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Into the fray: ‘Palestine’ —Two countervailing hypotheses

Do the Palestinian Arabs genuinely wish to establish a state for themselves?  Or do they really wish to dismantle the state of the Jews?

 To this day, I cannot understand why the Palestinian leadership did not accept the far-reaching and unprecedented proposal I offered them. My proposal included a solution to all outstanding issues: territorial compromise, security arrangements, Jerusalem and refugees – Former PM Ehud Olmert, Washington Post, July 17, 2009

Lamentably, the international debate on the Arab-Israeli conflict, and in particular the Israeli-Palestinian component thereof, has utterly lost its direction, swerving haphazardly off course into the realm of the politically correct, shrouded as it is, by a fog of malicious, mendacious myths.

Inevitably, this has had a corrosive effect on the discourse, suppressing historical truths while sustaining heinous untruths. Of course, the overarching fiction that casts its distortive shadow over much, if not all, of the discussion of the clash between Jew and Arab for control over the Holy Land is the fatally flawed notion of a separate state for Palestinian Arabs.

Puzzling and persistent failure

Indeed, anyone still advocating the establishment of a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River—despite decades of failed attempts—must confront a decidedly irksome question:

Why have the Palestinian Arabs failed consistently and continuously to attain such a state, when many other national movements, with far less moral and material support, have succeeded — even when this involved casting off the rule of imperial powers far more powerful than tiny Israel?

Indeed, how can we account for the blatant failure of the Palestinians to meet the test of history? One should keep in mind that the Palestinians have enjoyed conditions far more benign than those experienced by almost any other movement of national freedom since WWII. These include widespread international endorsement of their cause, unmitigated support of one of the two superpowers during the decades of the Cold War—the USSR, highly sympathetic coverage by the major media organizations, and over a decade of Israeli administrations, who have not only acknowledged (but at times even identified with) their declared national aspirations.

Challenging conventional wisdom?

However, despite all these advantages, the Palestinian Arabs have failed to produce even a semblance of a stable, productive society. Indeed, quite the opposite is true.  Well over a decade after having the benevolent Oslo Accords virtually thrust upon them by an unprecedentedly accommodative Israeli administration (whose entire political platform was indeed built on such accommodation), the Palestinian leadership has done nothing but provide a repressive and regressive interim regime that produced little but the pillage of the Palestinian people.

Neither is this dismal reality the result of a lack of adequate funds. Quite the opposite is true. The unprecedented scale of the Palestinian Arabs’ failure is underscored by the remarkable – if little publicized fact – that in the post-Oslo years, the international community poured upward of five billion dollars into the Palestinian economy — making the Palestinian Authority then the highest per-capita recipient of development aid in the world!Thus, arguably, the putative Palestinian state has perhaps the unique—if dubious—distinction of attaining “failed state” status before its actual establishment.

Clearly then, there is room for the “heretical” postulation that the real underlying Palestinian Arab desire is, in fact, not the establishment of a state. Indeed, perhaps the time has come to suggest that most of the prevailing conventional wisdom regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is totally unfounded–even misguided and misleading.

Two countervailing hypotheses

In principle, there are two countervailing hypotheses by which to account for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to prevailing conventional wisdom, the fuel of the conflict is the lack of Palestinian self-determination, and all the Palestinians aspire to, is to establish a state for themselves. There is however an alternative proposition, diametrically opposed to the former – and which in light of the deeds and declarations of the Palestinians themselves – appears the more plausible.

According to this alternative explanation, the fuel of the conflict is not the lack of Palestinian self-determination, but the existence of Jewish self-determination and as long as Jewish self-determination continues, so will the conflict. Moreover, according to the alternative explanation, the goal of the Palestinians is not to establish a state for themselves but to dismantle a state for others –the Jews.

The question which now must be addressed is: Which of these two alternative hypotheses has the greater explanatory power?

The answer seems to be unequivocally in favor of the latter – for it provides eminently plausible explanations for a range of events that the former is totally unable to account for.

