The Specter of the Palestinian State

Translated by Hazem Jamjoum


The Specter of the Palestinian State

Where is it? What is it? Who is calling for it? Who will resist it? How will we make that happen?

By Ghassan Kanafani

Originally published in al-Hadaf, March 6, 1971, pp.6-7.

Translated by Hazem Jamjoum


There are three types of “Palestinian State” an observer can distinguish:

Type I is a “state” formed of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and instigated, overseen and dominated by Israel. It would, in effect, be part of the complete surrender to an Israeli military victory—and one of many fruits of such a victory. This state’s purpose would be to develop the victor’s military, political and economic superiority, and to engender a profound advance towards its strategic objectives. 

Type II is a “state” created in the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and the East Bank (Jordan east of the river). This would be established through the overthrow of the existing regime in Amman, under the pretext that such a coup fulfills the popular wishes of the Palestinian-Jordanian population. The coup could only take place with the blessing and encouragement of Israel, the United States and Britain. Its actual purpose would be to fundamentally eliminate the Palestinian revolutionary liberation movement, bringing it entirely under the control—possibly through a military bureaucracy—of the Israeli imperialist coalition. 

Type III is a “state” imposed by the will of the Palestinian and Arab armed struggle, whether on liberated lands in the West Bank or elsewhere. This scenario is effectively impossible to achieve in the foreseeable future, unless there is a dramatic shift in the balance of military and political power in relation to both the Israeli enemy and the reactionary imperialist enemy. The authority that develops on those liberated lands does not need to take the form of a “state” in the sense usually associated with that term. The fundamental basis for its existence, would be to actualize a staging and launching point for further liberatory action using the force of arms, the continuity of the struggle, and the overturning of the current imbalanace of power. The purpose of such a state would be to escalate the revolution, to move it to a more advanced stage.

The “State” and Liberated Land

This last type of “Palestinian state” is patently not the one we hear proposed and discussed. It is not even a foreseeable one, given the current “retraction phase” of the Palestinian and Arab struggle. Nevertheless, it is crucial that it be recorded here, because the logic of such a state is one that is in complete opposition to the “two states” logic of Type I and Type II. Despite this, many people these days are willfully and wrongly using the logic of Type III to talk about and analyze Types I and II. 

The “Palestinian state” described in Type III would advance the Palestinian and Arab liberation movement, and be in favor of the armed struggle. Whereas the “Palestinian state” in Types I and II would be a consequence of a major retreat by the Palestinian and Arab liberation movement. It would disrupt the balance of power in the enemy’s favor and towards its interests, ultimately forcing a surrender to its will. 

To frame the statehood of Types I or II as some sort of “reclamation” of Palestinian land is a deceptive ploy; one usually voiced through the artless question, “Wouldn’t it be better to launch the revolution from Tulkarem or al-Khalil rather than Jarash or Amman?” The question takes the conditions and developments undergirding Type III—the continuation of the struggle—to justify the radically different, indeed opposite, conditions and developments that undergird Types I and II-surrender.

Who wants a “Palestinian State”

Before we jump into the question of “maps” with regards to the proposed “state,” we need to take a step back and observe the following:

-Never in the history of our struggle has talk of a Palestinian state, and how “within reach” it is, been as widespread as it is now. This chatter is egregiously notable because never, in the history of our struggle, have the difficulties and obstacles along the path to such a “state” been so flagrant and exigent:

Since the June 1967 occupation, Israel has completely failed in creating its own Palestinian “national leaderships,” or any kind of native political authorities in these territories it recently occupied. The “Quisling” class that does cooperate with the Israeli enemy in the West Bank and Gaza are the worst across the historical spectrum of military occupations anywhere, and are the most bankrupt with regards to political representation. Israel is completely unable to even pretend that its Palestinian partners can play a representative role. At best, it is barely able to offer up a municipal or provincial leader to parade as a Palestinian representative; no “Palestinian state” it sets up in the West Bank and Gaza can offer a different reality to the one that exists now under its military occupation. An authority created in this context would patently fail to serve Israeli and the imperialist goals of a “Palestinian state,” as that would undoubtedly require that state to have some semblance of “autonomy” and some claim to being a representative body.  

-Israel has no practical interest in a Palestinian state that does not further its goals in infiltrating and dominating Arab political realities. A Palestinian state that cannot claim the minimum level of acceptance by the Arab states, or at least some of them (Jordan in particular), cannot serve an Israeli victory. It is clear that a state of this kind would be counter to the interests of the Jordanian regime. Indeed, that regime has used all of its means, from repression to diplomacy, to oppose any such authority (in the West Bank) operating outside of Amman’s hegemony and control. Such a “state” would be detrimental to Jordan’s interests and privileges, and would expose Jordan’s regime to irrelevance or decay.

