The Palestinians must realize that they lost the war

Israeli soldiers during the War of Independence (source: PikiWiki / Wikimedia Commons).

The 1947 UN partition plan for Israel and Palestine was a pivotal moment in the history of both the Jews and the Palestinians. Neither liked it. The Jews disliked that their portion consisted of three disconnected patches of land, most of which was barren, making the possibility of Aliyah for persecuted Jews elsewhere in the world difficult. The Arabs disliked that the Jews were given slightly more land (56%) even though there were far less Jews than Arabs in Israel/Palestine at that time. Their reactions, however, were very different. The Jews reluctantly accepted the plan while the Arabs unequivocally rejected it.

Map of the UN partition plan of 1947 (credit: U.S. Central Intelligence Agency / Wikimedia Commons).

In fact, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, told the Jaffa daily Al Sarih in March 1948 that the Arabs were not only opposed to the plan, but that they “would continue fighting until the Zionists were Annihilated” (quoted from the book “1948: a history of the first Arab-Israeli war” by historian Benny Morris). In other words, a significant portion of the Palestinians were not only concerned that the partition plan was unfair, but they rejected any form of Jewish autonomy.

So, while the Jews accepted something because it was better than nothing, the Palestinians gambled that with the help of the Arab world, they could have it all.

Sadly for the Palestinians, they lost that war despite the support of the Arab world. They lost every major war and every minor war against Israel since then. Israel is now a regional super-power while the Palestinians rely on international aid for fighting Israel and even for daily necessities.

Strangely, however, 72 years after losing the Nakba/Independence war, the Palestinians still do not realize that they lost their gamble. They do not realize that they were defeated. And when I say that the Palestinians do not realize that they lost, I am not only referring to terrorist entities like Hamas or to terrorist-enabling entities like the Palestinian Authority. I am also referring to Palestinians who genuinely accept the existence of Israel and who genuinely want peace.

I will use Palestinian Professor Mohammed S. Dajani Daoudi as an example. Dajani founded in 2007 the Palestinian Wasatia peace movement, a movement that promotes peaceful means of resolving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. He became known outside Palestinian society in 2014 when he decided to take his students to visit the Auschwitz death camp in order to teach them about the Holocaust, and when he was forced to resign as a consequence of that daring action. Israeli writer Yossi Klein Halevi met Professor Dajani in 2019, and Dajani was one of the Palestinians whose letters were published in response to Klein Halevi in an expanded edition of the book “Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor”.

Dajani is a credible Palestinian voice for peace, and his courage in standing outside the Palestinian mainstream deserves respect. It is reasonably safe to assume that his opinions represent the opinions of the most moderate Palestinians. So, to gauge the Palestinian moderates’ reaction to the US peace plan, let’s look at Dajani’s reaction to it.

Dajani’s initial reaction was commendable. He asked the Palestinians to not judge the plan before reading it. That is far wiser than Palestinian Authority President Mahamood Abbas who refused to receive a copy of the plan and who refused to speak with the US President. But once Dajani read it, his reaction was to justify Abbas’ refusal to negotiate. One of Dajani’s most extensive responses to the plan was a post on Facebook on February 1 in which he lists what he believes are 23 reasons to reject what he repeatedly calls the “deal”. I discuss his post in the following paragraphs.

Firstly, the fact that Dajani repeatedly refers to the plan as a deal, when in fact the plan itself calls for negotiations to reach a deal, is already a sign that he does not give the plan its fair due.

Dajani claims that “the Palestinians were never consulted regarding any of its details. This caused the Palestinians to feel insulted and humiliating”. In a related point, he says, “Palestinians were ignored in drafting the 181-page document, the Israelis were kept in the loop which angered the Palestinians”. Several of his other points also make similar claims. Even if these points are true, this is no reason to refuse to even negotiate. Hurt feelings hardly take precedence over nation-building if one is truly intent on building a nation. If the Palestinians are waiting for someone to hand them a state, they will be waiting a long time. They should be fighting for it, not using violence but by taking every opportunity given to them and even by creating opportunities of their own. That is how the Jews built a state. If the Jews had let hurt feelings (and they had far more reasons in 1947 to feel let down by the world than the Palestinians ever will), there would be no Israel today.

Dajani claims that, “the deal denies the Palestinian human rights to the end of the occupation, statehood, independence, liberty, and national identity”. In fact, the plan aims to end the occupation and to recognize Palestine as a nation, but it provides independence and liberty within limits that are meant to ensure security of both Israelis and Palestinians. Dajani’s own comment later in the same post shows why that is necessary: “the deal places on the fragile shoulders of the PA as a prerequisite, the incredible task of starting a civil war to demilitarize and disarm Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, and the PFLP, a task Israel so far has failed to achieve”. So Dajani admits that the Palestinians are incapable of controlling Palestinian terrorism on their own, and yet he cannot accept that the plan does not give full independence to a Palestinian state. On top of that, he seems to not realize that it is not Israel’s duty to rid Palestinian society of its terrorists. It is for the Palestinians themselves to do so.

