Misunderstanding the Palestinians

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Exactly what opportunity is being missed?

Both before and since the creation of Israel, a series of proposals for an Arab/Palestinian state have all been violently rejected by the Arabs/Palestinians. This has produced regular repetitions of the observation that they “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”. Behind this sarcasm is the assumption that an Arab/Palestinian state is the primary Arab/Palestinian aim. The impression given by this view is that the apparent Arab/Palestinian failure to seize any of a succession of opportunities represents an example of serial ineptness.

The repeated rejection of statehood by the Arab/Palestinians stands in sharp contrast to the Jewish example. In 1947, United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181 proposed a way out of the Arab-Jewish conflict in Palestine. Although the proposal for a small Jewish state alongside an Arab state was far less than previously promised by the Palestinian Mandate, the Jewish leaders in Palestine immediately accepted. In comparison, the repeated refusal of the Arab/Palestinians to grasp similar opportunities seems explicable only by incompetence.

Serial incompetence or serial misunderstanding?

Unfortunately, this explanation misleads as to the true nature of the opportunities allegedly missed. It represents a typical western view of how negotiations and compromise should proceed and a western view of what the Arab/Palestinians should want. In reality, the explanation for the repeated rejection of statehood is neither inexplicable nor due to Arab bungling. The key factor in all the alleged missed opportunities has been that the opportunity of an Arab/Palestinian state was linked to the acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state with secure and recognised borders. This is what was repeatedly rejected.

In other words, while memorably sarcastic, the remark does not help understand that the main opportunity sought by the dominant Arab/Palestinian narrative is not a state. Its first major aim was to reduce or eliminate Jewish influence in the region and to prevent the re-establishment of Israel. After the creation of Israel, its main aim became to destroy the Jewish state and restore Arab-Muslim dominance. As long as this continues to be the prime aim, a lasting peace settlement of any kind will be impossible.

No Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish State

From a common western way of thinking, this is so incredible as to be scarcely believable. Hence there is a constant misunderstanding of the nature of the conflict and its resolution. It also means that the comments about missed opportunities would be better directed at Israel which has simultaneously missed and mistaken opportunities. Operation Cast Lead demonstrated the first.

Misguided attempts to reach ‘disengagement’ agreements with the PA without the 3-core conditions, recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, secure and recognised borders and the elimination of the terror organisations, demonstrate the second.

In other words, to denigrate the rejection of opportunities for statehood by the Arab/Palestinians as repeated acts of incompetence is to miss the point. From the point of view of their narrative, each of the alleged missed opportunities involved the unacceptable step of recognising Israel as a Jewish state. This is a step-too-far for both the main Palestinian political wings, Fatah/PA and

Hamas, as their leaders never tire of repeating. To accept Jewish national rights would be to deny their own exclusive claim. It would mean an acknowledgement that there is more than one narrative. It would mean acknowledging that two nations are in conflict and consequently there are two sets of rights to be considered.

This is what relegates the achievement of a successful peace agreement to the fringes of possibility

To put it another way, the recognition of Jewish national rights would be a critical step towards a solution to the conflict. The reason is that the recognition of those rights would enable them to be taken into consideration, along with Palestinian national rights, for a peace agreement. In reality, recognition of Jewish national rights is an absolutely essential step towards a possible compromise and a win-win solution to the conflict. Without it, the possibility that an agreed peace agreement is achievable is relegated to zero.

In other words, the denial of Jewish national rights is much more than a mere expression of tradition or an insistence on the right of return for the Palestinian ‘refugees’. It is an assertion of an exclusive and on-going Arab/Muslim claim to dominate the regions. It is a stand against any final peace settlement that requires recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. It is a stand against any non-Arab, non-Muslim state in the Middle East.

