A window of opportunity to end the Arab-Israeli conflict

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The Israeli flag flies over the West Bank “settlement” of Efrat near Jerusalem.

Every so often, a brief window of opportunity arises to resolve what were once thought to be intractable conflicts. A perfect storm of circumstances between 1987 and 1991 led to the end of the seventy-year old Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States. The seemingly never-ending civil war between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland was resolved in 1998 after the construction of a “peace wall” separating warring factions.

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“Peace Wall” separating the Catholic and Protestant communities in Belfast.

Today we face one of those rare moments in history. A window of opportunity is opening that can effectively end the century-old bloody conflict between Arabs and Israelis or, at least, seriously deescalate the strife. Over the coming months, the Trump administration will reveal its “Deal of the Century” a proposal to end the conflict. Regardless of what the deal proposes (and to date, no one really knows), the Palestinians will reject the plan. In fact, they already have already done so – – even before the plan has been disclosed. This, in turn, will provide the Israelis an opportunity to extend Israeli sovereignty over some or all of the West Bank, a pledge Prime Minister Netanyahu made in the run up to Israel’s recent elections. It is then likely that the Trump administration will recognize Israel’s annexation as it recently did with regard to the Golan Heights. Indeed, administration officials already have made clear that annexation is not inconsistent with its proposed plan.

All of this was inevitable and predictable. For over a century, the Arabs have fought wars of extermination to drive the Israelis into the sea, in formal wars in 1948, 1967, 1973, and in unending acts of terror, most notably the Second Intifada in 2000-02 which claimed the lives of over 1,000 Israeli civilians, the population equivalent of 50,000 American lives. They have repeatedly rejected generous offers of “land for peace,” with their own independent state in the West Bank in 1937, 1948, 1967, 1993, 2000, 2008, and 2013.

This consistent history of Arab violence and rejectionism has, by now, put at end to the fantasy of a “two-state solution,” with Israelis and Palestinians living side by side in peace each in their own independent states. It has become apparent to anyone that, based on the historical record, the Arabs do not seek a two-state solution. Rather they single-mindedly seek the destruction of the State of Israel. In today’s parlance they routinely chant for the “liberation” of Israel “from the river to the sea” (from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, which includes the West Bank and all of present day Israel).

What will inevitably play out over the next few months will certainly not satisfy everyone and is unlikely to end all violence in the area. However, it is a necessary first step to put this conflict behind us and allow the parties and the world to move on. Many of history’s long-fought conflicts appeared to be irresolvable. But once they were resolved, either through defeat in war, a peace agreement, or the building of peace separation fences, even if some issues remained unsettled, the conflicts faded from the historical conversation. After all, who today talks about what was once called “the troubles” in Northern Ireland and which dominated the news for decades?

“We can’t miss this historic opportunity,” said West Bank Binyamin Regional Council Chairman Yisrael Gantz. “It is doubtful it will happen again.”

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“Peace Wall” in Bethlehem.

About the Author
Steve Frank is an attorney, retired after a thirty-year career as an appellate lawyer with the United States Department of Justice in Washington, D.C. He sits on the Board of Directors of the Lawfare Project which fights anti-Semitism throughout the world. His writings on Israel, the law and architecture have appeared in numerous publications including the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, the Times of Israel, the Jerusalem Post, and Moment Magazine.