For similar reasons, other Arab regimes cannot find a reason or motivation to accept this form of Palestinian state.

-All factions of the resistance movement, the legitimate representative of the Palestinians’ collective will, reject this surrender trap. There can be no doubt that the very existence of our national liberation movement is contingent on these factions’ ability to reject and fight the possibility of such a state, and to continue onwards in the armed struggle to obliterate the status quo of the current balance of power.

-The major global powers see nothing appealing in working seriously towards such a weak, obsequious state rejected by almost every side in this struggle. This is not to say that these powers do not find “the problem of the Palestinian people” pressing, or that they are not cognizant of the growing importance and priority of this “problem,” but that they see this exigency through a different lens, one I will return to later.

-Given its own internal power struggles, Israel is itself against giving up that minimal form of direct occupation. Moreover, it faces no compulsion to do so—whether through the local or global balance of power, nor through what is referred to as “international public opinion.” What is clear, at present, is that the Allon Plan remains the most popular strategy within Israel’s ruling establishment. The plan aims at little more than disarming the Palestinians of the West Bank, constructing a bulwark of military settlements along the River Jordan, and “returning” what remains of the West Bank to Amman through an agreement of peace and reconciliation!

Establishing Falesteenistan?

So, what is it that impassions such talk of a “Palestinian state” as if it were imminent, any minute now, despite the clear evidence that the impediments to realizing such a state are no less now than ever before? The objective framework by which one can examine the question of establishing Falasteenistan (which is the most logical name for an artificial, collaborator state of Palestine—a name coined by Dr. Nabil Shaath in a lecture he recently gave in Kuwait) is as follows:

  • The establishment of Falasteenistan as one result of a broader and total surrender (or what is referred to these days as a ‘negotiated political solution’). In this scenario, it is part of a more comprehensive arrangement emerging from total Arab political submission, the price yet to be paid for the defeat of June 5, 1967.


  • The establishment of Falasteenistan as the objective of a sudden change in the structure of the Jordanian regime, whether through a military takeover or a palace coup, or something of that order. In this scenario, the new regime in Amman would claim to somehow represent the Palestinian-Jordanian people. Perhaps then, and after a little side conversation with the enemy, Jordan would declare a new Palestinian-Jordanian homeland, or something to that effect.

Let us examine each of these two possibilities more closely:

The first, Falasteenistan as part of a broader Arab political surrender, should be understood in the context of the broader journey of the “negotiated peaceful settlement” idea. Though it is true that great strides along this journey have been made in recent months, it would be misleading to underestimate the very real obstacles strewn along its path—obstacles that render such statehood-through-negotiation impossible at this historical moment. As such, it is complete fantasy to speak of a Palestinian state being “within reach” anytime in the near future.

The second, as in the fabricated state born of a change of regime in Amman, cannot possibly come into being so long as its fundamental impetus is Israel and the imperial powers, unless those powers can guarantee the continuity of the intellectual, political and military role assigned to Jordan’s ruling class, since the fabrication of the Jordanian entity down to the present. 

In other words, the scenario of replacing the reactionary ruling element in Jordan—which would not have been able to strike its reactionary roots so deep into Jordanian society without the support of imperial powers—cannot be carried out unless those same imperial powers and Israel can guarantee it a new ruling class. This class would need to present a credibly patriotic public face while relying on the identical social, class, political and ideological roots entrenching the current Jordanian ruling class. These are the necessary conditions that would enable any regime in regime in Jordan to carry out the role that can successfully serve the interests of the imperial powers, and the existing regime has proved itself exemplary fulfilling these requirements and in fulfilling the assigned role as venerable imperial collaborator. 

In September 1970, the Jordanian regime proved (as it continues to prove) its strength and indispensability to its imperial masters. The idea that imperialism will relinquish one of the most notoriously solid and blood-soaked reactionary Arab regimes can be nothing more than an illusion, especially since that regime has proven its effectiveness as a reliable servant to imperial interests since 1936 (through 1941, 1948, 1956, 1958, its role in disrupting the political union between Egypt and Syria, and more recently in 1967). The imperial overlords will neither overlook nor forget this.

A “Palestinian state” in this form, and given this context, is not something we can comfortably foresee. Though it may be the case that Jordan’s overlords don’t mind issuing a statement to the effect that they support Palestinians deciding their own fate, those masters will not hesitate to use every means available to them—especially deepening their relations with the class of Quisling collaborators in the West Bank—to ensure such statements of solidarity are no more than abstract moralizations.

