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No, Catalonia isn't Palestine

Some in Israel are drawing parallels between the Catalonian demand for national self-determination and Palestinian independence. The two situations are nothing alike.

Hundreds of Catalan independence supporters rally against a visit by King Felipe VI to Girona, Catalonia, June 26, 2014. (Ariet/CC BY-NC 2.0)

Hundreds of Catalan independence supporters rally against a visit by King Felipe VI to Girona, Catalonia, June 26, 2014. (Ariet/CC BY-NC 2.0)

The referendum over Catalonian secession underway in Spain is turning into a serious political crisis, which threatens to become a European crisis that could dwarf even Brexit. The European Union has succeeded at tampering internal conflicts inside member states: the vision of European identity was critical in ending the violence in Northern Ireland, and perhaps even the struggle for Basque independence.

Now, a declaration of Catalonian independence would put to a test not only Spain, but the European Union itself: other member-states also have secession movements of their own, of varying significance. The basic instinct of the EU is, of course, to preserve the status quo but it is possible that is no longer an option. (On that note, I recommend reading the New York Review of Books’s survey of literature calling for a new European narrative or political framework.)

On the sidelines of the referendum in Spain, some in Israel are drawing parallels between the Catalonian demand for national self-determination and Palestinian demands. These wonder out loud how Spain and Europe could push Palestinian independence on Israel when they oppose the independence of minority groups within their own borders. The two situations are nothing alike, however.

Catalonians are already full citizens in Spain, like the Kurds in Iraq, Tibetans in China, and most of the minority groups in the world that are demanding independence. If we were to imagine a parallel situation in Israel, it would be if Palestinian citizens of Israel in the Galilee or the Negev were to demand independence. Alternatively, another comparable situation would be if following Israel annexing the Palestinian territories and giving citizenship to all of its residents, Palestinians within the resultant one-state solution were to hold a referendum on secession. That might not be the worst idea in the world.

Likewise, the “autonomy” that Israel has supposedly granted Palestinians does not at all resemble the idea of autonomy that is discussed in the rest of the world. Autonomy for certain regions or minority groups is supposed to supplement basic civil rights, not in place of them. The Israeli example is more akin to the demands in South Africa to recognize Bantustans as autonomous regions than to other ideas of autonomy.

Current examples that are closer to the Israeli case, at least as far as the status of the land and its population, are Northern Cyprus and Western Sahara. In those places, however, the population at stake is much smaller than the Palestinian population living under Israeli occupation — and in both places the occupying power (Turkey and Morocco) have attempted their own resolutions. It’s important to note that the world, including Israel, does not recognize those resolutions — not the “independence” of Northern Cyprus, and not the occupation of Western Sahara, and rightly so. As such, the world’s opposition to the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories is consistent with and follows the logic of the international system’s fundamental principles.

This article was first published in Hebrew on Local Call. Read it here.

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    1. JeffB

      I’d say the analogy with Catalonia runs the other way. There has been for centuries a dominant Arab culture that created a semi-homogenous Arab culture throughout the Arabian peninsula. Early Israel challenged that and Arab Nationalism / Ba’athism was push to demand that no major cultural divergence would be tolerated. The demand that Jews were free to live as citizens within Arab culture but not to establish an independent polity is essentially very much like Spain’s historic position on Catalonia. If we then imagine that Catalonia had a series of wars with Spain while Catalonia had a non-Catalonian Spanish sub-population that would be similar to the state of the Palestinians. This analogy starts to break down.

      A better analogy I think is provided by Quebec and the independence movement there. Quebec has a large Anglos population which would be hostile to Quebec independence. The rest of the country is uniformally Anglos. I’ve often thought the Palestinians should dialogue more with the Quebecois on their history. The Quebecois after they were militarily crushed and put into an a state that officially discriminates managed to work through compromises that have resulted in a very good situation for them, while being able to retain key aspects of their culture and religion.

      There still is a French Canada today and it lives well. They demonstrate a good example of a considerably less violent and more accommodating approach to resistance that the Palestinians IMHO could learn from.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Oh, hey, what fun, this half-baked, over-worked, injustice-excusing, occupation-furthering historical analogy business. And English-speaking Canada today is a good example of a considerably less violent and more accommodating approach to brutal occupation and Fourth Geneva Convention-violating civilian population transfer and associated massive cruelties. Here is the English-speaking Canadian approach to all that: They don’t do it at all. Zip. Pas du tout. And they treat their minorities, immigrants and refugees with respect and decency. This is IMHO an approach the Jewish Israelis could learn from.