For example:

  • It explains why every territorial proposal, which would have allowed the Palestinians to create a state of their own (from the 1947 partition plan, through Ehud Barak’s offer at Camp David in 2000, to Ehud Olmert’s far-reaching—some might say irresponsible—proposal in 2006), never satisfied them and why all were rejected by them.
  • It explains why only the total negation of Jewish independence appears acceptable to the Palestinians, as evidenced not only by their abovementioned rejection of any viable offer of a “two-state solution”, but also by much of Palestinian rhetoric and symbolism, which invariably portrays the whole the Land of Israel, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River, as constituting part of Arab Palestine.
  • It explains why the Palestinians originally eschewed any claims for national sovereignty over the pre-1967 “West Bank” and Gaza—as evidenced by the explicit text of their original National Charter. Formulated in 1964, years before Israel had any presence in the “West Bank”, the Charter (in Article 24) explicitly refrains from any aspirations on the part of the Palestinians to “exercise any territorial sovereignty over the West Bank in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, [or] on the Gaza Strip… “—which they now claim as their historic homeland.
  • It also explains why the millions of Palestinians, the largest demographic group in Jordan, resign themselves to the non-Palestinian rule by a Hashemite Bedouin monarch, who belongs to the non-Palestinian minority in the land – clearly indicating that Palestinians are not averse to non-Palestinian rule, only to Jewish rule.
  • It explains not only why the Palestinian Arabs rejected the far-reaching generosity of the 2000 Barak proposals, but also the violent manner in which they rejected it. For although these proposals did include a proviso insisting on “end of conflict“, they were unprecedented in the concessions offered towards making a Palestinian state a feasible prospect. However, the ferocity of the repudiation by the Palestinians seems to indicate that even these were far short of their real demands. After all, if they were only marginally inadequate, it would be reasonable to expect that the Palestinians would have preferred to negotiate the details of issues in contention, rather than launch such an extensive wave of fierce and destructive violence. This is a response that seems explicable if, and only if, “end of conflict” is an unacceptable concept for them.
  • It explains why the Palestinian Arabs rejected the expansive—some might venture “excessive”—largesse of the 2006 proposal put forward by Ehud Olmert, addressing virtually all the Palestinian Arabs’ demands—see here. Significantly, Olmert’s expression of frustration, astonishment, and puzzlement, which he conveyed in a lengthy Washington Post Op-Ed, starkly underline the inadequacy of the assumption that the Palestinian Arabs genuinely wish to negotiate the establishment of their own state with Israel. He wrote: “To this day, I cannot understand why the Palestinian leadership did not accept the far-reaching and unprecedented proposal I offered them” and suggested “It would be worth exploring the reasons that the Palestinians rejected my offer. ” Indeed, it would!!!
  • It explains why the Palestinian Arabs stubbornly insist on the “right of return”, which would imply placing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians (and possibly even more), now living in Arab countries, under Israeli jurisdiction. This is a demand that really tears the mask off Palestinian intentions for it is a position hardly consistent with an alleged desire to be free of “oppressive” Israeli control… or with an equitable two-state solution.

By contrast, none of the above phenomena can be reconciled with the explanation propounded by the advocates of the conventional wisdom hypothesis.

Accordingly, one can but wonder on which of these hypotheses it would be prudent for Israel to base its future policies: The hypothesis which can account for all these phenomena; or the hypothesis which accounts for none of them…???

About the Author
Dr. Martin Sherman is founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies a member of the research team of the Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF)-Habithonistim, and a participant in the Israel Victory Project. . He served for seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli Defense establishment, and was a ministerial adviser to Yitzhak Shamir's government. Sherman also lectured for 20 years at Tel Aviv University in Political Science, International Relations and Strategic Studies. He holds several university degrees: a B.Sc. (Physics and Geology), an MBA (Finance), and a PhD in political science and international relations. He was the first academic director of the internationally renowned Herzliya Conference and is the author of two books, as well as numerous articles and policy papers on a wide range of political, diplomatic and security issues. Sherman was born in South Africa and has lived in Israel since 1971.