Still no peace partner (JERUSALEM POST OP-ED) By ZALMAN SHOVAL 06/27/12)
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Ben-Gurion realized that our adversaries’ concept of peace differed
from what he later called true peace.
As expected, another attempt to restart Israeli-Palestinian
negotiations a few weeks ago came to naught. The Palestinians again
refused to budge from their usual pre-conditions, i.e. a cessation of
Israeli construction beyond the “Green Line” including in Jerusalem;
Israeli consent, in advance of negotiations; that the border between
Israel and the future Palestinian state will be based on the 1967
armistice line (with territorial swaps); and freeing Palestinian
After meeting France’s new President Francois Hollande, Palestinian
Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas told the press that he would agree
to waive these conditions – only to reiterate them a few minutes
later, adding a new twist, i.e. to increase delivery of arms to his
But rather than dwelling on the above non-events, (and one may assume
that the forthcoming visit of Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat to
Washington will be more of the same), it would, perhaps, be more
profitable to examine the reasons why Israel and the Palestinians
actually never had genuine peace negotiations – at least as far as
the Palestinian role in them was concerned.
Walter Eytan, later a long-time director-general of Israel’s Foreign
Ministry, who conducted negotiations with Israel’s Arab neighbors
after the War of Independence, still believed, in 1949, that Israel
would sign peace treaties with its enemies within “10 weeks, or 10
months at the most,” but the more realistic David Ben-Gurion
reflected that “if we run after peace, the Arabs will demand that we
pay a price in borders or refugees or both.”
Not that Ben-Gurion did not want to achieve peace, but he realized
that our adversaries’ concept of peace differed from what he later
called “true peace,” meaning recognition not only of Israel’s de-
facto physical and legal existence, but of its moral right to exist.
Anyone with even a cursory acquaintance with the modern Middle East
could without difficulty list a host of failed initiatives, some
Israeli, some international (mostly American) to resolve the Israeli-
Palestinian conflict, but more to the point, both historically and in
terms of practical politics, one must go back to the underlying
reasons why most of the initiatives have failed. To wit, the refusal
of the Palestinians, and most parts of the Arab world to recognize
the Jewish people’s right to a national state, in a region that they
consider to be an exclusive Arab and Muslim domain.
Covertly and often overtly their refusal to recognize the right of
the Jews is coupled with the hope that the ultimate fate of the
Jewish state will be like that of the Crusader kingdom – i.e. it will
Some of them even claim that there is no such thing as a Jewish
people, and thus the Jews’ very right to self-determination is false.
This was one of the principal reasons why the Arab states refused to
sign permanent peace treaties with Israel in 1949 – deeming it an
illegitimate and temporary political entity – or to accept the
armistice line as a binding international political boundary.
Ralph Bunche, the UN mediator at the time, confirmed, in response to
an official Arab request, that “the cease-fire lines are not to be
understood in any way to be political or territorial borders.” Today
Palestinian spokespersons and others who support Palestinian
territorial demands ignore this fact.
The unfortunate but inescapable conclusion to be drawn from the long
series of failed attempts at peace negotiations is, that as long as
the Arabs, and principally the Palestinians, do not accept,
psychologically and politically, the reality and the legitimacy of
the existence of Israel as the Jewish nation state, they will not be
true partners for peace.
This does not mean that some day, and in different circumstances,
this state of affairs couldn’t change, and in spite of the fact that
at present Israel’s first priority must be stopping Iran’s nuclear
efforts, this shouldn’t serve as an excuse to diminish the efforts to
achieve peace – but it should open our eyes as to the futility of
pursuing illusionary solutions.
The basic Palestinian refusal to come to terms with Israel’s
existence was the only possible explanation for the unprovoked
aggression by Egypt, Syria and Jordan in the 1967 War. And even in
the 1973 Yom Kippur War, though it also had specific Egyptian
reasons, a senior Egyptian commander, General Abdel Mohsen Murtagi,
still told his soldiers to “conquer the land robbed from the Arabs in
Arab rejectionism began, of course, many years prior to the UN
partition resolution of 1947, but the Arabs’ refusal to accept that
decision, and the aggression that followed it, set the course for the
future. In the same vein, the Arabs balked at accepting Security
Council resolution 242 after the Six Day War because it called for
permanent peace based on secure borders.
