November 29 is the anniversary of the UN decision in 1947 to partition Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state. The date is remembered by the Jewish people as the recognition by the international community of the rebirth of the historic home of Jews in the land of Israel. The same date, November 29, is remembered by Palestinians as the beginning of the Nakba, the catastrophe for the Palestinian people.
Two diametrically opposed reactions to one historic event, understandably different narratives at the time, but do they have to continue to be so?
November 29 at the United Nations should be a day not for adding to the annual process of piling on anti-Israel resolutions but for bridging the gap between the two historical narratives through working positively toward a two-state solution.
These resolutions, which reinforce the Nakba theme, have not only failed to help their supposed beneficiaries, the Palestinians, they have gone a long way to assuring that their difficult circumstances remain entrenched.
There is plenty of blame to go round on all sides as to why the conflict remains unresolved. Israel needs to do more to understand that there is a Palestinian narrative. Issues such as Israeli settlement expansion and talk of annexation have made things more difficult.
It cannot be said often enough, however, that the crux of the problem lies in the Palestinian focus on the harm they believe was brought upon them rather than seeking ways to improve their lives, acquire real control over their destiny, and recognize the history of the Jewish people and their eternal connection to the land of Israel as the underlying theme of November 29. While it is understandable that Palestinians view the founding of Israel as a disaster for them, they need to come to grips with the fact that Zionism was not some colonial enterprise but the return of the Jewish people to the land that was at the roots of their origins as a people and that remained in the hearts of the Jewish people for two thousand years in exile.
In the early days of the Jewish state, there was a real possibility that the grievances held by the Palestinians and the Arab world against Israel could translate into eliminating it. The war against Israel between 1947 and 1949 was intended to do exactly that.
Indeed, David Ben Gurion barely got through a vote of the Zionist Executive council to declare the independent state of Israel on May 14, 1948 because Zionist leaders feared it could lead to the destruction of the newborn state.
When that didn’t happen, when Israel won its war of independence, there still seemed some basis in reality to believe that Israel could be strangled by other means. In 1950, the Arab League launched the economic boycott of Israel. And even as late as 1967, in the days leading up to the Six Day War, with the threats coming from Egypt’s Gamal Abdul Nasser about annihilating the Jewish state, there appeared to be an element of possibility there which frightened many Israelis and Jews worldwide.
In other words, if, during that period, Palestinians still held onto aspirations for the disappearance of Israel, even if it was counterproductive to their own well-being, there was some basis for them to believe it was possible.
After 1967, that evaporated completely and turned from a long-shot goal into total illusion.
Israel’s military strength, its alliance with the US superpower and its growing economic maturity made clear that it was here to stay. From that point on, what the Palestinians needed to hear from the world, particularly from those who claimed to be their friends, was that they need to move away from illusions toward practical solutions that would enhance Palestinian life and recognize Israel’s legitimacy and security.
Unfortunately, as we have seen at the UN and at international media outlets such as the BBC, reinforcing Palestinian illusions has been largely the order of the day, or better yet the order of the decades.
And so as another November 29 comes and goes, it is time to take another tack, to drive home the theme that Palestinians must finally seek another path, if for no other reason than for the sake of their own well-being. The fact that Arab countries like the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan are normalizing relations with Israel and the Saudis are at least talking with Israel at the highest level does not mean that the Palestinian issue has disappeared from the scene. It does mean, however, that it has to take a very different course than it has to date, one based on a realistic assessment of facts in the region and on ways to reach practical goals based on compromise and mutual understanding.