Lewis Rosen

Unfortunately, Palestinian rejectionism is alive and well

The current U.S. administration and the E.U. place most of the blame for the failure to establish a Palestinian state on Israel’s unwillingness to make sufficient concessions to reach the goal, as frequently articulated by President Barack Obama, of “two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.”

Yet, the reality that would most likely unfold with the establishment of a Palestinian state is much darker. The arc of Palestinian history and thought suggests that were such a state established tomorrow, along the lines and terms usually suggested, the next day the Palestinians would begin planning attacks on Israel from their enhanced territorial position.

Saying this is not some paranoid right-wing fantasy but rather the inescapable conclusion to be drawn from a century of the Arabs’ rejection of the legitimacy of a Jewish state and their denial of any historic connection of Jews to the Land of Israel and to Jerusalem. And, these attitudes remain pervasive in the present day, as evidenced by the deep animosity towards Israel expressed by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas in his speech to the U.N. on September 22, 2016, and by the execrable anti-Jewish and anti-Israel P.A.-sponsored UNESCO resolution on Jerusalem passed on October 13, 2016. Sadly, little has changed from the irredentist attitude expressed in the 1964 Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) charter.

The Palestinians’ absolute rejection of Israel’s legitimacy was even recognized by Professor Shlomo Avineri, a prominent Israeli political scientist and public intellectual on the left, who wrote the following in Haaretz in October 2015: “According to the Palestinians’ view, this is not a conflict between two national movements but a conflict between one national movement (the Palestinian) and a colonial and imperialistic entity (Israel). According to this view, Israel will end like all colonial phenomena – it will perish and disappear. Moreover, according to the Palestinian view, the Jews are not a nation but a religious community, and as such not entitled to national self-determination which is, after all, a universal imperative. According to this view, the Palestinians see all of Israel – and not just the West Bank and Gaza – as analogous to Algeria: an Arab country out of which the foreign colonialists were ultimately expelled.”

Some pertinent history

The Balfour Declaration of 1917 favored “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” This policy was part of post-WW I planning for lands previously controlled by the Ottoman Empire, and reflected appreciation of the deep Jewish attachment to the land where their ancestors had been sovereign for hundreds of years and where Jerusalem, with its central temple, was the religious center of the country for an even longer period of time.

Periodic anti-Jewish violence erupted during the 1920s. In 1937, after an Arab general strike and subsequent violence, the Peel Commission proposed partitioning the land into two states. The Arabs rejected it, even though the envisioned Jewish state would have been quite small. In 1947 the UN General Assembly approved Resolution 181, which called for the partition of the British Mandate territory into a “Jewish State” and an “Arab State,” with a separate status for Jerusalem. The Jewish Agency actively lobbied for its passage while the Arabs opposed it. The resolution was approved even though every Arab state in the General Assembly at the time voted “No.” With the end of the British Mandate on May 15 1948, Arab armies invaded the newly declared State of Israel with the publicly stated aim of destroying it. Some Arabs explicitly spoke of killing its Jewish inhabitants. For example, Abdul Rahman Azzam, who was then secretary-general of the Arab League, said, “This will be a war of destruction and a great massacre.” The Arab countries were not interested in establishing another Arab state, but in destroying the Jewish state and seizing territory for themselves. The Jordanians, attacking from the east with an army well-trained by the British, conquered a major chunk of territory including part of Jerusalem. They annexed the area and called it the “West Bank,” since the rest of Jordan is east of the Jordan River. They did this rather than establishing a separate state for the Arab residents of the conquered area. Similarly, Eqypt took control of Gaza during the war.

In 1964, the PLO was established. Its charter claims (Article 2) that “Palestine, with the boundaries it had during the British Mandate, is an indivisible territorial unit.” Article 19 states “The partition of Palestine in 1947 and the establishment of the state of Israel are entirely illegal, regardless of the passage of time,..” and Article 20 states “The Balfour Declaration, the Mandate for Palestine, and everything that has been based upon them, are deemed null and void. Claims of historical or religious ties of Jews with Palestine are incompatible with the facts of history and the true conception of what constitutes statehood. Judaism, being a religion, is not an independent nationality. Nor do Jews constitute a single nation with an identity of its own; they are citizens of the states to which they belong.”

Thus, the PLO charter articulated a total rejection of legitimacy for a Jewish state anywhere in the area of the British Mandate. The focus was strictly on the land controlled by Israel at the time in 1964, before the 1967 Six-Day War brought the West Bank and Gaza under its control.

Yes, but this is all ancient history, some would argue, suggesting that the Palestinians left rejectionism behind with the signing of the Oslo Accords. Regrettably, the facts are otherwise. In 2000 Palestinian Authority (PA) President Yasser Arafat rejected Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s offer to established a Palestinian State in most of the West Bank, Gaza, and part of Jerusalem. In 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s government made an even more generous offer, this time to PA President Mahmoud Abbas. He did not accept it either. At the time Abbas said, as quoted by The Washington Post’s Jackson Diehl, “The gaps are wide.”