Enhanced intransigence

A new and dangerous factor giving strength to this belief is the current drive by Iran to acquire nuclear weapons. By a combination of deceit, delays and aggressive diplomacy Iran has so far successfully secured an ineffective response from the international community. In tandem with North Korea, this has provided it with the valuable political space and time to continue its development of nuclear materials, weapons and missiles. Unless stopped, Iran will soon be armed with nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them to an area far wider than the Middle East.

It is not difficult to see that the impact of this development on Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria will not be to copy Sadat and abandon their chief ally to reach an accommodation with Israel. Instead, it will boost their intransigence by providing them with an even greater measure of hope and encouragement. It will embolden them by providing the confidence that in Iran they have an invincible supporter. It will tell them that they can win without the need for any temporary compromise deal with Israel or any Sadat-like about-turn against their view of the world or their own history or theological inspiration. In short, the acquisition by Iran of nuclear weapons will make the region an even more dangerous place and a lasting peace settlement even more difficult and remote.

Exit strategy?

Given these hostile conditions and alarming developments, Israel needs to be capable of a wide range of defensive measures. Therefore, why should it agree to take on board a whole set of new dangers such as a Palestinian state that could be used as a base for further assaults on its existence? Why should Israel risk having on its border a dysfunctional Palestinian state linked to Iran and Syria which could be used for terror attacks against it from a more deadly proximity? Why should Israel risk another and more deadly Gaza? In short, why should Israel agree to a massive increase in the dangers it faces? Yet without the 3-core conditions this is exactly what many are proposing.

The inescapable conclusion is that despite decent and well-meaning desires for peace, there is no hope whatever for a lasting agreement based on a Palestinian state of any shape or size alongside Israel. This will remain the case as long as the dominant narrative of the Arab/Palestinians places greater priority on the denial and destruction of Israel rather than on the achievement of a Palestinian state. To proceed with a trance-like fixation on the 2-state solution as if this were not the case is misleading and highly dangerous.

But Israel can no more afford to conduct its politics and diplomacy in a trance than it can afford to be tired. In a long war of attrition the side with the largest numbers and the greater capacity and willingness to accept casualties has an advantage. Therefore, Israel must counter this by superior politics and diplomacy. This is why, alongside military measures, Israel absolutely must combine an assertive rights and claims-based diplomatic, political and legal drive to win the war of the narratives and provide an exit strategy from the standard 2-state solution

In other words, this means that Israel must muster all its available resources to win the war that is forced onto it. It means that there is not an alternative that can somehow avoid dealing with Hamas and with Hezbollah. This will be the best option both for Israel and those Palestinian moderates for whom the achievement of Palestinian statehood is more important than the elimination of Israel.

Real & zero peace prospects

Peacemaking requires that the Arabs accept Israel. There are two fundamental reasons for this. The first is to recognise the reality that the Arab/Muslim claim is not the only one; that they do not have a monopoly or exclusive right to nationalism in the region. This would acknowledge the justice of taking account of Jewish national rights.

The second is the practical recognition that Israel is not going to be defeated. If the Arab/Palestinians were convinced of this it would be an excellent motivator for them to reach the best agreement they could get with Israel. That is, it would be a reason grounded in realism which would make possible a negotiated permanent peace. By contrast, the war to defeat Israel will continue as long as the conviction continues that Israel can be defeated.

Currently, there are strong reasons for the continued strength of this conviction. They have God on their side, a history of regional dominance, a belief that the region is theirs by right, a wealth of Arab, Muslim and international support, a lifetime of anti-Jewish indoctrination, an abundance of fanatical young men, the backing of an imminent nuclear power and clear signs of weakness in Israel and of international support for Israel.

These are not compelling reasons to abandon the struggle and reach what to them would be an unnecessary and humiliating agreement with Israel. Therefore, as long as this continues to be the case, any agreement will only be an interim, temporary and unstable phase in the on-going struggle to eliminate Israel. Only when the Arab/Palestinians see the injustice in their exclusive claim and/or no longer believe that Israel can be eliminated will a permanent peace agreement become possible.


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