By Evelyn Gordon, March 10, 2003
Opponents of war with Iraq have increasingly been complaining of an American
“double standard” vis- -vis Iraq and Israel.
And there is considerable justice to this charge, if not quite in the way its
adherents mean it.
Yet America is far from being the only guilty party because the real double
standard in this case is the almost unanimous demand for a Palestinian state by
a world that rejects the idea of a Kurdish state.
By any objective standard, the Kurds have a much stronger claim to statehood
than do the Palestinians. The Kurds have been a distinct ethnic group with a
distinct language and culture for centuries, if not millennia, whereas the
Palestinians began thinking of themselves as a separate nation only after Israel
was created in 1948.
Before 1948, the only people known as “Palestinians” were the Jews who lived
under the British Mandate. The region’s Arabs called themselves “Arabs,” not
“Palestinians”; they called the area “southern Syria,” not “Palestine”; and they
considered themselves not a separate nation but part of the larger Arab nation
that covers most of the Middle East.
Nor is there a distinct Palestinian language: The Palestinians speak Arabic.
But in addition to enjoying greater historical and cultural legitimacy, an
independent Kurdistan would also be far more likely than a Palestinian state to
be a peaceful, democratic and responsible member of the international community.
Both Kurds and Palestinians obtained autonomy at roughly the same time: the
Kurds after the 1991 Gulf War, the Palestinians after the 1993 Oslo Accords.
Since then, despite a terrible start (civil war), the Kurdish autonomous zone
with no international recognition and minimal international aid has blossomed
both economically and in terms of civil liberties.
A New York Times report (July 29, 2002) noted the existence of “opposition
parties and dozens of free-ranging newspapers and satellite television channels,
as well as Internet cafes where people are free to visit any Web site they like
The Kurdish-controlled territory is notable, too, for the absence of the apparatus
of repression that has turned Saddam’s Iraq into a terror state.”
The Palestinian Authority, in contrast, has regressed in every area during its 10
years of autonomous rule despite widespread international recognition and the
second-highest level of per capita aid in the world. Economically, per-capita
gross domestic product fell by an average of 2 to 3 percent a year from
1994-1999, and another 30 percent after the PA launched the intifada in 2000.
Unemployment, which was around 5 percent in the pre-Oslo years, has never
since been below 12 percent and is currently about 50 percent. The PA is also
little better than a police state: Its 50,000 armed policemen give it what
Amnesty International termed “possibly the highest ratio of police to civil
population in the world,” and they have been used to intimidate the press,
political opponents, human rights activists and even judges.
There have been repeated reports of torture in PA jails and extrajudicial killings
of suspected collaborators with Israel.
The PA controls the only radio and television stations; newspapers that failed to
toe the PA line have seen their distribution suspended and their editors
incarcerated, and Yasser Arafat even tells Palestinian stringers for the foreign
press what items not to cover (Haaretz, February 12).
The PA has deprived its people of the most basic democratic right of all that of
voting out the sitting government: Arafat canceled the elections scheduled for
1999, over a year before the intifada gave him the excuse that the presence of
Israeli troops made elections impossible.
EVEN MORE important, the Kurdish autonomous area has lived in relative peace
with its neighbors: Kurdish terrorists have not been using it as a base from
which to launch attacks on the rest of Iraq or neighboring Turkey, Syria and Iran.
The PA, in contrast, has served as a haven for an unprecedented campaign of
terror against Israel. Within two and a half years after Oslo was signed in 1993,
Palestinian terror had claimed as many victims as it had during the entire
By five years after the accords were signed, the terrorist death toll had
surpassed that of the 12 worst years of the pre-Oslo period the years of
Arafat’s mini-state in Lebanon (1970-82), which claimed 162 victims and
included such spectacular attacks as the Munich and Ma’alot massacres.
And with the outbreak of the intifada, Palestinian terror underwent another
quantum leap, claiming more than 700 Israeli victims since October 2000.
Indeed, the only argument against a Kurdish state is the fear that it would
destabilize Turkey by prompting irredentism among Turkey’s Kurdish minority.
Yet Turkey’s “legitimate anxieties,” as the New York Times put it in an editorial
last week, are viewed by the entire world as trumping the Kurds’ desire for
No one, however, appears to consider the fear of Palestinian irredentism in
Israel to be grounds for vetoing a Palestinian state even though Israel’s Arab
minority, like Turkey’s Kurds, constitutes one-fifth of its population and includes
a sizable faction that openly identifies with Israel’s enemies, advocates violence
against the state, and even declares the state’s eradication to be its goal.
There are only two possible explanations for the worldwide double standard
that deems a Palestinian state essential but a Kurdish state taboo, even though
every tenable argument points in the other direction.
One is that terrorism works: The Palestinians are taken more seriously precisely
because of the PLO’s 40-year campaign of anti- Israel terrorism. The other is
that anti-Semitism works: The Palestinians are taken more seriously precisely
because their target is Israel rather than another country.
It is difficult to decide which option is more frightening.