Down to the present

In recent years, Mahmoud Abbas and his spokesmen have repeatedly rejected the idea of recognizing Israel as a “Jewish State” or as “the nation state of the Jewish People.” Thus, Abbas and his Fatah party remain faithful to the thinking that prompted the Arab rejection of partition in 1937 (Peel) and 1947 (UN Resolution 181,) and faithful to the 1964 PLO charter.

In Abbas’s September 22, 2016 speech to the United Nations, he said the following about the Balfour Declaration: “Yes, 100 years have passed since the notorious Balfour Declaration, by which Britain gave, without any right, authority or consent from anyone, the land of Palestine to another people. This paved the road for the Nakba of Palestinian people and their dispossession and displacement from their land.” Again, with these words Abbas is faithful to the PLO Charter.

In speaking about the UN partition resolution of 1947, Abbas totally falsified what happened. He failed to mention that all Arab states, as well as Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini, the leader of the Palestinian Arabs, totally rejected the resolution and chose war. Instead, Abbas claimed that Israel had violated the resolution by seizing more land than that allotted to Israel. (Not surprisingly, Abbas doesn’t use the language of Resolution 181, which would be “allotted to the Jewish State.” The country name “Israel” didn’t exist at the time of Resolution 181.)

Yes, Israel wound up with more area than envisioned in Resolution 181, but only after the Arabs rejected the resolution and made war. The real truth is that had the Arabs accepted the 1947 partition plan, they would have had an Arab state in Palestine and there would have been no refugees. But they couldn’t abide a Jewish state as part of the bargain. What the Palestinians call their “Nakba” or “catastrophe” would not have happened if only they had accepted partition.

In his September UN speech, Abbas repeated his demand for a Palestinian state “on the 4 June 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.” Tawfiq Tirawi has been a member of the Fatah Central Committee and was formerly head of the PA’s General Intelligence Service in the West Bank. In an interview in January 2016, Tirawi said, “Don’t think that there can be a solution to the Palestinian issue by establishing a state the borders of which are limited to the West Bank and Gaza. I challenge any Palestinian to say that the map of Palestine is limited to the West Bank and Gaza.” They want the whole thing.

Last week’s UNESCO resolution on Jerusalem is another dramatic reflection of enduring Palestinian rejectionism. Both last year and again this month, the Palestinians pushed to get UNESCO to recognize Al-Aqsa Mosque/Al-Haram Al-Sharif and the Al-Buraq Plaza (the Muslim names for the Temple Mount and the Western Wall plaza) as strictly Muslim sites – denying any Jewish connection to these places. On October 13, a UNESCO committee voted to support this extreme resolution, which included numerous false charges against Israel. Again, by pursuing this resolution, the current Palestinian leadership has been faithful to the PLO Charter. This happened just last week, not years and years ago.

Abbas’s UN speech and the UNESCO gambit are all a piece of the Palestinians’ persistent rejectionism. One might say, “Well, Abbas also referred in his September 2016 UN speech to the Palestinians’ “1993 recognition of the existence of the State of Israel, a recognition which remains valid to this moment,..” Yes, he said that; but in the context of his numerous rejectionist statements, Abbas’s recognition of the fact that Israel exists is not the same as accepting the legitimacy of its existence.

This negation of Israel’s legitimacy is continually reinforced in Palestinian media, schools and mosques, as has been well documented. For example, PA TV conveys the message, “Jaffa, Acre, Haifa, and Nazareth are ours.” Palestinian public opinion polls show the deleterious effects of this ongoing indoctrination. For example, in a 2015 survey commissioned for the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, only 12 percent supported the statement, “Both Jews and Palestinians have rights to the land,” while more than 80 percent preferred the statement, “This is Palestinian land and Jews have no rights to it.”

Israel’s governments have refrained since 1967 from annexing either the West Bank or Gaza, reflecting the dominant view of political leaders and the general public against a one-state solution that would threaten Israel’s precious reality as a democratic state with a dominant Jewish majority population. Opinion polls show that a majority of Israelis favor a two-state solution. However, the establishment of a Palestinian state that could threaten Israel’s heartland, without a radical change in Palestinian views and without an adequate Israeli security presence, would also endanger that precious reality. This is the key Israeli dilemma vis-a-vis the Palestinians.

It remains a puzzle, in light of the clear evidence of persistent Palestinian rejectionism, why Barack Obama, John Kerry and EU officials repeatedly fail to criticize publicly extreme Palestinian statements and downplay the dangers that mainstream Palestinian irredentism would hold for Israel were a Palestinian state established. One earnestly hopes that the next U.S. administration will take a more clear-eyed view of the fundamental cause of the current stalemate. For “two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security” to ever become a realistic possibility, an enormous amount of work has to be done to change entrenched Palestinian attitudes and demands.

About the Author
Lewis Rosen is a retired economist who has lived in Jerusalem for 40 years. Born and educated in the US, he worked for the Office of Economic Opportunity for two years in Washington D.C. and was on the economics faculty of York University in Toronto, Canada for 13 years. In Israel he was involved in a wide range of business planning and economic analysis projects.