They say you don’t make peace with your friends, you make it with your enemies. Well, perhaps that is true, but what they fail to mention is that your enemy first has to have the will to make peace in the first place.
So let’s take a trip through time to see the kind of efforts that have been made towards peace in the Middle East.
We start off with the 1947 UN Partition plan, which was a UN resolution to divide Palestine under the British Mandate into a Jewish and Arab state. If you ever look at that partition plan map, it looks like some British colonel designed it by having a coughing fit while eating a scone, because the map is divided into patches of land with areas of no contiguity between them. Nevertheless, the Jews accepted it, despite its obvious shortcomings, but the Arabs rejected it. This rejection, of course, led to war.
It was also the Arab’s best chance of achieving another Arab country (because 22 isn’t enough) and having lasting peace – and all they want is peace, right? However, what isn’t mentioned so obviously is that the original Mandate for Palestine didn’t just include what is modern day Israel – it included Israel and Jordan! You see, Britain being so generous, decided to unilaterally slice off 80% of the Mandate of Palestine in 1921 and give it to a tribesman named Abdullah for helping them. Of course, nowadays that would be called a bribe, but in those days, it was a gift. Most people give chocolates for a gift, or maybe a toy for the grandkids. Britain gave 92 thousand square kilometres – and yet today they’re complaining about Israel claiming 4 square kilometres? So in effect, the UN Partition plan was about creating another Arab country in the Mandate of Palestine. But since the Arabs rejected it, that plan become dead and buried despite constant efforts by the Arabs and others to resurrect it.
Jumping ahead to 1964 the PLO was formed with its stated goal of creating an independent state of Palestine. It was then that the idea of Palestinian nationhood came into being. The most important factor to note from this is that the PLO organisation was created before the six day war, in other words before the so called ‘occupation’. This meant the goals of the Palestinians were never to create a state in the ‘occupied’ territory, or West Bank, as it’s referred to by the world, but to destroy Israel and create a state on its ruins. Although some of the tactics may have changed, that basic goal remains.
A few years later after Israel defeated the Arab armies in the six day war, Israel once again made overtures towards achieving peace with the Arab world, but the famous Arab League Khartoum conference of 1967 made it clear that there would be: No peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, any negotiations with Israel. Oooookay – so that’s pretty clear!
Jumping ahead to 1993 with a few wars in between and consistent terrorist attacks, Israel signed the Oslo accords with the Palestinians led by the Egyptian Yasser Arafat – yes, you read right – Egyptian, which recognised each other’s claims, but did not actually stipulate a Palestinian state as a final outcome. But guess what – it was all a joke! In 1994, he told a crowd in South Africa that the Oslo agreement was merely a tactical ruse in the larger battle to destroy the Jewish state. Go figure – we weren’t able to trust a terrorist – who would have thought? What a funny guy – he should take his show on the road! Oh – he did: Japanese Red Army terror group, Colonel Gadhafi, IRA…
Then in the summer of 2000, Bill Clinton mediated with Ehud Barak and Yasser Arafat and actually reached a broad peace initiative which included Israel giving up all of Gaza, most of the West Bank, no Israeli control of the borders with Jordan or the Jordan Valley. It was probably the most comprehensive offer to the Palestinians since 1947, but it was rejected again! And the reason for the rejection was simple, according to American negotiator Dennis Ross. There was a clause in the agreement that stated: This is the end of the conflict. But Arafat could not bring himself to sign it. Soon afterwards, he launched a new terrorist war against Israel.
A short time later in 2002, came the wonderful Saudi Initiative. Everyone got so excited about the Saudi Initiative as if it was the opening of a secret door that revealed the answers to the meaning of life – the Europeans were giddy, the Americans excited and the UN were drooling incoherently, but all the initiative called for was: “ full Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967… and the land-for-peace principle; and Israel’s acceptance of an independent Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital” in return for normalised relations. So in other words they wanted Israel to wind back the clock to 1949, as if nothing happened between 1949 and 2002. Now that’s a cool trick. I’ve had a few days I’d like to forget about myself. So what was sooo revolutionary about this deal – since the Palestinians rejected almost the exact same offer just two years earlier?
But before anyone says it was Arafat alone as the cause of the rejection, let’s go forward to 2008, when Ehud Olmert again offered a deal – this time to Mahmoud Abbas. This deal was similar to the one from Ehud Barak, which included dividing Jerusalem, uprooting settlements, annexing some areas but giving the equivalent land to the Palestinians. But once again – surprise surprise – the Palestinians rejected it.
So since the early days of 1947 until now, the thinking of the Arabs/Palestinians has not changed much – with the general exception of Jordan and Egypt, which did sign peace treaties despite their people clamouring for their governments to scrap them. The Arab world continue to refuse to end the conflict with Israel, because their goal was and always has been the destruction of the State of Israel. That’s why this conflict is not about land, or settlements, or Jerusalem or the right of return. It’s about tolerance and the intolerance of the Arab world to accept a Jewish state even if it consisted of just two streets and a side alley. The Palestinian leadership are honest with their own people, but not with the world at large who continue to believe that they are some kind of oppressed entity. Although it won’t happen, the world community should sit them down and say to them: Tell us what you want – what you really really want? But I think we already know the answer to that one.
Can things change? Sure – the earth was once cold, but a billion years later, it was warmer. So things can change… it just takes a little bit longer than we think.