We are frequently told that the settlers and Israel’s presence in the West Bank are the main reasons why there is no peace. Yet, in the current wave of violent attacks, rather than targeting settlers in the disputed areas over the Green Line, the attempted murders of Israeli Jews have been committed in such places as Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Afula, Petach Tikvah, Hadera and Kiryat Gat as well as in the West Bank.
The recent U.N. speech and subsequent statements by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas drip with delegitimization of Israel and are rife with incitement and false claims about the Temple Mount. The Islamic Movement (Northern Branch) and Hamas have been strongly inciting violence. PA media, school curricula, and imams at mosques deny any historical connection of Jews to Jerusalem and the Land of Israel, depict Israel as a foreign colonialist presence like the Crusaders in the 12th and 13th centuries, and identify Jaffa, Acre, Haifa, and Nazareth, among others, as cities in Palestine. Is it any wonder that Jews throughout Israel are the target of attacks?
Recently, Shlomo Avineri, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the Hebrew University, and a highly respected figure on the political left in Israel, wrote a pair of eye-opening columns in Haaretz. He noted that “Most Israelis view the conflict as a struggle between two national movements: the Jewish national movement – Zionism – and the Palestinian national movement as part of the wider Arab national movement. The internal logic of such a view leads in principle to what is called the two-state solution.” He suggests that most supporters of the two-state solution assume that the Palestinians have a similar view of the conflict.
Avineri goes on, “Unfortunately, this is an illusion. The basic Palestinian position, which usually isn’t always explicitly stated, is totally different and can be easily detected in numerous Palestinian statements. According to the Palestinians’ view, this is not a conflict between two national movements but a conflict between one national movement (the Palestinian) and a colonial and imperialistic entity (Israel). According to this view, Israel will end like all colonial phenomena – it will perish and disappear. Moreover, according to the Palestinian view, the Jews are not a nation but a religious community, and as such not entitled to national self-determination which is, after all, a universal imperative. According to this view, the Palestinians see all of Israel – and not just the West Bank and Gaza – as analogous to Algeria: an Arab country out of which the foreign colonialists were ultimately expelled.”
There are numerous statements of such views in the PA media. A few examples:
“Professor Samih Hamouda, of the political science department at Bir Zeit University, presented an analysis of the research papers written by President Mahmoud Abbas on the subject of Zionist ideology…. ‘In the President’s research, the Zionist movement is not Jewish, nor does it flow from the desires of the Jews themselves. Rather, it is an imperialist colonialist movement which sought to use the Jews and to enlist them to further the western colonialist plans.’” Official PA daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, July 27, 2011
“…this state is a colonialist, settler and Orientalist state, which fabricated a historical narrative in order to colonize Palestine. ” Op-ed by Izz Al-Din As’adm Aug 20, 2014, Official PA daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida
“The two ideas – the idea of ‘the Promised Land,’ and the deceitful colonialist idea – were the main deceptive factor, meant to remove the European Jews from their nations and place them in Palestine, in order to establish the Israeli colonialist state as a front base of the capitalist West, and particularly of the US.” From an article by Omar Hilmi Al-Ghoul in Official PA daily, Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, Aug 24, 2015.
An article (2006) by Professor David Ohana of the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev states, “Arab scholars, writers and politicians have nurtured the Crusader myth of Zionism and Israelism in order to prove that Israel is a Western-colonialist entity in the Eastern Arab area. The Zionist-Crusader analogy sought to create a parallel between the Crusader colonialism of the Middle Ages and ‘Zionist colonialism’ of the Anglo-French variety.”
Even more important than the above citations is Article 20 of the Palestinian National Charter, because it is an official P.L.O. position: “The Balfour Declaration, the Mandate for Palestine, and everything that has been based upon them, are deemed null and void. Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history and the true conception of what constitutes statehood. Judaism, being a religion, is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of its own; they are citizens of the states to which they belong.”
This rejectionist mindset is not new. It explains Arab rejection of partition proposals in 1937 (Peel Commission) and 1947 (United Nations General Assembly Resolution 181), and explains the PA’s rejection of generous offers from Ehud Barak in 2000 and Ehud Olmert in 2008.
With Palestinians holding such a starkly irredentist view of Israel, tinkering with negotiating positions by making one or another incremental concession will not lead to an enduring agreement. With such a mindset, allowing the Palestinians to have control of the West Bank would, sooner or later, result in concerted mortar and rocket attacks that would paralyze Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Ben Gurion airport and the entire coastal plain. The 2014 summer war with Hamas in Gaza was only a foretaste of what lies in store from the West Bank.
At the present time, in the absence of any realistic hope for an enduring end of conflict agreement, what next? Avineri proposed a series of steps including a cessation of all construction in the settlements, dismantling of illegal outposts, incentives to encourage settlers to return to live within the Green Line, encouragement and facilitation of foreign investments in the West Bank, and so on. While some of these might attract broad support within Israel, others would not.
Avineri notes that the difficulty of finding a solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict is not unique; there are other multidimensional conflicts that have defied solution over decades. “The national conflicts in Cyprus, Kosovo, Bosnia and even faraway Kashmir have certain similarities to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.”
Regarding proposals for the U.S. Government to again take an active role in promoting an agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, Avineri believes that such an effort would be mistaken and doomed to failure under present circumstances. He reaches this conclusion after a review of past successes and failures of efforts by the U.S. to solve conflicts.
I have quoted Shlomo Avineri’s views extensively in part because he is prominently identified as a person with leftist views. Were Naftali Bennett, Danny Danon or others on the political right in Israel to write such views, they would likely be summarily dismissed by advocates of the two-state solution. Avineri concludes: “But there should be no illusion: So long as the Palestinians maintain that they are fighting – militarily or diplomatically – against a Zionist colonial and imperialistic entity, an historical compromise is unfortunately not on the agenda.”
In light of this view, which is widely held within Israel, there is an urgent need for rethinking by the Obama Administration and other American political leaders, as well as by the leadership elite of the European Union, about the feasibility and desirability of the two-state solution any time soon. If such a solution is ever to become a realistic possibility, the U.S. and key European governments must publicly press Palestinians to abandon their irredentist views. They must demand public Palestinian acceptance of Israel’s legitimacy and its right to be a Jewish majority state. They must also demand an end to the ongoing Palestinian media and educational curricula campaigns that promote rejection of Israel.
Until a sea change in Palestinian views takes hold, the most realistic political goal consistent with maintaining Israel as a democratic Jewish state is a form of autonomy in which Palestinians have increased control over their day-to-day lives, their economy expands, their governance institutions mature, but in which they cannot threaten Israel. In effect, this is maintenance, perhaps with some enhancements, of the status quo in the West Bank. Giora Eiland is an astute analyst who served as Israel’s National Security Advisor. He argues in today’s Yedioth Ahronoth in favor of judicious management of the conflict, i.e., basically preserving the status quo, instead of trying to resolve it now. He suggests some prudent limitations on settlement construction. Yitzhak Rabin, in his last speech to the Knesset in October 1995, presented his vision for a final settlement with the Palestinians. As part of that vision, he advocated an entity that is “less than a state.” It is time to return to Rabin’s approach for managing what remains an insoluble conflict.