The Choice that the Palestinians are Offering to Israel

by Max Singer

          Negotiations have begun between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, but few people recognize what choice the Palestinians are giving to Israel in these negotiations.  The substance of their position is that Israel can either continue the occupation or give up being a Jewish country.  They are giving Israel a choice, that is, between continuing the occupation or accepting defeat.

Israeli defeat is proposed in the form of the Palestinian demand that Israel admit to Israel millions of descendants of the Palestinian refugees of 1948.  The Palestinians call this demand: “justice” or the “right of return.”   Large numbers of these descendants of refugees have been kept by the Arab nations from having an ordinary life for more than 60 years for the purpose of maintaining the means of destroying Israel.  Everybody on all sides understands that Israel could not continue to be a democratic and Jewish state, as provided in its Declaration of Independence, if it had to admit millions of Palestinians.

But is continued occupation or self-destruction really the choice the Palestinians are imposing on Israel in the negotiations?  Let’s look at what alternatives exist.

The outcome of the negotiations that the Palestinians are proposing is a peace agreement between Israel and a Palestinian state which provides for the refugee descendants to settle in Israel.  The borders the Palestinians seem to be offering are the armistice lines from 1949, except that Israel would transfer pieces of Israeli territory to the Palestinian state in return for making some areas outside those lines that are heavily populated by Israelis part of Israel.  Apart from questions about the location of borders, because of the “refugees” this alternative is equivalent to the destruction of Israel.

One theoretically possible outcome of the negotiations is the end of the conflict, that is, peace, between Israel and the Palestinians.  But the Palestinians are very clear that this is something they are not willing to agree to.  No Palestinian leader has been willing to say in Arabic to other Palestinians that giving up the “right of return” is or should be a possibility.  There is no end of the conflict or peace agreement possible so long as the Palestinians insist, as they do, on the “right of return.”  So real peace is not a choice that is being offered to Israel.

The other possible outcome of the negotiations is that no agreement is reached.  This would mean that Israel would be forced to continue occupying the disputed territories, including the fraction on which the Palestinians live.

But isn’t there some other way Israel can stop the occupation?  Apparently not.  Israel can’t end its rule without the agreement of the Palestinians.  The Palestinians regard Gaza as still occupied because of Israel’s effort to prevent arms from being imported and its actions against terror attacks from Gaza.

The Palestinian leadership knows that Israel cannot end the “occupation” without Palestinian agreement.  Their status as “victim” is their central political asset, and they are not interested in any change that makes them a less-suffering victim. Therefore they say to Israel, in effect, “we will only let you stop the occupation if you agree to allow millions of Palestinians to move to Israel.”

But is it possible that this insistence on the “right of return” is only a negotiating tactic, and that the Palestinians are prepared to give up the demand if other issues are agreed upon?  No.  The discussion within the Palestinian community makes it clear that the negotiators do not have any power seriously to compromise the “refugee” demand.  No Palestinian has dared to argue in Arabic in public that it may be necessary for a Palestinian state to settle the refugee descendants.  While many Palestinians may be personally willing to make peace by agreeing to accept the “refugees,” there is no support in the Palestinian political world for such an agreement.  As of now it is not a possibility available to Israel on any terms.  This reality is also a result of the current political influence of the Middle Eastern world which is deeply opposed to accepting Israel.

The Palestinian community is saying to Israel, “occupy us or else.”  “Unless you are willing to live with the pain and condemnation of continuing to occupy the disputed territory you cannot have a Jewish and democratic country here.”

Israel needs to face up to the fact that the Palestinians are forcing Israel to continue to be occupiers, and to work harder and with more unity to reduce the human and moral costs of the occupation.  Eventually there will be change in the Arab world and a generation of Palestinians will arise who understand that Israel cannot be destroyed and that it is time for them to build a better future.