In the aftermath of President Trump’s announcement that the United States now recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, there has been criticism from many sources that this will only hinder the “peace process”. The difficulty with this assertion, though, is that it does not reflect a full understanding of the problem. There were arguments that this would only lead to violence – and this, in fact, has occurred, as, unfortunately, expected. This violence, however, is actually further indicative of a more basic obstacle to peace than this concern for violence expressed by those who challenged the announcement. To truly advocate for peace, one has to recognize the full narrative of what has happened and what is occurring and respond properly to the issues that are actually thwarting peace. It is this full narrative that is being ignored.
The terms, such as ‘occupation’, that are being applied in describing the present Israeli-Palestinian conflict – or, phrased differently, Arab- Israeli conflict – are often misleading. The conflict pre-dates any supposed occupation by Israel of any land in what is termed ‘the West Bank’ or Judea-Samaria. It could properly be said to have begun with the rejection, by the Arabs, of the UN Partition Plan of 1947 and the commencement of a war, by them, to try and prevent this very creation of Israel. In other words, the present conflict emerged from a violent rejection by the Arabs to what was effectively a two-state solution even as Israel peacefully accepted this proposal. A recognition of this historical reality must be acknowledged in order to fully understand the Israeli concerns in the present conflict.
The issue is not just simply the actions undertaken by the Arabs in 1947 but their position in regard to Israel in the decades that followed. Even as the Arab nations accepted an armistice with Israel in 1948, for decades, they did not, in any way, forego their commitment to war and violence. Furthermore, when they controlled holy Jewish sites, they did not treat them with respect or even allowed Jews to visit them. In 1967, as Israel found itself in greater possession of the land, two results ensued. (1) This greater territory could provide a stronger buffer to the violence to which the Arabs were still committed. (2) Jews would now have access to their holy sites — to which they were denied since 1948 – with Israel committing itself to protecting the holy sites of all religions, which they have done.
Recognition of these realities is most important in understanding the present mindset of Israel’s population. In being offered, effectively, a two-state solution in 1947, the Arabs responded violently. In being in control of Jewish sites, the Arabs acted with disregard to Jewish concerns. Matters, of course, have changed in the past fifty years, many of them in a positive way, but this starting point to the present conflict must still be acknowledged. It should be understandable that Israelis, in any movement towards peace, would want to see a rejection of violence by the Palestinians; an admission, in some manner, that the actions by the Arabs in 1947, and in subsequent years, were fundamentally ill-conceived and obstructive. They also would want to see a respect for Jewish aspirations and beliefs; an admission, in some manner, that the shameless treatment of Jewish holy sites from 1948-1967 was fundamentally retrogressive. There have been changes and developments over the years but the fundamental concerns that emerged in the beginning must still be addressed to assure that the Jews can believe any present Arab commitments.
This is what goes unrecognized by those concerned that the President’s announcement will lead to violence. Threats of violence – and violence – have been a steady response by the Arabs when they do not get what they want. So, it was when offered a two-state solution in 1947, through the past decades, until this day: this path is well worn. Even, today, as Arab entities seem to define themselves as willing to accept some present version of a two-state solution, violence is still threatened if the solution is not as they design it. Is this acceptable in what should be an atmosphere of peaceful negotiations? The fact that the Arabs are only in the position in which they find themselves today because of their previous resort to violence is irrelevant to them. And, yet, so many in the world declare that we have to be concerned about such threats without any recognition of their historical context. Maybe what would really further the peace process would be an Arab rejection of such violence and some recognition of, at least, some basis for the Jewish positions.
Any successful mediator or negotiator will tell you that success in such matters is often dependent upon some level of mutual respect between the parties. There would clearly be disagreements but there would also be some level of understanding the opposing position. My way or the highway – in this case, my way or violence – is not a good basis for peaceful negotiation. It is the very call for violence in response to President Trump’s announcement that should be the focus of the world community.