So far as Falasteenistan and Jordan’s ruling class are concerned, the political map leaves no room for question: King Hussein’s regime can no longer claim that it represents the will of the Palestinian people (and herein is how he lost the battle with the Palestinians from which he ostensibly emerged ‘victorious’). That said, he has proven to the most powerful parties in the current power equation that his is the regime that must and can be relied on. This reliance cannot bear fruit except through an escalation of the violent repression of the Palestinian masses and the false fabrication of their will.

Even if the current monarchy, or its replacement in the ostensible coup, were to cut a separate deal with Israel to establish the “Palestinian-Jordanian Homeland” under whatever name, the Israelis and their imperial backers will not see this as a solution. Their main concern is not the question of whether to neutralize or continue dealings with the Jordanian regime—that is already a settled part of the existing status quo. Their objective is to eliminate the Palestinian struggle. A Jordanian Falasteenistan will not guarantee this unless it comes about in the context of a comprehensive accommodation with all the Arab states, or at least most of them, and particularly the most powerful among them. 

And this brings us back, once again, to the journey of the “negotiated peaceful settlement.”

The Journey of the Palestinian State

Having contextualized the question of a “Palestinian state,” we can now objectively answer the question as to why it is now being passionately characterized as imminent. 

It is important to note that discussions of a “Palestinian state,” in its present iteration, did not start with the Arab acceptance of the last US initiative, but took its current form in the wake of the bloodbath of September 1970. In truth, talk of a “Palestinian state” has been floating around for a while, though always shrouded in ambiguity. Before the 1967 war, Lawrence Langner put forward an initiative to declare unified greater Jerusalem as a state with the aim of “spiritual and economic co-existence.” Aziz Shehadeh also called for a state in a 1969 issue of the Zionist journal New Middle East and the same journal published a special issue on the subject in March 1970. There were also substantial rumors of a statehood project presented by some Palestinian notables to U Thant after the June 1967 defeat and modified after a meeting of the notables in the Jerusalem home of Anwar Nusseibeh in May 1970. On 22 January, 1970 the Jewish Chronicle reported for the first time on a current within the Israeli ruling party, MAPAM, which considered the establishment of a Palestinian entity. On 14 May, 1970, Aba Eban discussed a Palestinian state on an Arabic radio broadcast. Then there was Fulbright, and after that Goldman who had proposed the formula of “a non-Israeli territory for the Palestinians,” with reports of a certain Dr. Fishers of the Quakers examining the possibility of a Falasteenistan on both banks of the River Jordan.

Though these proposals can be considered instances of calls for a Palestinian state, they are all characterized by a lack of clarity and specificity, especially those of Fulbright and Goldman, which lumped the notion of a Palestinian state into the idea of a comprehensive “peacefully negotiated settlement” for the region as a whole. The focus on a “Palestinian state” as a “solution” that somehow stands on its own did not really take a clear form until after the events of September, 1970. Only then did we witness the frenzy in the French and US press, and more recently the British press, proselytizing for Palestinian statehood beyond anything previously imaginable. It is rare for a reader to open up a Western newspaper these days without seeing one or two articles heralding the “birth” of a Falasteenistan at any moment.

But why?

The main power of the Palestinian resistance is not, at this stage anyway, its military strength or the expanse of geographical territory under its control. If this reality was evident on a political level, it has only become more certain since the events of September, 1970: the reactionary fascism of the Jordanian regime, which spared nothing in its arsenal of repression against the resistance, became more convinced than ever before that the power of the resistance was never in the number of rifles in its armories or the number of above-ground offices from which it carried out its activities. 

What happened was that, despite the military carnage enacted by the Jordanian regime upon the resistance in September and its wake, the real size of the resistance was nowhere near as affected as its military capacities. As a result, the victory of the “September operation” instigated by Israel and the imperial powers, and implemented by its reactionary collaborator, remains incomplete; it requires a follow-up operation aimed not at crippling military power of the resistance, but at undercutting the social and political ground beneath its feet, effectively ending it as a movement that represents the fighting will of the Palestinian masses. 

This cannot be done in any straightforward way. It would require a meticulously planned strategy that can divide the loyalties of the Palestinian masses, undercutting the social pillars that the resistance relies upon not only in order to achieve its emancipatory objectives, but those that form the bedrock on which the resistance justifies its very existence. The “Palestinian state project” is precisely the bomb planted to undermine the social foundations of the resistance. This project would need to be specifically designed to obliterate popular loyalty to the resistance movement. If the opposing forces can guarantee the elimination of the resistance movement’s standing as representative of the Palestinian will, it will be quite easy to impose any form of surrender upon the Palestinian masses.

