The loss of the Palestinian dream

Israel’s legendary Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr. Abba Eban, said long ago that the Arabs missed every opportunity they had to realize their dream. In the interest of historical justice it should be said that their window of opportunity was not big. It was a small window that opened at the time of the Oslo Accords despite the many difficulties and mistrust on all sides. Although a considerable part of the Israeli people renounced the idea of a Palestinian state, most were willing to accept the idea in hope that perhaps finally, and at a very high cost, this country would see peace.

The enormous change of viewpoint was instigated by President Anwar Sadat of Egypt on his visit to Israel after the Yom Kippur War. The excitement at the possibility of peace in our region radically changed the political map of Israeli society. Despite the disappointment that it was not a warm peace, that the idea of a ‘new Middle East’ was not realized, nor were strong ties formed between the citizens and the foundations of government – trust did exist that perhaps the era of war between Egypt and Israel was over. Perceptions such as “it is better to have Sharm-el-Sheikh without peace than peace without Sharm-el-Sheikh” and other ‘truisms’ such as that changed in the outlook of the Israeli public.

The Oslo Accords encountered a more sober, frightened and highly suspicious Israeli population, but the general public followed its leadership even in this agreement, which “had more holes than Swiss cheese”, as Labor Party leaders described it at the time. It slowly became apparent that despite the willingness and concurrence to accept the terrorist organization that headed the Palestinian group as partners for peace, despite opening the borders for the return of “freedom fighters”, and despite the exaggerated concessions that caused a total change of perception in Israeli society – a new concept of “victims of peace” was coined, and the entire process, which should have been about bringing people together, was filled with bloodshed and fatalities.

The populations slowly became disillusioned with the dream of living side by side. Foreign involvement pushed each side further away from the enforced process. The Palestinian leader was exposed as a terrorist and a supporter of terror, who personally took part in violent acts under his protection and with his blessing. In fact, all progress came to a halt. Nevertheless, common ground was found between the parties that enabled recognition, autonomy, local government, police government, and even allowed right-wing factions in Israel to suggest the unbelievable proposal of ‘two states for two nations’. None of the above promoted a real agreement, and with time the parties became increasingly entrenched in their needs and principles. Even so, there was still hope to find a mutual solution.

The controversy was constantly about the meaning of the ‘two-state solution’. The Palestinian side refused to acknowledge the State of Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people, but there was no doubt the if and when Palestine was established, it would be the homeland of the Palestinian people.

The dream died when Palestine was formally divided as part of the ongoing worldwide struggle over control of the Arab nation. Since the death of Gamal Abdel Nasser there has been a race by various leaders who desire to control the Arab world, and with it the Muslim world, and today – as there is a great deal of talk about an Islamic nation of one billion and six hundred thousand members – the struggle between the contenders has become more impassioned, more intense and more ferocious.

Three contenders have reached the finish line.

Iran’s leaders believe that being the power that controls most of the terrorist organizations in the world and having a serious nuclear potential places them in a leadership position of the Islamic nation. Although it is Shiite Muslim, Iran feels that many countries respect its power and perhaps fear its terrorist and nuclear abilities.

The other leader who started out as a friend of the West and slowly revealed his ambitions regarding the Islamic nation is Prime Minister of Turkey, Erdoğan. Turkey was supposed to be secular, but has become a Sunnite Muslim country. In order to strengthen his position, Erdoğan has intervened in the internal struggles in many countries in the area, betraying some of his past friends such as Kaddafi and Bashar Assad. Israel, Turkey’s former ally, has been forced to pay the price of the contender, who knows that the road to leadership requires support of the Palestinians against Israel.

The most colorful and fascinating of all is the leader of a small country of 100,000 people – the Emir of Qatar, Al-Thani. He cleverly created a communications empire that has infiltrated all the Arab countries and has redesigned the government culture in each of these countries, thus becoming the nemesis of their rulers. Al-Thani, a member of the Wahabi branch of Sunni Islam, has gained a position even versus the great Saudi Arabia, because its elderly leaders prefer not to enter confrontations and to continue to rule without conflicts. Al-Thani has a finger in every pie – from Tunisia, to Libya and Syria; even Egypt was his handiwork. He offered asylum to a charismatic religious leader named Al-Qaradawi, who fled the formerly secular Egypt and published his extreme fatwas in various struggles of Islamic nationalism. When the revolution in Egypt began, al Thani sent Qaradawi back to Egypt, so that he could leave his mark on the struggles in the Arab world.

Al Thani knows that the struggle for leadership of the Arab world is more relevant than ever now, especially in view of his apprehension that Egypt might want to regain its position as leader of the Arab world. Knowing that the road to leadership of the Arab world runs through the Israeli-Palestinian problem, he takes a revolutionary step of his own and shatters the legend that there is still a possibility to discuss the establishment of a Palestinian state, recognizes the rule of the dissident leadership in Gaza, establishes an embassy there, donates millions of dollars to Gaza, and demolishes the imaginary belief that Palestine is one state divided into two ‘homelands’ – one in Gaza and one in the West Bank.

Al Thani’s visit to Gaza in effect shattered the myth of a Palestinian state. In its present state, Gaza cannot be part of the Palestinian State because it receives separate funds and embassies from a leading country in the Arab world. This means that if a Palestinian entity is established in the West Bank, it will be completely disconnected from Gaza, which makes it a local solution for a limited population rather than a national state for the Palestinian people. This means that not only do the Palestinians oppose ‘two states for two nations’, but because they object to recognizing Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people whereas the Palestinian State would be a country of Palestinians, but not of all the Palestinians because they have other countries too, which means that it is only one of a number of countries and thus – is not a solution for the overall Palestinian problem in the past, present or future.

Al-Thani shatters the solution in order to prepare a new international arena in which he is the known leader who determines the agenda, and this may be a good thing. Perhaps it is time that Israel, which sees Gaza receiving recognition from a leading Arab country and the visit of a central personality with Egypt’s blessing, realizes that this might be the historical moment to finally disengage from Gaza. Gaza must be returned to Egypt. Egypt can open its borders, supply all of Gaza’s needs, and be responsible for anything that happens there under the irresponsible and reckless leadership of a terrorist entity that does not recognize Israel’s rights.

Furthermore, there is no lack of territory, because the Sinai Desert that was given to Egypt was never used to advance its inhabitants or its neighbors to the east, namely the Palestinians, and Egypt can grant large tracts of land throughout the Sinai Peninsula that were never an integral part of Egypt nor densely inhabited in the past. Thus, Israel can end its involvement in Gaza, and each side can take responsibility for its future conduct.

Al Thani, who serves as a catalyst of processes, in fact brought to an end the division of historical Palestine, and legitimized the return of Gaza to Egypt, which controlled it up to the Six Day War, thus releasing Israel from any responsibility for whatever happens in that region.

It is time for Israel not to react to events but to initiate them according to its own political, military and economic logic which is desperately needed to promote its interests in the Middle East.

About the Author
Dr David Altman is senior vice-president at the Netanya Academic College and vice-chair of the college's Strategic Dialogue Center