What do the Palestinians want? The boilerplate answer is that they want their own state, and as far as this goes, it is certainly true. But the issue is far more complex than such a simple rejoinder would suggest.
The Palestinians could have had their nation as early as 1937, when the Peel Commission recommended partition — a chunk of real estate several times the size of the proposed territory of Israel. But since then, they have squandered every opportunity to acquire and consolidate a legitimate and viable political state. Few observers seem to ask themselves why this should be the case — a question so obvious as to call into doubt either the intelligence or the good faith of those who refuse to consider it. Predictably, this central question is cavalierly brushed aside by those who blame Israel, in the face of well-documented facts, for the stalled negotiations and failure of the soi-disant “peace process.”
Despite plausible misgivings, the Jewish Agency accepted the Peel plan. The Arab delegation rejected it, and such rejection has been standard practice for the Palestinian Arabs and their tribal backers — from the Woodhead Report of 1938 and the United Nations Partition Plan of 1947 (Resolution 181) right up to the present moment. Yasser Arafat turned down Ehud Barak’s overly generous offer at Camp David and Taba. Mahmoud Abbas walked away from Ehud Olmert’s equally magnanimous concessions and continues, to this day, to insist on the usual deal-breakers: non-recognition of Israel as a Jewish state and — the indisputable clincher — the “right of return” of millions of UN-manufactured refugees. In a factually distorted, historically miscontextualized op-ed written for the Guardian on December 10, 2010, Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator of the Palestinian Authority (PA), made no bones about the issue, demanding the return of seven million people, and, with them, the creation of an overnight Palestinian majority in Israel.
This is a demand that Israel cannot accept without putting itself immediately out of business, as the Palestinians are well aware. Why, after all, do they consistently ignore the historical truth? The millennial Jewish presence? The Arab late arrivals after the breakup of the Ottoman Empire who were then dubbed “Palestinians”? The binding dispensations of international law, beginning with the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916 and culminating in Article 80 of the United Nations Charter, establishing the Israeli lien? Indeed, the bloody wars against the fledgling Jewish state, which the Arab states lost? If they honestly seek de jure statehood, why do the Palestinians persist in advancing non-negotiable claims and stipulations which they know perfectly well are absolute nonstarters? Might it be that they have other intentions in mind?
Abba Eban’s famous remark that the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity is true only to a certain extent, for the acquisition of a state whose people “live side by side” with Israel (the current mantra) is not their primary goal. The opportunity they are looking for involves the abolition of the Jewish state by whatever means they can drum up. The Palestinian state they imagine is not the regional partner that Western diplomats continue blindly to promote, but a state that occupies the entire territory stretching from “the river to the sea.” This is the opportunity they are determined not to miss, and this is why they have wasted every single Ebanesque opportunity they have been presented with. Such favorable occasions were not regarded as opportunities but as checkmates, obstacles to the implementation of their real purposes.
It is true, then, that the Palestinians want a state, but it is not the state that Israel has offered to facilitate and that Western politicians perceive as the gleaming destination at the end of the road map.