Similar cases were the Arabs’ rejection of the proposal for
Palestinian autonomy at the 1978 Camp David conference and their
evasion of the so-called Clinton proposals in 2001. Another was the
failure of PA President Abbas (Abu Mazen) and Ahmed Qurei, then PA
prime minister, to respond to the far-reaching proposals made by then-
Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert and foreign minister Tzipi Livni
following the Annapolis conference.
Earlier, though the 1991 Madrid Conference produced an important
peace treaty with Jordan, no progress was made in getting the other
Arab players – Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians – to see peace
with Israel as a valid goal. Later, under Ariel Sharon, Israel
presented its withdrawal from the Gaza Strip, including the
dismantling of its settlements there, as a step toward peace, only to
get missiles and mortar shells in response.
But the most obvious failure in this context was that of the Oslo
accords, which granted international legitimacy to the PLO and
allowed its leaders, including Yasser Arafat, to enter
the “territories.” While the PLO had committed itself to pursuing its
goals by peaceful means, in practice terror continued and even
increased – the first Israeli busses exploding in Tel Aviv before the
ink on the agreements had dried.
There are those who remind us of the so-called Saudi peace initiative
of 2002 – conveniently forgetting that at the later Arab League
summit in Beirut, the “initiative” became a take-it-or-leave-it
ultimatum, including in such matters as the return of Palestinian
refugees to Israel and Syria’s demand that Israel withdraw from the
eastern shore of the Sea of Galilee.
The late Menachem Begin used to say that peace was “inevitable.” But
as yet, unfortunately, his prophecy has not come true.
The Arab world’s hope that Israel can be overwhelmed by war and
terror has been frustrated, thanks to Israel’s military superiority
and its strategic alliance with the US. But many Arabs still believe
they will eventually be able to achieve their goal by other means.
They tried economic boycotts – and failed. Their attempts to
destabilize Israel by overrunning it with “refugees” has thus far
Another recent tactic is circumventing direct negotiations with
Israel as well as any other diplomatic step that could be interpreted
as a final and permanent seal of acceptance of Israel by going to the
UN in order to attain recognition there without negotiations.
That too has failed.
Realizing that this gambit will probably fail again, some Palestinian
activists are now declaring that the goal should not be separate
Palestinian statehood at all, but “one state for two peoples.”
A few weeks ago The Washington Post reported that a group of young
Palestinians who view the establishment of a Palestinian state on the
territory held by Israel since 1967 as “unsatisfactory,” are calling
for the establishment of a single state encompassing
the “territories” and the State of Israel, offering equal rights “to
Jews, Arabs and those Palestinian refugees who will be allowed to
The purpose is clear: to de-legitimize the State of Israel and reject
the concept of the Jews as a nation under international law.
Extremists from the anti-Semitic left and right support the one-state
solution on the assumption that its practical consequence is not only
the liquidation of the Jewish state, but almost certainly the
physical annihilation of most Israeli Jews or, in the “best” case,
their survival as second-class citizens, as they were in most Arab
Though Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in his Bar-Ilan speech three
years ago accepted the “two-state” formula, this may not be the ideal
solution, not only because of the terrorist and irredentist threat
towards Israel, but also because it is doubtful whether the
Palestinians, with their tribal and clan divisions, plus the fact of
their existence as a separate nation being a fairly new concept, one
certainly not very well-founded in history and ethnography, will ever
be able to run an independent and autonomous state.
But one should not abandon hope for finding potential peaceful
solutions, some of which had been considered in the past, only to be
too rashly shelved.
Unilateral steps come to mind in this connection (but not in the
defective way the Gaza “disengagement” was handled), so do interim
steps or even a reinvolvement over time of Jordan.
But whatever the direction, the first step is for the Palestinians to
accept the peace option honestly and courageously – and not to go on
dragging their feet, or worse, harboring unrealistic dreams, as they
have for the last 64 years.
The writer is a former ambassador to the US. (© 1995-2011, The
Jerusalem Post 06/27/12)
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