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.
The Palestinians want a totalistic entity built on the debris of Israel, bordering Jordan to the east, the Mediterranean to the west, Lebanon to the north, and Egypt to the south. It is also true that they do not want a state, and the state they do not want is Israel — as the Fatah charter, like the Hamas covenant, makes abundantly clear. Neill Lochery justly remarks in Why Blame Israel? that this is the reason they have repudiated every concrete proposal for statehood in the early negotiations when Israel did not yet exist as an internationally recognized nation. That, he writes, “would have led to the establishment of a Jewish state.” The rejectionist position still holds. When Yasser Abed Rabbo, a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, offered to recognize Israel as a Jewish state on certain (unacceptable) conditions, he was immediately condemned for perpetrating a “national crime,” subjected to calls for his removal from office, and forced to retract.
To accomplish their purpose, the Palestinians will proceed by adopting one or another of various expedients, whether it be the exercise of terror, arson and intifada warfare, the practice of “lawfare” based on the canard of Israeli war crimes, the clever stoking of the international delegitimation of Israel, or the unilateral declaration of statehood with the complicity of the United Nations and the recognition of individual countries in Europe, Latin America and Africa. (Or, all four initiatives together.) Naturally, the unilateral state they envisage would be predicated on the shrunken, pre-war, 1967 borders to which Israel would be compelled to withdraw—despite the fact that these are only armistice lines drawn by a green pencil (hence, the “green line”) having no legal status as borders. They would render Israel effectively defenseless in any major conflict. The graffiti is on the wall, if we would only consent to notice.
With the 1967 borders, the Palestinians will have achieved their preliminary goal, the first step toward establishing a launch site against the continued survival of the rump Jewish state. In the process, they will continue to be abetted materially by the West, which has allowed the Palestinians to set a subliminal agenda that does not involve a compromise resolution but projects ultimate victory. It’s a solid plan with a reasonable chance of success, if Israel does not wake up to the crafty and dangerous game that is being played.
The good news is that Israel seems to be rubbing its eyelids. The new Incitement and Culture of Peace Index compiled by the Israeli government, to quote John Mowbray’s recent Washington Times article, is “filled with examples of the supposedly moderate PA government actively undermining prospects for peace.” Although Abbas stated during a White House visit that he wished Israelis and Palestinians “to live as neighbors and partners forever,” his Arabic message to a Palestinian newspaper was somewhat less commensal. He confided that he had assured the Arab League: “If you want war, and if all of you will fight Israel, we are in favor.” Meanwhile, the Palestinian Authority names streets, public squares and buildings after terrorists, indoctrinates its school children in the hatred of Israel, and glorifies “martyrdom” operations against Israeli civilians. The Palestinian calculus should be plain to all who have not yet succumbed to political delusion, cultural anomie or, let us say, to a particular racist pathology targeting Israel and Jews.
Abba Eban was wrong. The Palestinians have not missed an opportunity, since there was no opportunity to miss. On the contrary, they are, and have been for many years, in the process of preparing just such an opportunity, the so-called “strategy of slices” or “phases” embraced by Yasser Arafat to dismantle the Jewish state piece by piece until it disappears from the map. Winston Churchill said that “a pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.” One might extend Churchill’s aphorism. With regard to the Palestinians, an opportunist is an optimist who sees the future value in creating difficulties. One thing is certain. The Palestinians are no pessimists.