3 laws of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

In 1687, Isaac Newton formulated three laws that became the basis of classical physics. Newton didn’t see more than what others had always seen (like apples falling from trees and objects shattering when colliding), but his genius was connecting these disparate phenomena into universal principles that explained natural motion. While Newton’s laws described events, their real importance lay in giving people a tool to improve their lives.

People have observed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for almost 100 years, but have not been able to understand its dynamics. Like those before Newton, we failed to discern a consistent pattern to plot a rational way forward. However the new peace between Israel and both the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain put into bold relief three general laws of the conflict:

  1. When the Palestinians demand everything, they get nothing.

The 1937 Peel Commission recommended partition of Mandatory Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. The Palestinian Jews accepted partition but the Arabs rejected it, so Britain dropped the plan. In 1947 the UN passed another partition plan, Resolution 181. Once again the Arabs rejected it because it allocated land for a Jewish state, and attacked Israel the day after it was established. The Jews won the war and their state, but the Arabs continued refusing anything less than all of Palestine. After winning the 1967 war, Israel again offered to negotiate peace with the Arab states, but the answer came swiftly at the Khartoum Conference: “No peace, no recognition, no negotiation.” In 1977, the Palestinians refused to participate in the Camp David negotiations with Egypt and Israel. The result: Egypt regained all the land it lost in 1967 and the Palestinians got nothing. Ditto for the 1999-2000 Clinton-Barak-Arafat negotiations, where Arafat refused all offers of territorial compromise and the Palestinians exited empty-handed. In 2008 Mahmoud Abbas rejected Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer to settle the conflict through compromise, so Palestinians continued to be stateless. Now the Palestinians have rejected the Trump plan, which includes Palestinian statehood. By rejecting compromise in each instance, the Palestinians got nothing.

  1. The more the Palestinians refuse, the less they are offered.

Palestinians have long claimed that time is on their side, and with patience will control all land from “the (Jordan) River to the (Mediterranean) Sea.” But history has proven exactly the opposite. The 1937 Peel Commission reserved most of Mandatory Palestine for an Arab state. The 1947 UN partition plan granted the Arabs 44% of that land. The 1948 armistice lines left 22% of the territory for an Arab State. After the 1967 War Israel agreed to withdraw from nearly all territories it captured in return for peace. In 1999 and 2008 Israel offered to cede to the Palestinians between 91 and 98% of the conquered territories, but the Palestinians consistently refused. The current Trump peace plan calls for a Palestinian state on 70% of the disputed territories. In short, the territory available to the Palestinians has consistently shrunk after every rejection.

  1. While the Palestinians delay accepting peace, Israel becomes stronger and the Palestinians become weaker.

Over time Israel has become more secure and accepted — now even in the Arab world. Diplomatic support for Israel is increasing, while support for the Palestinians is withering. In 1948 Israel was poor and desperately dependent on foreign aid. Today Israel is a scientific and military powerhouse, with most Western countries depending on its technology. US News and World Report ranked Israel the world’s 8th most powerful country based on its economy, politics, and military. Israel’s standard of living equals that of Western Europe, and the personal wealth of the average Israeli is higher than that of Western Europeans. In 2019 Israelis were the 13th happiest people in the world — happier than American and British citizens.

By contrast, Palestinians are at a dead end. Their economy is in perpetual crisis, dependent on foreign aid that is diminishing because countries are losing patience with principled Palestinian rejectionism. Over 90% of Palestinians believe their leaders are corrupt, while Gazans are plagued by over 50% unemployment, sewage overruns and electricity less than 12 hours/day. Palestinian politics is violently fractured between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority and is largely dysfunctional. The Palestinian Legislative Council has not met in more than 10 years and President Abbas is serving the 16th year of his 4-year term. With no realistic solution in sight, Palestinians have lost hope and many are emigrating.

These laws have clear implications: The arc of history indicates that Palestinian rejectionism has proven a quickening death march for Palestinian statehood. Furthering the interests of the Palestinian people means that Palestinians need to accept compromise and move toward peace with Israel as soon as possible. Every day the Palestinians delay making peace decreases their chances for independence in viable territory. This is why the current Palestinian strategy of anti-normalization with Israel is irrational and self-defeating.

As with Newton’s principles, these laws should be used to improve lives. Rational people base their political decisions on facts, not fantasy. While the status quo enriches Palestinian leaders, the interests of the Palestinian people lay in accepting compromise with Israel sooner, not later. Until they do this, Israel will continue to thrive while the Palestinians, unfortunately, will continue to suffer.

About the Author
Eugene Korn is the former Academic Director of the Center for Jewish-Christian Understanding in Jerusalem, and senior research fellow at Bet Morasha of Jerusalem’s Institute for Religion and Society.
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