Israeli extremists shamefully propose ‘Puerto Rican’ model for Palestinians

Juan Cole

Informed Comment  /  August 4, 2023

Ann Arbor – Yair Wallach in a post at X notes that Jewish Power Party member Amihay Eliyahu proposes that Palestinians be treated by Israel as Puerto Ricans are by the United States. This is a horrible and outrageous idea from the extremist corner of the Israeli far right, which Tamir Pardo, a former head of Israeli intelligence, castigates as the Israeli Ku Klux Klan. Eliyahu is not the only one to propose a Puerto Rico model.

First, let us consider why Eliyahu is not probably very serious in making a parallel between Palestinians and Puerto Ricans.

The United States was founded as a Republic, but like the French Third Republic it has sometimes also had an imperial dimension. Its old empire has either become states, in the Southwest, Alaska and Hawaii, or remains composed of “territories,” of which there are 16. Puerto Rico is one of the sixteen, though it is typically called a “commonwealth.”

Puerto Ricans living in Puerto Rico can’t vote for national offices like president, senator or congressman. That is the point of the Jewish Power proposal– they want to rule over Palestinians but not let them have the vote. But note that Puerto Ricans do vote for a governor of the islands, who serves a four-year term, and a legislature. Again, I doubt Jewish Power would let Palestinians vote for a Palestinian Parliament and Palestinian governor.

Puerto Ricans have United States citizenship and passports. Puerto Ricans, being citizens, can freely move to the mainland USA at will. They can just jump on a plane and rent an apartment anywhere they like. If they do so, they magically gain the right to vote for national offices. Puerto Ricans living in New York or New Jersey or Florida have all the legal voting rights of their American neighbors. Their Puerto Rico driver’s license is, or should be, as acceptable as any state’s. It is only when they are in Puerto Rico that they can’t vote for president or Congress.

If Palestinians were actually to be treated like the US treats Puerto Ricans, a Palestinian family from Nablus could just pick up and go live in Tel Aviv if they could afford an apartment there. They could vote in the next election for any party they liked in parliament. They could run for office. You could have a Palestinian Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the Knesset, whose mother was born in Ramallah, say, just as Alexandria’s mother Bianca was born in Puerto Rico.

So is Eliyahu proposing that Palestinians should all be given Israeli citizenship? And would they then be able to pick up and move from Gaza and the West Bank to Israel proper? After all, the Puerto Ricans do the exact equivalent. And would Palestinians living in Israel proper get the right to vote for the Knesset or Israeli parliament? Again, that is the Puerto Rican model that Eliyahu says he is invoking.

If you know anything at all about the Puerto Rican model, you know that it would never be adopted in full for Palestinians by the Israeli fascists. The only thing they like about it is the idea of people living under US sovereignty without the right to vote for national office. But the model is much more complex than that and implies all sorts of rights for inhabitants of the “territory” that the extremist right wing would never actually be willing to proffer the Palestinians.

The other thing to say is that while declaring the Palestinians under Israeli rule as just like Puerto Ricans in America might be a good propaganda ploy for the ears of the US right wing, it is shameful.

Puerto Rico is essentially a colony, and while its 3.2 million inhabitants are American citizens they do not enjoy all the rights enumerated in the constitution, the way they would if they were an incorporated state.

That is shameful. It is shameful that they can’t vote for congress or the presidency.

Members of Congress hope to reintroduce legislation that aims to allow a plebiscite in Puerto Rico. They would get to vote on whether they want to become an independent country, or they want to become a state of the US, or whether they want to become a sovereign nation in free association with the US.

Nicole Acevedo at NBC explains the third option: “Places such as Micronesia, Palau and the Marshall Islands have a sovereignty with free association with the U.S. These are technically independent nations bound to the U.S. by a treaty governing diplomatic, military and economic relations.”

She quotes Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) as saying of the proposed legislation, “What we agree on, passionately, is that America ought not to be a colonial power.”

So the Jewish Power Party is seeking a status for Palestinians that is not actually analogous to that of Puerto Ricans. And invoking a Puerto Rican model is anyway shameful, and the US congress recognizes the shame and is trying to move to a new and more just model.

Even supporters of Israel like the Biden administration do not try to justify the current situation, in which Palestinians are stateless and without rights and daily under attack by squatter vigilantes. They talk about transitioning to a two-state solution where Palestinians have a state in which they have citizenship.

This “Puerto Rico” suggestion is just another contemptible propaganda ploy, attempting to find a way to make the deplorable colonization of the Palestinians sound palatable to the outside world. That jig is up.

Juan Cole is the founder and chief editor of Informed Comment ; he is Richard P. Mitchell Professor of History at the University of Michigan and the author of, among others, Muhammad: Prophet of Peace amid the Clash of Empires and The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam