It’s Time for Israel to Have “3 No’s” of Its Own

The Arab World’s “three no’s” have become infamous in the annals of Middle Eastern history. After being routed yet again by Israel in 1967, Arab leaders gathered in Khartoum to declare their positions on the Jewish state: no peace, no recognition, and no negotiation. They failed in this, just as they did in their wars. Egypt and Jordan both have recognized Israel and have peace agreements with it. The Palestinian Authority has some semblance of relations with Israel as well, and the Arab World is increasingly growing closer to Jerusalem. The only thing standing in the way of progress in the Middle East is the Palestinian leadership, egged on by a significant segment of the population it rules as well as by the international “New Left.” Too many Diaspora Jews and even Israelis are compromising on positions that no other powerful group or country would be. Why has part of Jerusalem been offered to the Palestinians when it will compromise our religious rights to the land, which by far predate Arab presence? Why have the same offers, more or less, been given to Ramallah time after time in negotiations when such deals keep getting turned down? Why continue to give as much aid to the Palestinian Authority when it staffs its government with open anti-Semites and history-deniers, let alone continuing to pay terrorists?

For too long, Israel has allowed the Palestinians and their supporters to dictate the narrative as if they, not Israel, won the conflict. Never in history has the defeated dictated the terms of peace or established the narrative of a conflict, and it mustn’t start now. The rejectionism of the Palestinian political establishment, be it Hamas or Fatah, has led to a needlessly-prolonged conflict that has terrorized Israelis and brought enormous suffering upon Palestinians. Hamas seems intent on continuing its campaign of terrorism to remain a relevant player in Palestinian politics, and the Palestinian Authority is intent on crippling Hamas and pursuing a diplomatic battle against Israel in the United Nations and the European Union. Israel, however, has never been in a better and more powerful position to dictate the terms of peace. The Jewish state must not–and cannot–continue to be held hostage by those who a) got the British to shut the doors on Jewish immigrants during the Holocaust b) turned down the 1947 UN Partition Plan and c) have turned down, with no counteroffer, every proposal for peace submitted by Jerusalem with Washington’s approval. US President Donald Trump has recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moved the embassy there, and cut aid to the Palestinians. The Arab World, needing Israel’s help against jihadists and the Islamic Republic of Iran, has grown bored of the Palestinian issue and seems content with meaningless proposals at the UN that they know will not pass. In addition, the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, wishes to normalize ties with the Jewish state to benefit from Israel’s economic expertise and proliferate it throughout the impoverished and collapsing Arab World. In order to create regional peace and peace with the Palestinians, therefore, it is in Israel’s best interest to submit it’s own “3 No’s” to the Arabs and their supporters throughout the world on the issue of Palestine.

No Refugees: 

In Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a pivotal scene happens where Maz Kanata tells the protagonist, Rey, a hard yet simple truth about her parents: “whoever you’re waiting for on Jakku…they are never coming back.” It relates to this case as well. There can be no “right of return” for the Arab refugees of Mandatory Palestine and their millions of descendants. Nor should Israel compensate such refugees, unless the Arab World agrees to do the same in regards to Jewish refugees who fled those lands in 1948 and onward. This is a well-known position of Israel that has been held for decades. The Palestinians cannot demand the return of millions of Palestinians to their former homes inside Israel (which would negate the country’s Jewish-majority status) and simultaneously claim to want a “peaceful two-state solution” that enables coexistence with Israel. The maps of “Palestine” held by Mahmoud Abbas and his government, display the entire Mandatory Palestine, proving, along with the refugee issue, that they have no intention of accepting their defeat in the war against Zionism or compromising with the Jews, resulting in a shared-yet-divided land. In previous negotiations, Israel was willing to compensate Arab refugees and their descendants; allow a few to return for family unification and as a symbolic gesture; and promote the right of return to a Palestinian state of the any others who wished to do so. It is clear, however, that this has become unrealistic and unacceptable over the course of the past few years. The Palestinians are politically divided, with Hamas lording over Gaza and Abu Mazen illegitimately continuing to preside over the West Bank. Who would give citizenship to returning Palestinians? Who, among the impoverished Palestinian governments that are only losing more international aid, would pay for their move and rehabilitation into society? How would this affect political stability in the Territories, given that many have become radicalized in the refugee camps provided by their host countries? If Abu Mazen is already issuing a crackdown on Hamas cells in the West Bank and Gaza (with help from the Israel Defense Forces), why would he accept refugees that likely would support this so-called “resistance movement?” Israel, also, cannot afford to accept potentially even a few hundred Palestinian refugees if they have languished (with no professional skills, especially) in radicalized refugee camps for generations. The country already is dealing with income inequality, and should prioritize eradicating poverty among its own citizens, including Arabs and Holocaust survivors.

Furthermore, this issue of “right of return” is growing more outdated and perpetuates a racist double standard, against both Arabs and Jews. First of all, the original Arab refugees of Mandatory Palestine are dying out with each passing year. The “returning” refugees would be people who grew up in different countries, knowing different flags, different dialects of Arabic, different customs and practices, than those currently residing in Gaza or the West Bank. They may have heard stories of Mandatory Palestine from older relatives, yet that society no longer exists and hasn’t for several decades, nor will it ever again. Secondly, there is a double standard involved in the refugee issue. When Israel, a newly-formed, impoverished nation-state largely made up of refugees, was forced to accept Jewish refugees from Arab lands (along with Iran, Ethiopia, and the USSR in later decades), it also struggled with intercommunal tensions and lack of funds to provide for this wave. Eventually, the Jewish state overcame its challenges and modern Israelis are increasingly of mixed backgrounds from the differing Jewish communities that arrived. The country has turned into an economic and military powerhouse that benefited from these waves of immigration. There is no call for compensation or “right of return” for the Jewish refugees and their descendants to Islamic lands, despite having suffered an “equivalent Nakba” of their own. Perhaps these calls should have been made, if the international community truly cared about the plight of the Jews as it claims to, and cares about human rights and refugees. But instead, these refugees became Israeli citizens and built a prosperous and successful country, for all its flaws. Almost none of these Jewish refugees, or their families, want to return to a broken Arab World or a theocratic Iran, especially where anti-Semitism is prevalent.  Why does the world not have the same standard for the Arab countries that have played host to Palestinian refugees and their descendants? Why is the apartheid against Palestinian refugees acceptable in Lebanon, or their bombardment and slaughter in Syria? Why should an extra arm of the UN be set up for Palestinian refugees and their millions of descendants, when there are refugees suffering in far worse conditions in Africa or Asia that receive no such extra aid? The international community has made clear that it adheres to the soft bigotry of low expectations in two respects: one is that it doesn’t expect the Arab World to be civilized, and therefore doesn’t demand the naturalization or fair treatment of Palestinian refugees in their countries. The other is that the plight of Jews does not matter, even if they are poor refugees fleeing Holocaust or Farhud. Given that the Arab World–led by Mohammed Bin Salman–is increasingly recognizing Israel’s existence and status as a Jewish state, it no longer demands a “fair and just solution” to Palestinian refugees the same way it once did. Israel needs to push a new international initiative regarding their status, now that the rules of the game have changed and Ramallah has refused former peace solutions. Israel should demand that the refugees will be naturalized in their host countries, and make adamantly clear that it will never allow any refugees back into its country. Moreover, it should recommend (particularly in private) to the heads of European states that given the instability in the Palestinian Territories, it would be in the best interest of those who wish for Middle Eastern stability to refrain from allowing them back into Gaza or the West Bank either. The “refugee camps” in the West Bank and Gaza must be integrated into the rest of the statelet and rehabilitated into towns, rather than being left to needlessly languish and radicalize.

No Eastern Jerusalem as a Palestinian Capital: 

Israel has made clear, for the most part, that eastern Jerusalem will never function as the capital of a Palestinian state. However, the definitions of eastern Jerusalem for said suggested capital are traditionally defined as the Old City and a few areas that have since become inhabited by Israeli “settlers.” Israel, along with the Trump Administration, needs to make clear the new boundaries of the Jerusalem it wishes to retain. There is no reason that refugee camps and Arab neighborhoods with no (or few) Jews should remain a part of Israel. Many of these areas become breeding grounds for terror, and hold no connection to Judaism. They are, by and large, dirty, poor, and crime-ridden, with an often poorly-educated populace. Given that Israel has its own economic problems it needs to address within its society, it makes little sense for the Jewish state to retain and rehabilitate such areas, which usually lie behind the security barrier anyways. The international community has insisted that Jerusalem be a shared capital between the Israelis and the Palestinians, yet Jewish communities on the eastern side of the capital have only grown and expanded. Israel can still fulfill this goal, however, by splitting these neighborhoods and incorporating them into a “new al-Quds” for the Palestinians. Trump’s peace plan purportedly envisions Abu Dis, along with a handful of Arab eastern Jerusalem neighborhoods, as Palestine’s capital once a peace deal is established. Arab countries are said to back him, with Egypt tacitly accepting the move and the Saudi Crown Prince not caring about the issue. If Israel accepts this, it will be making a conciliatory gesture to both the Palestinians and the Trump Administration, and demonstrating to the world–contrary to what the EU and UN seem to claim–that it does envision peace and a shared capital. But Israel will never again allow its holy sites to be “administered”–indeed, disrespected–by an Arab country the way that Jordan did during its illegal occupation of Jerusalem from 1949-1967. Just a few days ago, one of Abu Mazen’s ministers claimed that Jewish connection to the Western Wall is an “imperialist myth” devoid of history. If anyone believed that an Arab regime could hold Jewish holy sites and fairly administer them, their naivety should be put to rest following this statement. Moreover, the “status quo” at the Temple Mount must be changed so that Jews can also freely pray on what was once our holiest site. If the Palestinians claim that they “have no problem with Jews,” then there should be no issue with Jews praying alongside Muslims (or anyone else, for that matter) on the site. There can be no peace in Israel & the Palestinian Territories unless the Arabs accept us as equals–indeed, there can be no peace in the region until the Arabs accept all minority groups in the region (Kurds, Assyrians, Berbers, and Black Africans) as equal. Already, the “settlement building” in eastern Jerusalem is too advanced for any kind of withdrawal to be facilitated even if one wanted to. Indeed, a number of Jewish communities in the West Bank surrounding Jerusalem have been established, fortified, and heavily populated. A good solution to holding on to Jerusalem would be to annex to Jerusalem (and ultimately, to Israel) these surrounding Jewish communities while removing Arab neighborhoods that are useless to Israel. This would also retain Jerusalem’s Jewish character by adding thousands more Jews into the population and placing thousands of Palestinian residents of Jerusalem under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority. These Arab neighborhoods, such as Jabl Mukaber or Shuafat, could then be united with Abu Dis and other such areas into an “Al-Quds” that will serve as a capital for Palestine, and be rehabilitation with international aid money. Palestinians will be able to cross the border into Jerusalem to reach their holy sites in a similar way that Americans can cross over to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls, or that Cypriots cross checkpoints in Nicosia.

