before palestinians didn’t have a state next to israel, they didn’t have one under jordan, under the ottomans, under the mamluks, under the ayyubids, under the crusaders, under the abbasids, umayyads, under the byzantines, under the romans, under the hasmoneans, under the greeks, etc., etc.
    there have been arabs living in palestine for centuries that have always – ALWAYS – lived under another regime’s authority, including other arab regimes. so yes, centuries.

  5. Dear Dr. Cargill,

    Thank you for your reply. We both know though that in the case of Gaza, the Israeli government was dealing with a much much smaller number of people, only 18.000 or so. We cannot compare the relocation of 18.000 people (which was difficult enough for the IDF) with the relocation of over 700.000 (about 5% of world Jewry last I checked). For one thing, many of these people are too poor to afford housing in Israel proper (hence the reason they went to the settlements in the first place); for another, where are these people expected to go (as I said before, housing isn’t exactly cheap)? How are you supposed to provide affordable new homes for 700.000 people so quickly? As well, you have the problem of some of the more fanatical (and violent) religious settlers.

    I don’t trust the PA officials, and it would be bad to put any faith in them when they really do not have the best interests of the Palestinian people at heart (and no, I don’t think many of the Israeli officials have the best interests of Israelis at heart either). I am thoroughly convinced that they would reject any sort of peace deal even after this UN business as they have no desire to lose power and aid money which they funnel into their own pockets. They are not going to settle for any settlements over the green line from what I can see. They are going to try and squeeze as much land out of Israel as possible.

    When I said she knows the dangers, I am referring to her having access to info not available to the public (people like you and I) on said dangers and actually knowing the big picture (it is one thing to survive a rocket attack; it is a whole other to know the actual facts about your enemy’s capabilities, and your own vulnerabilities); as well as working in the base that would be the first target for any nuclear strike on Israel (the reason I read so much about anything involving Israel’s security, as I would rather she live to marry me and have our kids).

  6. Permit a bit of a telegraphed response to a few points:

    a) you wrote – “Hamas would rather not have a Palestinian state than acknowledge an Israeli one”. I put it to you that that approach has characterized all Mandate Arab political thinking since early 1920s when they rejected an “Arab agency”, “parity”, partition proposals in 1937, 1938, 1939 & 1947 and yielded on TransJordan being handed over to a Saudi Arabia refugee.

    b) with a principled Hamas opposition registered, there can be no two-state solution. Right now, there are developing two Arab states west of the Jordan River: Fatahland and Hamastan so at the minimum, there has to be a three-state solution according to those who presume Palestinianism is legitimate and genuine, which is in dispute (yes, not only territories are disputed here).

    c) as for defining territory, let’s add VAT = Value-Added Territory. Jordan was part of the Mandate. Even the State Dept. claimed in early 1946 that Jordan’s territory cannot become independent until the entire Mandate issue is settled. Review this: The area west of the river is too small geographically and topographically to solve the dispute and so, Jordan must become part of the new “whole” that perhaps will be divided, again.

    d) Hamas will never be attacked in the way you suggest. Right now, it is, oddly, being propped up by Iran, via Hezbollah. For years, Egypt permitted the tunnels to flow with arms to be fired at Israeli citizens. Now Egypt is becoming Muslim Brotherhood and for the 6th time the gas line, under treaty, that supplies Israel has been sabotaged.

    e) and ehtically, how can an academic define the area where almost 7 million Jews live as “negative”? that area, historically, reflects less than 25% of the original Jewish national home territory granted the Jewish people by an act of international law.

  7. yisrael,

    thanx for your comments. allow me a few comments in response.
    a) agreed, but now i believe fatah (not hamas, but fatah) is willing to settle on a defined state with israel. of course, this would leave hamsa/gaza out of the loop, but i have argued a so called ‘3-state solution’ before. as soon as hamas sees that fatah is going forward with west bank peace with israel, they’ll either get on board (less likely) or attack fatah (more likely, as they have already done this). however, israel and fatah/west bank should not wait on hamas to stall the process. we all know where the resistance is centered. fatah can use hamas as political cover to forge peace with israeli moderated.

    b) see above.

    c) prior to the arab uprisings, i would have said nothing is going to change in jordan. however, now that there is unrest there, unless king abdullah abdicates political power and creates a system akin to the u.k., he’s going to have unrest, which would leave the door open to border changes in jordan. it’s less likely, but if the gov’t falls, anything is possible.

    d) hamas HAS been attacked in the way i suggest. during operation cast lead, fatah was showing israel where to bomb in gaza. you are correct that egypt will not be as accommodating now that the m.b. has more power, but do not confuse egypt with palestine: egypt doesn’t want gaza’s problems any more than israel (or fatah/west bank) does. they might offer public lip service support and open a tunnel, but they won’t stand in the way if gaza comes under attack.

