Irving Kristol said that whomever the Gods want to teach humility they first tempt to resolve the Middle East conflict.
Solving this conflict has been so difficult because it has always been misconstrued. As a result of confusion about the conflict’s nature, the solutions that were nevertheless tried, such as the Oslo agreement establishing the Palestinian Authority, or Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, resulted in costly failures. The suffering of Israelis and Palestinian Arabs increased.
The most common approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict, held by the well-connected Peace Now camp, holds that the conflict is about nationhood and territory. It blames Israel for the conflict, claiming Israel’s reluctance to fully withdraw its settlements from the West Bank (it did from Gaza) denies the Palestinian Arabs a contiguous territory and enough living space to assert their sovereignty.
This must be why the Obama administration seems to believe that pressuring Israel to immediately accept a Palestinian Arab state and to withdraw to the 1967 boundaries will bring about peace. Obama seems determined to take serious risks to pursue what he believes is a strategic imperative and a moral duty. Indeed, the two-state solution seems like the decent and rational solution to the conflict. But there are many serious doubts about its feasibility.
Advocates of the two-state solution consider themselves political realists. But they always stress the historical and judicial justification for establishing a Palestinian state. They see it as not only politically necessary but an absolute moral imperative, doing justice to a dispossessed people.
But should not the establishment of such a state–which the Europeans so strongly promote–adhere to the European Union’s 1993 Copenhagen Political Criteria for new members, which states, “Membership criteria require that the candidate country must have achieved stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, rule of law, human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities”?
Clearly a Palestinian Authority state will not even remotely meet such criteria. What moral justification is there, then, for forcing a vulnerable Israel, threatened by an irredentist Palestinian state, to help establish it when a powerful European Union refuses to take much smaller risks in the case of Turkey?
While Israel has impeded the evolution of Palestinian Arab society toward statehood, it is not the major culprit. Until Oslo, relatively free economic interaction between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs resulted in spectacular economic growth in the West Bank and Gaza. This created an informal peace process that greatly improved Arab life and promoted a Palestinian civil society committed to peace.
But external economic setbacks compounded by increasing Israeli bureaucratic oppression reversed this prosperity. Increasing Arab frustration finally exploded in 1987 in a popular uprising that led to the 1993 Oslo accords. The Palestinian Liberation Organization, a terrorist organization, was invited to set up a Palestinian Authority as a preparation for an independent Palestinian state living in peace beside Israel.
But Arafat’s Authority was not interested in living in peace with Israel; it wanted to destroy it. Arafat gladly sacrificed Palestinian welfare, even lives, for this purpose. Ruining the Arab economy and using a totalitarian propaganda campaign to blame Israel for Palestinian misery, Arafat exploited Arab anger to escalate the conflict.
He succeeded because the conflict between the Palestinian Arabs and Israel is only superficially about nationhood and territory. Since the 1948 partition of Palestine, British Mandate Arabs had several opportunities to create an independent state. Jordan and Egypt ruled the area until 1967; recently, they could have done so after Oslo, after the Gaza withdrawal. But they did not, because they were intent on first destroying Israel.
As long as this is so, granting the Palestinian Arabs a state will not result in peace, but in continued war.
As for the historic and legal claims for a Palestinian Arab state, the argument that the Arabs seek the restoration of “stolen Palestinian lands” is sheer fabrication. The area of the former British mandate of Palestine (which included Jordan) was for centuries under the Ottomans an empty, deserted land.
Private rights never amounted to more than 4% of the land; 96% remains to this day mostly arid and government-owned. Palestine, as Mark Twain found it in 1860, was an empty “prince of desolation.” There was not even a Palestinian people–the few inhabitants considered themselves Syrian.
Palestine became a “promised land” again only after Jewish pioneers, in the second half of the nineteenth century, miraculously revived it, making it the most developed land in the region. It was then also that, as a result of their clash with Zionism, the Arabs started identifying themselves as Palestinians. So much for their “stolen” rights.
The claim that “illegal settlements” are an obstacle to peace is absurd too. Jewish settlements occupy less than 4% of the West Bank territory, mostly constructed on deserted government land. The reason the Arabs want them removed (but not Arab settlements in Israel) is that their radical leadership cannot tolerate any Jews living among them. All Arab lands were ethnically cleansed after 1948, forcing more than 1 million Jews to flee countries in which they had lived long before the Muslim occupation.
The Arabs’ struggle to retrieve “stolen Palestinian lands” is really an attempt to get rid of all Jews in the Middle East. The Palestinian Authority maps of Palestine never mark an area as the state of Israel, and their leaders refuse to recognize the Jewish right for a national state.
International law too does not support Arab claims to a state in former Palestine. The last international adjudication of the rights to this territory took place in the post-World War I peace conference in San Remo, Italy. The victors generously granted the vast former Ottoman territories to newly formed Arab states (like Arabia, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq). Less than 1% of these vast territories were to be given in trust to the British to establish “a Jewish national home.”
The League of Nations decided that the Jews had a stronger legal claim to Palestine, their historic and national homeland. The Arabs, represented by Emir Faisal, agreed. They were happy to receive huge areas of land for such a small price. Fiasal welcomed the Jews back to their homeland. Only later British colonial machinations incited the Arabs to renege on this fantastic (for them) deal.
The conflict persists because the Arabs, and the Palestinians in particular, cannot forget their 1948 defeat by the Jews. It is a blot on their honor that only the destruction of Israel can wipe out.
But the greatest difficulty in the immediate establishment of a Palestinian Arab state is the unlikelihood that it can be established and maintained right now. It is not by accident that the Arabs missed several opportunities to establish such a state.
The creation of yet another dysfunctional Palestinian Arab state will not only mortally threaten Israel, its irredentist nature will inflame the region. As importantly, it will continue making the personal and communal life of Palestinian Arabs unbearable. Remember what happened in Gaza after Israel vacated it: the wanton destruction of the hot houses Israel left behind to enable the Gazans to make a better living from agriculture; the rule of oppression and mayhem Hamas has instituted in Gaza; the continued impoverishment and immiseration of their hapless citizens. Is this the kind of government America wants extended to the West Bank?
But this will inevitably happen as a result of the premature formation of a Palestinian state. Within a very short time, it will disintegrate and be taken over by the extremist Hamas movement.
As in Gaza, a Hamas West Bank government, an Iranian proxy, will quickly launch missile attacks against Israel. From the West Bank, however, the missiles will not hit a sparsely inhabited Negev but the densely populated heartland of Israel, the greater Tel Aviv metropolitan area. They will hit Israel’s only links to the world, Ben Gurion International Airport and the ports of Haifa and Ashdod.
Eventually Israel will be forced to go to war and re-occupy the West Bank. Such a campaign, as the recent Israeli Gaza operation demonstrated, will involve bloody fighting in densely populated areas, many casualties and great destruction. It won’t spare the civilian population. … This is surely not what the “realists” want, but can they honestly dismiss the probability that this may happen?
Chances that advocates of a Palestinian state will be convinced by such arguments are small. It is hard to dispel faith with facts. President Obama and his advisers seem convinced that they will succeed where others failed.
Israel may have to accede to Obama’s demands. But since there are great risks involved in the two-state solution, it would be fair for Obama to assure Israel that the U.S. will protect it from its serious consequences, should they unexpectedly materialize, as they have in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Daniel Doron is president of the Israel Center for Social and Economic Progess.
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