Dajani denounces the plan for giving Israel full sovereignty over all of Jerusalem. In fact, the plan does not give Israel sovereignty over the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, but it does indeed give Israel sovereignty over the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem and over the Old City, including the Muslim Quarter and al-Haram al-Sharif (Temple Mount). Yet Dajani knows that when Arabs controlled that part of Jerusalem, Jews had no access to it, and he also knows that now that Israel controls it, everyone has access to their religious sites, including Muslims and Christians.

Dajani states that “Palestinians fear the deal will encourage Israelis to take over the site and destroy it to build their temple”, even though Dajani himself must know that such a claim is absurd. As the Jerusalem Post has reported, “Rabbis agree that because of the sanctity of the Temple, Jews must not enter the area where the Temples stood”. This means that religious Jews would never approve of building a new temple on the same location, let alone destroy anything that is currently there. Dajani who is a learned individual undoubtedly knows this. He also knows that even under Israeli jurisdiction, Jordan has control of Temple Mount, and the peace plan explicitly states that this would not change. Dajani knows all this, yet he chooses to repeat a highly inflammatory and highly inaccurate accusation.

Dajani claims that, “the deal gives legitimacy to Israel’s persistent policies of illegal annexation and territorial expansion in the occupied Palestinian territories”. He makes several such statements, as if negotiations and a peace deal were not, by definition, meant to change current laws, as Dajani obviously knows. This is not a serious comment for a university professor.

Dajani states that, “the Palestinians are concerned that accepting such a deal would lead the Arab countries to abandon the Palestinian cause and openly embrace strategic alliance pacts with Israel”, which is a very bizarre statement to make. The Palestinian cause would no longer be relevant once there is peace and a Palestinian state, and pacts with Israel, including by the new Palestinian state, would not only be normal but even expected. Like in the previous four comments, Dajani seems to be repeating uninformed comments by uninformed Palestinians instead of explaining the facts to them.

Most bizarrely for a peace activist, Dajani claims that, “the deal undermines moderation tendencies within the Palestinian community and vindicates the radical ideology of violent armed struggle”. Perhaps he meant to say “encourages” rather than “vindicates” because “vindicates” would mean that Dajani now agrees with using violence, but even if we make the generous assumption that he means “encourages”, Dajani comes dangerously close to justifying terrorism. Dajani undoubtedly knows that terrorism is not only immoral but also highly ineffective against Israel. As a peace activist, he should be explaining that to his fellow Palestinians rather than making statements that terrorists can see as encouragement.

Dajani writes, “the deal keeps Palestine and the Palestinians permanently surrounded by Israel with no independent borders and contact with the outside world”, which is not true since the Palestinian state would have borders with Egypt and the Mediterranean Sea and would have access to Jordan using Palestinian-controlled highways. Dajani also knows that Israel’s control of the Jordan Valley is necessary for security and that the US peace plan suggests that other lands be given to the Palestinians in exchange. There is no reason for the Palestinians to have any issue with being surrounded by Israel unless they intend to wage war against it.

Dajani states that, “the deal deprives the Palestinian refugees of their status as refugees and takes away their right of return not only to their original homes in Israel but to a Palestinian state”. However, the plan states, “The rights of Palestinian refugees to immigrate to the State of Palestine shall be limited in accordance with agreed security arrangements”. Dajani knows that no Israeli government would ever accept a significant number of Palestinian refugees moving into Israel, so he should explain that to Palestinians rather than unhelpfully claim “their right of return […] to their original homes in Israel”, and Dajani should not be surprised that immigration to Palestine would be subject to security.

Dajani makes the inflammatory claim that, “the deal endorses the establishment of an apartheid Jewish state with the Palestinians living in ghettoes” when he knows that this is not the case. The plan which is yet to be negotiated is meant to provide a sovereign Palestinian state where Palestinians would control their own laws, just like in any other country. In Israel, there is no apartheid as Dajani knows and has recognized, and if Jews are not allowed in the new Palestinian state, that will be an apartheid system that is fully of the Palestinians’ own making.

Dajani concludes his post by saying that, “if Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ was written in a way so the Palestinians would reject it, then it served its purpose”. Interestingly, however, even based on the reaction of Dajani who represents the most moderates among the Palestinians, it seems practically impossible to write a deal that would be endorsed by the Palestinians unless it met the following four conditions:

  • The unlimited “return” of Palestinian refugees that would turn Israel into an Arab state.
  • Handing all of Jerusalem’s Jewish neighborhoods and Jewish religious sites (outside the 1967 borders) to a Palestinian state, including Temple Mount.
  • Unrestricted independence for the new Palestinian state, opening the way for the election of Hamas and the assault on Israel from the West Bank.
  • Pre-1967 borders that would bring terrorist rocket launchers to the doors of Jerusalem (what would be left in the hands of Israel).

