How False Assumptions Prevent Israeli-Palestinian Peace
JNS.org – A 2016 clip of then-secretary of state John Kerry claiming there will be no separate peace between Israel and the Arab world before an agreement is reached with the Palestinians has not aged well — especially in the wake of recent normalization agreements signed between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain.
The absolute certainty of Kerry’s view — which has been shared for decades by many US politicians and most Middle East diplomats and pundits — stands in stark contrast to the reality that has been bubbling beneath the surface for some time. With Kerry’s theory now disproven, it is clear we have been fed many other false paradigms and slogans about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
If the United States, Israel, the Palestinians, the Europeans, and the Arabs wish to resolve this conflict peacefully, it’s worth revisiting and recalibrating many assumptions. Let’s start with some of the most egregiously inaccurate claims and the real facts behind them.
False Assumption No. 1: The primary Palestinian goal is self-determination and a state of their own.
This is the focal point of so much deceptive thinking about the conflict. Ironically, it does not pass even the simplest historical scrutiny. The Palestinians, or the Arabs of Mandatory of Palestine, were offered a state on several occasions over the past century, beginning in 1937 when the Peel Commission offered to create an Arab State on more than four-fifths of the territory of Mandatory Palestine, leaving the Jewish state with a tiny sliver of the coast around Haifa.
The Arabs were later offered a state in 1947, 1967, 2000, 2001, and most recently in 2008, when then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered 100% of Judea and Samaria and Gaza, with some minor land swaps. Each time the Palestinian leadership said no because it would have necessitated recognizing Jewish national rights.
In fact, all evidence indicates that the Palestinian leadership nurtures an obsession with destroying Israel more than they seek a state of their own, and for this reason are unable to accept a peace treaty that requires they give up this goal.
False Assumption No. 2: The Palestinian issue is the crux of instability in the Middle East.
This myth is easy for many in the West to digest because of the massively disproportionate attention the Israeli-Palestinian conflict receives in mainstream media. However, the facts simply do not tally with the theory. The Shiite-Sunni rivalry has been raging for centuries, with millions of casualties, and still remains a foundational point of so many regional conflicts, such as those in Yemen, Lebanon, and Iraq. In fact, since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, more than 13 million Muslims have been killed in regional conflicts — 90% by other Muslims — and fewer than 1% in the context of the wider Israel-Arab conflict.
The circumstances that created the Arab Spring — namely that the people of this region are oppressed by their autocratic governments and suffer crushing poverty — has no relationship to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In fact, tension in the Holy Land has long been used to distract the region’s people from their daily political and economic plight.
Historical evidence over the last century, even up until this last month, indicates that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is low on the list of causes of discontent in the Middle East, and serves to divert attention from the region’s many ills.
False Assumption No. 3: The conflict is territorial and not ideological.
In 2008, when Olmert offered Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas 100% of the territory, half of Jerusalem, the holy basin, and a solution for refugees, the Palestinian leader balked at the offer — because he would have to sign end to all claims and conflict clauses. Abbas has further stated on numerous occasions that he will never recognize the Jewish people’s right to self-determination and has refused to enter negotiations because of this one simple demand.
Moreover, despite repeated United Nations and Palestinian protestations, as well as volumes of media criticism, Jewish settlements have never been an impediment to an agreement, because they sit on less than 2% of all Judea and Samaria. Even when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu placed a complete moratorium on building in settlements in 2009 — specifically to demonstrate that this is indeed a “red herring” issue — Abbas still refused to enter negotiations, thus proving the point.
In fact, borders and territorial issues have never been a sticking point during any negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority — rather it’s the Palestinian obsession with expelling Jews from “Muslim land” that sustains the conflict.
False Assumption No. 4: The Palestinian leadership is ready for negotiations and compromise.
Despite Netanyahu’s frequent declarations that he is ready for negotiations at any time in any place, and that all issues remain on the table, Palestinian leaders have not even responded. Regardless of whether there is a more or less friendly incumbent in the White House — or in the Israeli parliament — the Palestinians have retained their all-or-nothing position.
In fact, since 1993, when the peace process officially began, the State of Israel’s position has evolved and progressed massively towards the Palestinian position. Compromises and concessions have been provided, such as Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005, recognition of Palestinian national rights, and full autonomy for the Palestinian people. Nevertheless, the Palestinian position has not moved one inch in more than 27 years and has arguably regressed to a more militant one.
In fact, there is absolutely no evidence that the current Palestinian leadership has any interest in or willingness to end the conflict — they have refused all local and international attempts to bring them to the negotiating table.
False Assumption No. 5: Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria — the so-called “occupation” — is the cause of the conflict.
For this reasoning to be accurate, it must follow that before 1967, when Israel first liberated Judea and Samaria and started to rebuild communities in the Jewish people’s historic homeland, there was no conflict. We know from history that this is blatantly false. The conflict began at the start of the 20th century with the rise of practical Zionism — the movement to reestablish Jewish sovereignty in its ancestral, indigenous homeland.
The war by Arabs against this justified, moral, and legal cause predated not only Israel’s presence over the Green Line, but also Israel’s establishment in 1948. Jews were brutally attacked and murdered en masse beginning in the 1920s, half a century before a single settlement was built.
In fact, groups like the Palestinian Liberation Organization and Hamas state openly in Arabic that the conflict has nothing to do with Israel’s presence in Judea and Samaria. They oppose Jewish sovereignty itself, or in the case of Hamas, they are waging a war against Jews everywhere.
In conclusion, the myths that Israel is blocking peace, that “occupation” or “settlements” are the core of the problem, or that Middle East peace depends on a resolution between Jews and Palestinians, have all thankfully been laid to rest in the wake of recent peace breakthroughs. In fact, the Palestinians’ leverage has been dramatically reduced. At a minimum, they will have to recognize the Jewish state. They should also consider coming to the negotiating table soon in the hopes of harnessing the region’s new appetite for peace with Israel. It may be their only chance for an independent state.
James Sinkinson is President of Facts and Logic About the Middle East (FLAME), which publishes educational messages to correct lies and misperceptions about Israel and its relationship with the United States.