        Reply to Comment
        • JeffB


          Suggest you take a look at the history of how it got that way.

          Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            I think what you are really saying is that you want that the world should accept that the Israelis want to be left alone to have their nice 18th Century brutal occupation and colonization episode and please you all be nice and come back in a few centuries, and let’s pretend it is not the year 2017. The whine beneath the surface is audible: “It’s not fair! The British got to do this to the Indians and the Boers got to do it to the Africans, the European colonists to the native Americans, why can’t we?!”

            Reply to Comment
          • JeffB


            Yeah, pretty much. Though I’m not sure 2017 is the issue. Other countries going through the same process like the Burundi don’t get the same insane focus. With Burundi there is much more understanding. Myanmar is currently conducting an ethnic cleansing under less understandable conditions than 47-9. And yet. No stories for a week. Controversy blew over during the operation.

            Israel is unfairly discriminated against.

            Reply to Comment
          • Ben

            He finally comes halfway clean. I finally got JeffB to drop the façade and admit what he’s really about. He’s about 18th Century brutal occupation and colonization. Duly noted. And then he tells me that Burundi gets “understanding” and that Myanmar gets special treatment and Israel gets “discriminated against.” That’s an outrageous inversion of the truth. Israel gets a pass no one else gets. There is a blatant double standard in Israel’s favor:

            No articles about Myanmar in the past week, JeffB? From what Russian fake news outfit did you glean that “fact”? I count over a hundred articles about Myanmar on Google News in just the past twelve hours, JeffB.

            Number of articles on the atrocious, heartless treatment of the people of Khan al-Ahmar in the past week, JeffB? Exactly one:

            Your blithe chatter about the “unfair discrimination” Israel suffers is nothing new, a meme constantly peddled, but it is in fact an inversion of the truth.

            Reply to Comment
    2. lebrac

      The Saharans are full citizens of Morocco. Their situations is closer to the tibetan’s situation than to palestinian’s.

      Reply to Comment
    3. Niki

      I agree except to say that Tibetans are not full citizens. I do like them to Palestinians. Their land, culture and faith has been all but stripped from them and the Chinese government has over the course of many years, sent Chinese settlers over there. Their temples have been all but destroyed, their future Dali llama kidnapped ( a child) and replaced with a Chinese child ( no lie!) Many Tibetans fled to India and live there until they can feel safe to return, which they won’t. Their country is occupied. I am a strong supporter of Justice for Palestine, and a strong supporter of Justice for Tibet. It’s just that the two cultures look and respond differently to violent take over. Just saying…

      Reply to Comment
    4. Lewis from Afula

      Catalonia exists
      Fakestine never existed and never will.
      That is the difference.
      So called “fakestinians” need to be moved back to Amman asap. That is the only way forward.

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Catalan national identity emerged in a process essentially no different from the process in which Palestinian national identity emerged. The real differences are the time frames and the particulars around independence-seeking Noam Sheizaf articulates. Your obsessive beating of this dead horse to the contrary is hollow, empty of any substance, mere prejudice, and just confused.

        Reply to Comment
        • BOAZ

          I may agree, contrary to Lewis, that there is a Palestinian identity & national feeling.

          I would beg to mention that Carles Puigdemont has no claims about Aragonese or Castillian territory , nor,on Roussillon ( Perpignan, aka Perpinya in Catalan language) which also carries a Catalonian identity ( with the local rugby team USAP proudly sporting the red & yellow Catalonian colours on their jerseys), and which for the time being is part of France.

          Reply to Comment
    5. Tarud

      Can you name ONE Palestinian president, king or prime-minister in the “stat of Palestine” before the “Jewish invasion”?

      Reply to Comment
      • Ben

        Hmmm…come to think of it, I can’t name one president, king or prime-minister in the “state of Israel” before the “Jewish invasion” either. The “state of Israel” didn’t exist. How about that. Hmmm. Thanks so much.

        Reply to Comment
    6. Elizabeth Block

      Catalonia is more like Quebec. And I would advise the Spanish government to look carefully at the history of Quebec and Canada. There have always been tensions (to put it mildly) and probably always will be. But Quebec, and Quebecers, have got what they want and need: respect.

      Reply to Comment

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