For the past twenty years the quest for a Middle East peace and for resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict has rested largely upon one specific strategy. We’ll call it the “End of Conflict Proclamation.”
The key to ending hostilities, so goes the theory, and the formula for bringing about an acceptance of Israel by the Arab and Muslim world, is this: Israel must strike a deal with the Palestinians that will result in the Palestinian leadership proclaiming the conflict has ended.
Israel would need to buy such a proclamation from those claiming to speak in the name of the Palestinians. But the “purchase” would result in the Palestinians declaring that, as far as they were concerned, there was no longer any basis for conflict with the Jews.
Once they proclaimed they no longer had any residual grievances or claims against Israel, this proclamation of the End of Conflict between Israel and the Palestinians would neutralize anti-Israel hostility among Arabs and Muslims. Peace would be achieved.
According to the plan, such a proclamation would de-fang even the worst Islamists and Arab fascist regimes. True, believers in this fantasy concede, the Arab regimes have never really cared very much about the welfare of Palestinian Arabs. But that will not matter once the End of Conflict Proclamation is issued. Arab regimes and non-Arab Muslim regimes like Iran and their clients would be forced by the rule of logic to end their own belligerence toward Israel.
Since their anti-Zionism had always been founded upon the supposed mistreatment of Palestinians by Israelis and the alleged denial of Palestinian rights by the Jews, the moment the Palestinian leadership itself declared that Palestinian expectations had been satisfied, the rug would be pulled out from under the feet of those other regimes in the most dramatic way. Those regimes could not logically continue to war against Israel in the name of the Palestinians once the Palestinians themselves proclaimed themselves satisfied.
Belief in the prospect of buying such an End of Conflict Proclamation has dominated Israeli policy ever since the early 1990s. It has been the driving force guiding the thinking of all Israeli governments since then, including those of the Likud and the so-called right. The immediate policy implication of the fantasy is that it is thought to be ultimately in Israel’s interests to “pay” for such a proclamation in the currency of concessions. This is true even when “payment” consists of granting to the Palestinians things no reasonable person could think they deserve.
The End of Conflict Proclamation was regarded as so important that it made no sense to quibble about its price, just as long as that price was something less than the total annihilation of Israel. The rationale for making concessions was that it was all part of the pursuit of Israeli self-interest. Even granting to the Palestinians concessions to which they clearly were not entitled would pay off because it would induce them to cooperate in the ultimate gesture to end the entire war – the Grand Proclamation.
Getting to the proclamation was the strategy pursued by the entire Israeli political spectrum, except perhaps for the far left, which has long demanded endless Israeli concessions not as a way to buy an End of Conflict Proclamation but as a means of weakening Israel, period. If a Palestinian conflict-ending proclamation ever became a feasible option, Israel’s radical left, led by the country’s tenured academic extremists, would protest against it.
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The distance to which Israeli governments have been willing to go to barter for the enticing promise of a proclamation has been nothing short of mind boggling. Successive Israeli governments, including the current one led by Benjamin Netanyahu, have agreed to the creation of a Palestinian state in territories west of the Jordan river.
Perhaps more amazingly, they have agreed to acknowledge the existence of a Palestinian people – one entitled to self-determination, to a homeland, to political independence, and even to armed security forces.
I emphasize this point because I doubt there are any serious people in Israel, even on the left, who believe the Palestinians are a people according to any historical standard. Certainly the Palestinians themselves, rhetoric notwithstanding, have never considered themselves to be a people. Palestinians are Arabs, part of the Arab nation that already controls 22 sovereign political entities spread over a territory nearly twice that of the United States.
The Arabs of Palestine are no more a separate and distinct people than are the Arabs of Detroit or of Marseilles.
Palestinian “nationalists” themselves concede the point.In an interview several years ago on Israeli television, Azmi Bashara, at the time a Knesset member but now in hiding because he is wanted by Israel for espionage and treason, said:
I don’t think there is a Palestinian nation. I think there is an Arab nation. I think that this [the term “Palestinian nation”] is a colonial invention. Palestine, up to the end of the 19th century was southern Syria.
In an earlier interview, Palestinian nationalist Zuhair Mohsentold the Dutch newspaper Trouw:
The Palestinian people does not exist. The creation of a Palestinian stateis only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israelfor our Arabunity. In reality today there is no difference between Jordanians, Palestinians, Syrians and Lebanese. Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct “Palestinian people” to oppose Zionism. For tactical reasons, Jordan, which is a sovereign state with defined borders, cannot raise claims to Haifaand Jaffa, while as a Palestinian, I can undoubtedly demand Haifa, Jaffa and Jerusalem. However, the moment we reclaim our right to all of Palestine, we will not wait even a minute to unite Palestine and Jordan.
But Israeli political leaders were so enthralled at the prospect of settling the conflict with a dramatic End of Conflict Resolution that they were willing to accept the historicity of a distinct Palestinian people. For if none existed, how could the Palestinians play the role that had been assigned to them and proclaim the end to the conflict?
The prospect of ending the conflict was so important that no one wanted to let any scruples about pretense stand in the way. If the Grand Proclamation could be obtained by means of Israel’s declaring that space aliens in flying saucers had landed on the roof of the Knesset, Israeli leaders would have been only too happy to comply.
The acknowledgement of the existence of such a Palestinian nation was not kept by Israeli leaders in reserve, as the currency for the final payment for the Grand Proclamation. It was, instead, the down payment, the first installment paid in advance by Israel, with no quid pro quo whatsoever.
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The obsession with a proclamation was so thorough that Israel’s governments were willing to go well beyond the pretense that Palestinians are a nation.
