In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • The Persistence of the Palestinian Question
  • Joseph Massad (bio)

Predictions that the Palestinian Question would be resolved have foundered in the last one hundred years. Some, like Theodor Herzl, thought that the Palestinians would welcome the civilizing efforts of colonizing Jews and thus the Palestinians would not even become a Question.1 Others later thought that, had the Palestinians accepted the Zionist colonial conquest of much of their country, legitimated by the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan, and set up a small state on the remaining land, their Question would have been resolved. Still later, others thought that, had the Arab states absorbed the Palestinian refugee population after 1948, the Question would surely have been resolved then. An impatient and exasperated world breathed a sigh of relief when Yasir Arafat and the Israeli government signed the Oslo agreement in 1993 that transformed Arafat from a Nelson Mandela into a Mangosuthu Gatsha Buthelezi, but the Question was still not resolved.2 Finally, some thought that, if the Arab states would only accept Israel's right to be a Jewish state, that is, a state that has the right to discriminate racially and religiously against its non-Jewish citizens by law and practice (which they did at their Beirut Summit in March 2002), the Palestinian Question would have been resolved. But the Palestinian Question persisted and still persists. A decade after Oslo, it is as intransigent as it was in 1917, when the Balfour Declaration was issued. What, then, makes the Palestinian Question persist in the face of so many expectations and desires that it be resolved? [End Page 1]


In the last century and a half, many have tried to explain the persistence of the Jewish Question, which has always been entangled with the persistence of anti-Jewish sentiment across Western history.3 This sentiment, whether based on religious, social, ethnic (geographic and linguistic origins), or racial grounds, clustered together in the nineteenth century in a full-fledged othering ideological edifice that came to be known as anti-Semitism. In the nineteenth century, Karl Marx postulated that the Jewish Question would be resolved alongside human emancipation, which required the ending of the division between humans as "egotistical" beings inhabiting civil society and humans as "abstract" citizens in the realm of the state.4 As such emancipation failed to materialize, twentieth-century authors, with as widely differing views as Sigmund Freud, Hannah Arendt, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer, Isaac Deutscher, Abram Leon, and Jean-Paul Sartre, attempted to analyze the basis of this anti-Jewish sentiment across the ages, with most concentrating on the new ideology of anti-Semitism that emerged within the belly of Romantic modernity.5 Their answers ranged from psychosexual explanations to socioeconomic ones. Adorno and Horkheimer argued, in the Dialectic of Enlightenment, that Enlightenment had done away with the dialectic and posited itself as the end of history and then sought to control everything totalistically. In so doing, Jews were posited and projected by anti-Semites as a "negative principle." Thus Enlightenment transformed itself into the nightmare of Nazism and a mediocritizing capitalism.6 Leon turned to Marxian economics and posited historical Jews as a people-class made necessary by Christian European economics.7 Freud, among other things, identified the horror felt by Chris-tian boys when they hear of the circumcision of Jewish boys, which they interpret as castration, as one of the reasons for the contempt they feel for Jewish men.8 Others saw the very basis of gentile identity as necessitating the hatred of the Jew, wherein Sartre's thesis that "if the Jew did not exist the anti-Semite would invent him" tops the list.9 Notwithstanding Sartre's reduction of the Jew to an object of gentile hatred lacking agency, his important thesis linked the persistence of the Jewish Question to the persistence of anti-Semitism.

The European Renaissance had been predicated on a rejection of [End Page 2] the recent European barbarism. This negative assessment of what came to be known later as the Middle Ages motivated Renaissance and, later, Enlightenment thinkers to attempt to invent a heroic, glorious past by appropriating Greek civilization and incorporating it into the recently invented...