I have a basic question for those who are critical of Israel’s “50-year occupation” of the West Bank and who insist on either a “two-state solution” or a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the “occupied” territories to resolve the Israel-Palestinian conflict.
A “two-state solution” with an independent Palestinian state has been repeatedly offered and rejected by Arabs and Palestinians over the past century. On at least six major occasions, the Arabs and Palestinians have rejected an independent Palestinian state living in peace next to a Jewish state.
1. Following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire (which had ruled over the Middle East for the previous 500 years) after World War I, the League of Nations granted Britain a Mandate over what is present day Israel and Jordan. In the 1917 Balfour Declaration, Britain promised the Jews a “homeland” in this territory. In 1923, 80 percent of the Jews’ promised homeland was cut out to create the Palestinian majority state of Jordan. In July 1937, the British Peel Commission recommended the division of the remaining 20 percent into two states, with Israel comprising a small enclave on the Mediterranean coast. The Jews accepted the proposal. Leaders from all over the Arab world rejected both the partition and establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine.
2. Seeking Arab support at the outbreak of World War II, the British issued the 1939 White Paper, which reduced Jewish immigration into Palestine to no more than 75,000 over the following five years just when Jews were fleeing from Nazi Germany and other parts of Europe. It also called for establishment of an Arab State in Palestine within ten years. The Arabs rejected any notion of continued Jewish immigration to Palestine.
3. Following World War II, in November, 1947, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution calling for Palestine to be partitioned between Arabs and Jews, allowing for the formation two states, the Jewish State of Israel and a separate and independent Palestinian State. The Jews accepted the plan. Arabs and Palestinians universally rejected it.
Haj Amin al-Husseini the Mufti of Jerusalem, who represented the Palestinian people, said that the Arabs did not intend merely to prevent partition but “would continue fighting until the Zionists were annihilated.”
Israel prevailed in its 1948 War for Independence against the combined military forces of Egypt, Jordan and Syria and Iraq. At the time of the 1948 cease fire, Jordan had conquered and occupied the West Bank, and Egypt had conquered and occupied Gaza – – areas that had been designated under the United Nations partition plan to be part of the proposed Palestinian State.
For almost 20 years, until the 1967 war, Jordan continued to occupy the West Bank and Egypt occupied Gaza. During those 20 years, there was no world-wide condemnation of the Arab “occupation.” At any time during those twenty years, the Arabs could have established a state of Palestine in the areas they occupied. They did not do so. During that time, there was no Israeli “occupation” of or Jewish settlements in the West Bank belying the present-day argument that it is the “occupation” and settlements that stand in the way of peace.
4. On June 5, 1967, following the massing of Arab forces along its border, Israel launched a preemptive strike on Egyptian air forces in what has come to be known as the Six Day War. Syria, Jordan and Iraq then joined the fray once again determined to drive the Israelis into the sea. Hafez al-Assad, then Syria’s Defense Minister declared: “the time has come to enter into a battle of annihilation.”
Israel repulsed the Arab attack. At the time a ceasefire was declared, Israel was in control of its own territory, plus the territories previously occupied by Jordan and Egypt in the West Bank and Gaza.
Within days of its victory in the Six-Day War, Israel signaled to the Arab states its willingness to relinquish virtually all the territories it acquired during the war in exchange for peace. Then-foreign minister Abba Eban asserted that “everything is negotiable.” The Arabs leaders, meeting in Khartoum in August 1967, responded with their now famous “three nos.” “No peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, no recognition of Israel.”
5. In 2000, President Bill Clinton convened a peace summit at Camp David between Palestinian President Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Israel offered the Palestinians approximately 95% of the West Bank and the entire Gaza Strip, plus Palestinians control over East Jerusalem, in exchange for peace. Arafat rejected the offer and did not propose a counter-offer.
6. In 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas a virtual return to the 1967 borders plus Gaza and East Jerusalem in exchange for peace. Abbas called the Israeli proposal a “waste of time” and stated “I rejected it out of hand.”
With the Palestinians having rejected every offer for a “two-state solution,” the only other possible resolution of the conflict would be a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. However, this is precluded by Israel’s experience in Gaza. In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from “occupied” Gaza. Since then, the Hamas-led government has fired more than 11,000 rockets into Israel. More than half a million Israelis have less than 60 seconds to find shelter after a rocket is launched from Gaza into Israel. Two major wars have been fought with Hamas as a result of its rocket fire into Israeli population centers.
Consequently, no rational Israeli government would take it upon itself to unilaterally withdraw from the West Bank. There is no reason not to believe that what happened in Gaza would not also happen in the West Bank. The Palestine Authority would quickly be replaced by Hamas or Isis or some other terrorist group completely surrounding Israel on all sides by enemies determined to exterminate it.
So, my question to my friends who criticize Israel. Given that a “two state solution” is not viable and a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank would be suicidal:
What would you have Israel do?
I sincerely would like an answer to this pressing question.
Steve Frank recently retired following a 30 year career as an appellate attorney with the United States Department of Justice. His articles have appeared in the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Huffington Post, The Times of Israel, and other publications.