How to explain it?
The Palestinians rejected the 1947 UN Partition Plan, and along with it an offer of statehood. They rejected offers of statehood again in 2000 (Camp David), and 2008 (Olmert two state plan).
And yet, Palestinian leaders who squandered these opportunities have for decades implored the world to recognize a Palestinian state which, they assert, has unjustly been denied their people.
The rub is, with each of these offers of statehood also came the requirement of recognizing Israel’s right to exist, in peace.
In his book “Son of Hamas,” Mosab Hassan Yousef, the eldest son of a Hamas founder, recounts the reaction of Hamas leaders to the 1993 Oslo peace accords. Although a poll showed that a vast majority of Palestinians supported the accords, Hamas leaders were concerned that the peace process might succeed. Yousef explains: “[p]eaceful coexistence would mean the end of Hamas. From their perspective, the organization could not thrive in a peaceful atmosphere.” Hamas responded to Oslo with harsh opposition, and ramped up suicide bombings.
If this sounds irrational, it is nonetheless entirely consistent with the Hamas charter, which expressly calls for the obliteration of Israel and rejects peace negotiations or any solution to the conflict, other than jihad. The U.S. correctly recognizes Hamas as a terrorist organization. The Fatah Palestinian faction, while decidedly more moderate, has nonetheless aligned itself with Hamas in a “unity government.” This, unfortunately, speaks louder than peace rhetoric.
Equally revealing was the result of Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, in 2005. The pullout of all Israeli troops and settlements did nothing to stem violence–instead, rocket attacks by Islamist extremists dramatically escalated.
Egypt and Jordan have longstanding peace agreements with Israel. The Palestinians do not. Herein lies the crux of the issue: Egypt and Jordan were willing to make peace with Israel, but the Palestinian leadership will not divorce itself from the goal of destroying Israel. The Palestinian dream of statehood is subordinated to the dream of eliminating Israel. A state, yes. A state with peace, no.
Palestinian leaders cultivate a narrative of violent struggle, by an oppressed victim. It is fueled by images of death and destruction when Israel predictably defends its citizens against repeated jihadist rocket attacks. Such images stoke the fire of hatred among anti-Semites who do not recognize Israel’s right to defend itself (or even to exist), and who do not object to the use of human shields to magnify the narrative, even as it compounds the tragedy.
Many Palestinians live in refugee camps, in deplorable conditions. The refugee problem was caused by the Arab attacks against Israel (which many Palestinians joined) in 1948. Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria–all instigators of the same 1948 war–have not dismantled the refugee camps within their borders. Between 1948 and 1967 Egypt controlled Gaza, and Jordan controlled the West Bank, yet the camps in these territories were not dismantled either; they grew in population. Since 1993 the Palestinians have received billions of dollars in aid, yet refugees in the West Bank and Gaza remain in camps rather than permanent housing. Do they use financial aid to improve living conditions and establish programs to expand opportunities for their residents?
What would the narrative be today, had the supposed champions of the Palestinian people embraced history’s offers of statehood and peaceful co-existence? The majority of Palestinians, who want peace and whose lives would surely be the better for it, were betrayed by their leaders.
It is far easier to burn down a house than to build one. Frivolous complaints are filed against Israel with ICC, the UN, and even FIFA, by the same Palestinian leaders who either support terrorism or fail to sever ties with its sponsors. They implore the world to recognize a Palestinian state, but what are they doing to build a state? Do they use concrete for constructing schools, courthouses, and infrastructure, or do they divert its use for terror tunnels? Are they working to establish a sustainable governing structure that promotes industry and jobs, embraces freedom and justice, and renounces corruption and violence?
The problem is not that the Palestinian majority lacks the desire for statehood and peace. They have suffered because the likes of Yasser Arafat, Khaled Mashal, and Mahmoud Abbas have led them nowhere. What the Palestinians lack–and have lacked for many decades–is leaders who will boldly and earnestly advocate for peace, as vigorously as they advocate for statehood.
When that changes, there can be realistic hope for peace and a two state solution.