Ralph Buntyn

In Search of an Arab-Israeli Modus Vivendi

It’s soon to be back on the table again-this notion of a two-state solution to the Palestinian problem. The only hope for mitigating and perhaps in time defusing the Arab-Israel conflict lies in the acceptance of a policy of coexistence and a sincere desire for a durable solution. Is it even possible for Israel to achieve such a goal with a present Arab partner unwilling to even make their peace with Israel’s existence?

It didn’t necessarily begin this way.

There was at least a history on the part of the leadership of several Arab states of a measure of acceptance of Zionism. At the time of the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, Emir Faisal bin Al-Hussein, leader of the Great Arab Revolt during the First World War, signed an agreement with Chaim Weizmann, President of the Zionist Organization, calling for cooperation between “the Arab State and Palestine.” It’s interesting that the Emir considered Palestinians to mean Jews then.

To Felix Frankfurter of the American Zionist delegation Faisal wrote: “We Arabs, especially the educated among us, look with the deepest sympathy on the Zionist movement” and “We wish the Jews a most hearty welcome home.”

In July of 1951 King Abdullah of Jordan was gunned down by a “Palestinian” for planning to make peace with Israel. Years later his grandson, King Hussein I, entered into a peace agreement with his Israeli neighbors.

On October 6, 1981, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who dared enter into a peace agreement with Israel in 1978, was assassinated by the enemies of peace. Forty-six years later the peace agreement still exists.

Breakthroughs can happen, we tell ourselves, as we hope for a Palestinian Sadat to emerge.

Since the early 20th century, it has been clear that the only way to satisfy the competing demands of Jews and Arabs in Israel/Palestine was to divide the land. For more than 70 years, since Britain’s Lord Peel first proposed partitioning Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state, the Jews have accepted a two-state solution to the conflict.

A brief review reflects multiple failed attempts.

The Peel Commission Plan of 1937 heavily favored the Arabs. The British offered them 80% of the disputed territory, the Jews the remaining 20%. Despite the tiny size of their proposed state, the Jews voted to accept the offer, but the plan was rejected by the Arabs. In 1938, the British declared the plan unimplementable.

In November 1947, the United Nations voted to establish two states: one Jewish; the other Arab. Again, the Jews accepted a compromise that left them with a national home in less than 20 percent of the area originally promised to them by the British. The Palestinians rejected the offer of an Arab state and joined five other Arab countries in an all-out war to exterminate the Jews. They lost.

The 1967 conflict, known as the Six-Day War, ended in a stunning victory for Israel. Jerusalem and the West Bank, as well as the area known as the Gaza Strip, fell into Israel’s hands. Israel immediately offered to return most of the territory in exchange for peace. The Arabs responded to Israel’s peace overture with three no’s. “no peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, no recognition of Israel.” Again, a two-State solution was rejected by the Arabs.

In 1993 and 1995, Israel and the PLO signed the Oslo Accords with the aim of creating a Palestinian state within five years. Israel agreed to gradually withdraw from most of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Finally, it seemed peace might come.

At the July 2000 Camp David summit, Israel Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat the mother lode of concessions as part of a comprehensive peace arrangement. He offered to withdraw from 97 percent of the West Bank and 100 percent of the Gaza Strip and agreed that Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem would become the capital of the new state. The Palestinians would maintain control over their holy places and have “religious sovereignty” over the Temple Mount.

Despite the unthinkable concessions, Yasser Arafat rejected the proposal without even making a counteroffer. Arafat, according to the chief U.S. negotiator Dennis Ross, was not willing to end the conflict with Israel. The Palestinians subsequently instigated a five-year war of terror (the so called “al-Aqsa Intifada”) that claimed more than 1,000 Israeli lives.

In 2008, Israeli PM Ehud Olmert offered Arafat’s successor as PLO Chairman and PA president Mahmoud Abbas a sweeping peace proposal. Abbas rejected it outright. The Palestinians refused Olmert’s offer because they found his unprecedented territorial concessions insufficient and because they insisted on the right to manage the holy sites in Jerusalem in place of the Jordanians.

As recently as the Trump administration, a “Deal of the Century” was proposed for strengthening the Palestinian economy and creating a Palestinian state in roughly 70 percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza. Israel supported the economic plan and the peace initiative but with some reservations. The Palestinian Authority boycotted the conference to discuss the economic plan and rejected the peace initiative. For most of the Trump administration, Abbas refused to engage with U.S. officials.

So, for over 75 years of the history of negotiations Israelis have accepted the reality and repeatedly made and offered compromises.

Citing the familiar words of psychologist and television personality Dr. Phil McGraw, “How’s that working out for you?”

The consistent and enduring Palestinian rejection of any and all peace initiatives, most recently the “Deal of the Century,” calls into question any commitment on behalf of the Palestinian leadership to establish a formal peace with the State of Israel.

And yet we seem to be headed back to the table soon for another go at this “two-state” solution to the conflict. “From the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free” is proving to be a difficult strategy for compromise.

About the Author
Ralph Buntyn is a retired marketing executive for a Fortune 500 company. He is executive vice-president and associate editor for United Israel World Union, an 80 year old Jewish educational organization dedicated to propagating the ideals of the Decalogue faith on a universal scale. An author and writer, his articles and essays have appeared in various media outlets including The Southern Shofar, The Jerusalem Post, and the United Israel Bulletin. He is the author of "The Book of David: David Horowitz: Dean of United Nations Press Corps and Founder: United Israel World Union."
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