It is no coincidence that the campaign for a Palestinian state has become more clamorous in the wake of the September bloodbath. A major effect of the September massacres has been a mass-psychological sense of bleakness that can be fully exploited to present and embellish the idea of a “Palestinian state” as some sort of salvation. The importance of this idea has nothing to do with how realistic or achievable it is, but in it being dangled in front of the overwhelmed masses as an “alternative” at a time when the resistance movement—for its own subjective and objective reasons—is unable to offer any direct, short-term alternative.

Proposing the “Palestinian state” at this time and in this way aims to seriously isolate the resistance and undercut its mass popular base. This is the way to impose surrender upon the Palestinian people, because such a surrender cannot be imposed so long as the resistance movement is able to hold its position as the sole representative of their will.

This is why the “Palestinian state” idea has been pushed prematurely as something that’s within reach, something on the verge of bursting forth as a reality. The effective aim of this push is to confuse and disrupt Palestinian popular loyalty to the resistance, to fragment this loyalty, and thus steal it away.

By simply contrasting the exaggerated propaganda for the “Palestinian state” as something on the verge of being actualized with the practical and objective impossibility of it coming into existence under the current conditions, the contradiction becomes clear. It is a trap set up for two purposes:

First: eviscerating popular loyalty to the resistance, currently at an ebb, by spreading doubt about the effectiveness of the resistance in the long-run. The statehood trap then attempts to fill the void left by disenchantment with the resistance by dangling statehood as the promised salvation masquerading as a possibility on the near horizon.

Second: baiting the resistance to wage a decisive battle prematurely, leading to the elimination of its physical, military existence before it is actually able to fight the real battle against the “peacefully negotiated settlement” more broadly.

Preparation for the Confrontation?

The analysis so far should not be understood to mean that a collaborating Palestinian state—Falasteenistan—is actually “in the realm of the impossible” or that any effort should be spared in preparing for and working to confront and ensure its failure. 


What we must note instead is the major difference in planning and executing a confrontation with an inevitable danger around the corner, and preparing (nerves calm and hearts ablaze) to confront this danger which is very much a possibility further down the road. 

It would be an error in judgment to consider this threat an impending one on the short term. It would drag us into a battle for which the enemy has chosen the time, place, and tools. It would also enable the enemy to further its own agenda without having to worry about facing the threat of resistance. It is an absolute certainty that Falasteenistan will one way or another be part of the “peacefully negotiated settlement” program if and when political surrender is forced upon the Arab regimes. As such, confronting this danger remains tied to the current overall confrontation between the Arab liberation movement and the imperialist onslaught.

As a project, Falasteenistan can only be part of the broader battle currently waged by the Palestinian and Arab liberation movement. This means that the ability to ensure this project’s failure in the coming period rests on this movement’s ability to regroup and reinvigorate itself, and to strengthen its bonds with mass movements across the Arab world. 

It would be a grave error to fall into the trap set along the resistance movement’s path by wittingly or unwittingly joining the herd that exaggerates how close we are to the establishment of the phantasm Palestinian state. To exaggerate the immanence of Falasteenistan it would be as dangerous as to completely ignore it. It would contribute to the enemy propaganda campaign that aims to portray the resistance as unrepresentative of the will of the Palestinian masses, and would also draw the resistance into a battle for which it is currently ill-equipped; ignoring it would prevent us from preparing for the inevitable confrontation.

A Palestinian state needs to be examined meticulously. There are currents that have already begun to argue that the establishment of Falasteenistan is a necessary evil. On this basis, the argument continues, the resistance movement should “preserve” its fighting force for the next stage of the struggle. Such opportunist currents propagating such faulty assessments of the situation need to be decisively confronted because they ultimately serve the same base from which the “Palestinian state” assault has been launched. 

The primary mission that the resistance must tackle presently is to strengthen its position as the representative of the will of the Palestinian masses by unmasking the “Palestinian state” campaign and exposing it as part and parcel of the broader movement for a “peacefully negotiated settlement.” This can only be done by:

  • Identifying and mobilizing the common principles and objectives of all the militant revolutionary factions to build and maintain a Palestinian front for national liberation;
  • Escalating military action against the Israeli enemy, even if this translates into a phase of “tactical profligacy;”
  • Exerting political and militant pressure against the forces of reaction in Jordan; 
  • Strengthening, institutionalizing, and deepening ties with Arab progressive and patriotic forces.