No Peace Without Recognition: 

Israel needs to make it clear to the international community that there will be no true peace with the Palestinians, or the rest of the Arab World, until the Arabs collectively recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, with the Jewish people being indigenous to the land. While Israel can and should realize that Palestinians suffered in the 1948 war and onwards, and can engage in reconciliation practices with them, peace also requires the Arab World (including Palestinians) to accept the fact that Jews suffered as well, and to end their racist incitement. This includes ending the cultural appropriation of our history in the Land of Israel, recognizing the impact of Arab colonialism on the Jews of Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East that led to oppression, and putting to rest the myth that Israel is some kind of temporary Western imperial outpost. We shouldn’t expect the Palestinians to agree with or love our claim—just as they shouldn’t expect us to do for them—but to acknowledge it and end the fake history they purport and perpetuate, which pushes peace further away and is also disrespectful. A mutual apology & acknowledgment from the Knesset and the Muqata’a could go a long way in building trust. Israel would acknowledge the Nakba and apologize for the suffering that Arabs, including Palestinians, endured during wartime, without apologizing for our freedom or Israel’s existence. The Palestinians (and perhaps the Arab League as well, separately), would apologize for decades of terrorism and anti-Semitism, while acknowledging the right of Israel to exist as the national home of the Jewish people, and the ties Jews have to the land going back for millennia. This could also be coupled with demands for a two-state solution, and an Israeli re-commitment to such a deal. But this cannot be achieved without Palestinian acceptance of responsibility for their hostile actions and a commitment to recognizing reality and history. Otherwise, Israelis are likely to trust them less.

The world, including Israel, is growing tired of the conflict with the Palestinians, and is beginning to look the other way. Despite the murmurings among those on the far-left or establishment figures in Europe, there are more pressing concerns in the Middle East and the rest of the world than the issue of Palestine, which could’ve been resolved many years ago if not for the greed and haplessness of Ramallah. The Palestinians are now beginning to realize that they’re being abandoned, and as a consequence, are suffering even more than ever. If they want to improve the lives of their people, make their cause a just one, and commit to a real two-state solution that involves living in peace besides the Jews of Israel, they must end the conflict themselves. The Trump Peace Plan, quietly already endorsed by the Arab states and Israel, is nearing its release. While the Palestinians will have lost some land, along with their vision of returned refugees and Jerusalem as their capital, they will have gained independence, peace, and a pathway to prosperity. The Israelis will also have lost some land they wished to retain in the West Bank, if it provides any consolation to Ramallah. Yet, like the Palestinians, they will gain full acceptance and integration by their neighbors, with massive economic benefits. No more Arab or Jewish children will have to die en masse or be scared of rockets or nighttime raids. But in order to reach this place that most sane people wish for, the recognition of reality that Donald Trump so often touts needs to be acknowledged by world powers and the Arabs themselves: Israel has come out on top in this conflict, and has much to offer the international community, including Arab states. The Palestinians do not, and their intransigence has made it less likely that a peace deal will be as favorable–or more so–to them than to the Jewish state. Instead of prolonging the suffering and bloodshed, Palestinian leaders should muster up the courage to leave the past behind–while still remembering it–and take a step towards a productive future. And Israel must make clear to the rest of the world that its red lines in this conflict cannot be crossed if peace is to be established. Benjamin Netanyahu’s government should commit itself to these three no’s as a way to entrench the reality of the situation and get the international community on board with the upcoming peace plan.

About the Author
Dmitri Shufutinsky is a graduate of Arcadia University's Masters program in International Peace & Conflict Resolution. He is an ardent Zionist and a supporter of indigenous rights, autonomy, solidarity, and sovereignty. He currently lives in Philadelphia, USA.