Successive Israeli governments abandoned all of the Gaza Strip, down to the last inch, to Hamas terrorists after expelling every single Jew living there.
And, denials notwithstanding, a surprising number of Israeli politicians are open to accepting at least in principle some sort of Palestinian “right of return,” quibbling only over the numbers involved. Meanwhile, Israel has repeatedly offered to grant the Palestinians the bulk of the West Bank – the term “bulk” usually ranging anywhere from 90 to 100 percent of the land – in exchange for a Grand Proclamation.
Israeli politicians have also made it quite clear that they are willing – as they were in Gaza – to expel most and perhaps all of the Jewish “settlers” living in the West Bank as part of the deal. And Israeli leaders have refused to challenge the axiom that any Palestinian state need be judenrein, containing no Jewish minority at all.
Challenging that notion would upset the grand strategy of ending the conflict via a Grand Proclamation. Why question the illogic of those who insist Arabs should have the right to live as a political minority within Israel after a peace settlement is achieved – while no such settlement can be sought unless Jews are expelled from any future state of Palestine?
Even more incredible is the fact that Israel’s pursuit of the Grand Proclamation has been so obsessive that Israeli politicians have expressed a willingness to divide Jerusalem and grant control over the shrines of East Jerusalem to terrorists and their enablers.
Even the Likud has turned a blind eye to Palestinian encroachments in Jerusalem, and, for a period of time, limited Jewish construction in Jerusalem, signaling its openness to considering Arab claims to the city as part of a deal. If the Likud has not yet gone on public record with an offer to abandon East Jerusalem, it is not because Likud leaders rule that out as a basis for a deal but rather because they know the Israeli public is not yet ready to accept that as the price for a proclamation.
The infatuation with the prospect of a grand End of Conflict Proclamation was based on shaky foundations from the start. First, it was not at all obvious that even if Israel were to strike a deal with the Palestinians that would culminate in a proclamation, the Middle East conflict would really end.
It is true that Arab regimes had long based their hostility toward Israel upon their supposed concern for the rights of the Palestinians. But if the basis for that pretense were really removed through a Grand Proclamation, who is to say Arab leaders could not find some other excuse to take its place?
Hitler’s Germany went to war supposedly out of concern for the “oppressed” ethnic German minorities in Czechoslovakia, Poland, and Lithuania. But had the respective regimes managed to strike deals with their own ethnic German minorities, leading to End of Conflict proclamations by those Germans, does anyone seriously believe Hitler would have abandoned his plans to conquer Europe?
Similarly, what would stop the Arab world from finding a new cause requiring Israel’s eradication?
But the more serious problem is that the grand fantasy of an End of Conflict Proclamation is totally unworkable because the Palestinians understand perfectly well what Israel is up to. They know Israeli strategy makes them, the Palestinians, the brokers of the deal – the lynchpins, strategically the critical players, with veto power over the entire situation.
Since Israel’s approach to conflict resolution with the Palestinians involves buying a Grand Proclamation at almost any cost, the cost will always rise. If someone needed to buy a particular Chevy from a used car dealer no matter the sticker price, the price would be raised without limit.
Knowing they have ultimate veto power over Israel’s ability to buy a proclamation that supposedly would end the conflict with the rest of the Arab and Muslim world, the Palestinians have no motivation to sell the Chevy. To the contrary, the rational strategy for them is just to let the Israelis keep making higher and higher bids, especially when those bids involve growing down payments and up-front installments.
The problem is even more severe than that. The Palestinians understand that delivering to Israel the Grand Proclamation it seeks would, for all intents and purposes, remove the Palestinians from world attention and interest. In exchange for the deliverance, the citizens of a state of Palestine would end up with a flea-bitten Third World impoverished mini-state, ruled by a kleptocratic oppressive government and raked by internal violence and barbarism.
Indeed, this clearly explains Palestinian strategy. Because Israel is willing to make virtually any concessions short of outright instant self-annihilation, the only demands the Palestinians are willing to consider as payment for the Grand Proclamation are those that would end Israel’s existence – not instantly, of course, but over a period of time.
Essentially, the Palestinians’ position is that they are willing to issue that Grand Proclamation only on the condition that Israel ultimately be governed by an Arab government; that Israel be flooded with Arab “refugees” to create an Arab population majority; that Israel be stripped of any symbols suggesting Jewishness; and that Israel change its name to Palestine.
The “two states for two peoples” formula is part of this game of pretense. It has long been the fundamental basis for seeking a peaceful resolution, but one accepted only by the Israeli government, not by the Arab world.
The Arab world is willing to consider the “two states for two peoples” formula only so long as neither of those two states is Israel and so long as neither of those two peoples is the Jews.
It is impossible to overstate the universal rejection by the entire Arab world, including by Israel’s own Arab population, of the very idea of acknowledging the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state.
The Arabs will continue to reject that idea even if Israel withdraws to its 1967 “Green Line” borders and turns East Jerusalem over to the Arabs, and even if a Palestinian state (or perhaps two, one dominated by Fatah and the other by Hamas) is formed in the West Bank and Gaza.
An Israeli politician with an ounce of common sense would understand that the Arabs’ refusal even to pay lip service to the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state nullifies the dubious promise of extracting a grand End of Conflict Proclamation from them.
The constitutional incapability of the Palestinians – and their string-pullers in the existing Arab states – to proclaim an end to the conflict with an Israel that is a Jewish Israel exposes such a hoped-for proclamation as nothing other than a dangerous, and quite possibly suicidal, fantasy.
Steven Plaut, a frequent contributor to The Jewish Press, is a professor at the University of Haifa. His book “The Scout” is available at Amazon.com. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.