So, writing a plan that the Palestinians would reject is not very difficult to do, and here I should remind Dajani who claimed in his post that former Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres would have rejected the US peace plan, that the Palestinians refused in the year 2000 a plan offered by Ehud Barak, someone who is very much from the same school of thinking as Shimon Peres. Rejecting peace offers and plans is very much the rule for Palestinians rather than the exception as Dajani would like us to believe.

In a recent interview, Dajani recalled a story to illustrate why he started the Wasatia peace movement. He said, “On a Friday morning during the month of Ramadan back in late 2006 I was standing on the balcony of my apartment overlooking an Israeli checkpoint that separates Jerusalem from the West Bank. Hundreds of West Bank Palestinians were queuing and pushing at the checkpoint to cross and reach Jerusalem to pray at the Haram al-Sharif. The Israeli border police were pushing them back with horses and firing tear gas at them because they did not have permits to cross. I assumed these people were extremists and that the Israeli border police would eventually shoot them, creating a tragic media event. Contrary to my expectation, I noticed that the situation was cooling down. The Israeli officers at the checkpoint offered to transport the crowd via buses to the Haram al-Sharif to pray after being checked and taking their identity cards, and then the buses brought them back to the checkpoint where they retrieved their identity cards and went home. Having taught a course on Game Theory, this appeared to me to resemble a win-win outcome for both sides. It inspired me to think that we can resolve our protracted conflict by creating a win-win outcome.”

Dajani, however, fails to grasp the main message of his own story, which is that there can be a win-win situation for Israelis and Palestinians if Israel has the means to enforce the security of both. Faced with a peace plan that offers a framework for exactly that type of win-win situation while also offering the Palestinians a state, Dajani demands instead independence for the Palestinians, while ignoring what he elsewhere recognizes himself as the Palestinians’ inability to neutralize their own terrorists.

Dajani ends the interview by saying, “Yes, Israel is united when it comes to security concerns, but when I look at Israel I see a country with many factions that want peace and want to recognise Palestinian rights. I want to try and empower them and to make them more effective within Israeli society because without those factions we will not achieve the two-state solution.” He again fails to grasp the meaning of his own words. He seems to expect that peace will magically come when the Israeli peace movement is stronger, which contradicts his earlier words recognizing that Israelis are united on security concerns. The reality that he does not want to see is that no Israeli government of either right or left will ever agree to a peace plan that does not give priority to security (including secure borders), that does not guarantee unlimited Jewish access to Jerusalem’s holy sites, and that does not severely limit the immigration into Israel of Palestinian refugees.

Most of all, what Dajani does not seem to understand is that Israel can insist on these concessions from the Palestinians because it is in a position of strength, because it has won the war, and because the Jews of Israel will never agree to roll back their own rights. If the Palestinians had negotiated in 1947 instead of waging a war of extermination, their position would have been far stronger than it is today, but they made the wrong choice then. Their only recourse now is to make the correct choice today, and that starts with acknowledging the situation that they are in.

Once the Palestinians accept the reality of their own situation, they will realize that when they are offered an opportunity to discuss peace and statehood, they should take it, even if they do not like the plan. If they want more than what the plan offers, they should at least try to negotiate changes. For example, if they feel the need for more independence, they may be able to negotiate improvements or perhaps a transition to more independence in the longer term once they have control over their own security. The Palestinians, however, will achieve nothing if they refuse to even negotiate.

The Palestinians also seem to not realize that the US peace plan significantly weakens their plan B, with plan A being the destruction of Israel, and plan B being equal rights within a single state. The US peace plan which, by the Palestinians’ own acknowledgement, had significant Israeli input, offers instead to the Palestinians autonomy but under strict Israeli security and while Israel annexes the land that it needs to protect its security. This is Israel’s plan B (plan A being a peace agreement with the Palestinians), and Israel’s strength makes its plan B much more likely than the Palestinians’ plan B.

I have no doubt that Dajani has good intentions, but because he does not acknowledge the situation that the Palestinians are in, his expectations are way beyond what is realistic, and they do not materially differ from the position of the Palestinian Authority. For this reason, despite his courage and good intentions, Dajani is not helping the Palestinians get any closer to having a state of their own.

The Palestinians need to face reality before they can have a chance at peace, statehood, and prosperity, and that is what Dajani should be telling them instead of encouraging them in their delusions.

About the Author
Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. Fred supports Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, and he supports the Palestinians' right to self-determination in their own state. Fred supports a liberal and democratic Middle East where all religions and nationalities, including Palestinians, can co-exist in peace with each other and with Israel, and where human rights are respected. Fred is an atheist, a social liberal, and an advocate of equal rights for LGBT people everywhere.
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