    e) with regard to comment e, i do believe you are stretching a bit. ‘negative space‘ is a technical artistic term referring to the space around a subject, but not the subject itself. to imply that the word ‘negative’ in this technical phrase in any way passes a qualitative judgment on any people or group risks appearing as a desperate attempt to intentionally misrepresent a phrase for the purpose of introducing ethnic (or ethical – i couldn’t tell from your misspelling) tension.

    i also find irony in the fact that you refer positively to the ‘act of international law’ (i.e., the u.n.) that established the early borders of the state of israel, while when this very international body is asked to consider the same for palestinians, it is opposed and derided by the very organization that earlier benefited from the u.n. (israel) as a political body with no jurisdiction in the matter. go figure.

    as i said earlier, people will find a way to discuss this matter into chaos. israel would force the arab league into recognizing it as a state by simply accepting the peace deal they are going to one day accept anyway.

    also, don’t forget the possibility of an ‘israeli spring’ – israel moderates and liberals are growing tired of the bad economy and the use of palestinian tensions by conservatives/hawks to distract from their fiscal woes. it would not surprise me if israelis began rallying against their government and demanded a peace settlement or risk the collapse (or maybe the no confidence) of an israeli government led by a prime minister that after all didn’t get the most votes…

  8. It’s just before a three-day New Year/Shabbat holiday here so I’ll just make one factual correction:

    you write: “also find irony in the fact that you refer positively to the ‘act of international law’ (i.e., the u.n.) that established the early borders of the state of israel, while when this very international body is asked to consider the same for palestinians, it is opposed and derided by the very organization that earlier benefited from the u.n. (israel) as a political body with no jurisdiction in the matter. go figure”

    sorry i was too concise but I was referring to a series of decisions of the Great Powers and then 54 nations of the civilized world, between 1915 and 1922 (Sikes-Picot; Balfour; Versailles Peace Conference; San Remo; and the League of Nations) which established several fundamentals in international law: the Jews have the right to reconstitute their national home; that their right to ‘close settlement on the land’ is guaranteed; and that only the Jews possessed in Palestine what we would term national-political rights where as all others, literally, “non-Jews” is the language, are guaranteed personal and religious rights only. Arab nationalism was to find its expression, at that time, in Lebanon/Syria, Iraq, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, etc. Today, there are some two dozen Arab countries. I’d like to think that we Jews deserve at least one and that it be in our patrimony.

    But since you mention the UN, in my opinion, since the Arabs and Jews were offered a partition, territorial compromise or land-for-peace in today’s diplomatic parlance, and whereas the Jews accepted and the Arabs didn’t, that framework simply doesn’t exist anymore. It’s what as we say, “off the table”. So, any attempt to recreate that or have its paradign apply is a non-starter.

    I will return after the holidays.

  9. agreed that the arab delegation rejected a better deal 60 years ago than they’ll ever be offered today. but that shouldn’t mean that some deal can’t be reached today. land for peace will ensure a democratic, jewish state in the future. a single state solution will eventually lead to a state that is not necessarily jewish, or not necessarily democratic, and it will certainly be bloody. reaching a deal while fatah and hamas are divided will yield the best result for both parties (israel and fatah).

    also, since you mentioned the pre-47 jewish state proposals, let us not forget that the jewish homeland was not always considered synonymous with the biblical boundaries of israel. uganda, canada, and australia were also considered for a jewish state. it wasn’t until the balfour declaration in 1917, proposed by prominent individuals in the british govt, that the whole of palestine became the singular focus of a jewish homeland. i always ask my classes: what if herzl had been successful in securing support for uganda for a jewish state??

  10. our three-day holiday is now over here in Israel so a quick reaction:

    a) as for demographics, things are looking up (see: and further: and there are many other studies that give cause for encouragement that numbers are not the game the Pals. would like us to think.

    b) democracy is important but existence is supreme. or, I’d prefer retaining the hills of Judea & Samaria with its Arabs rather than yield on both.

    c) i don’t grasp your point on Eretz-Yisrael and Palestine. You write: ” uganda, canada, and australia were also considered for a jewish state”. Yes, and rejected. So what? Even Herzl’s Uganda Project was defined as a nachtasyl – a temporary shelter. Jews never viewed any other geographic location as the holy land and in any case, whatever borders, Judea, Samaria and Gaza were always included by Jews, non-Jews, etc. (see:, for example)

    d) and as for your “if” question, I guess we’d still be considered “colonialists” no matter where we’d be.

  11. That should read, A happy New Year and a classroom of students hungry for knowledge.


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