By Jonathan S. Tobin
(JNS) According to The New York Times, the re-election of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has left Palestinian families seeing “no light at the end of the tunnel.”
A feature published on the front page of Monday’s Times focuses on the despair felt by Palestinian families about the current stalemate in the peace process. They know that the Palestinian Authority that rules over their cities, towns and villages is horribly corrupt and unable to conclude a peace deal with Israel. And they understand that Israelis have no more faith in the prospects of peace than they do.
The piece shows that some Palestinians are rethinking the ideology that has fueled a century-long war on Zionism. But they also don’t mention a basic fact that defines the current situation: The Palestinian leadership has repeatedly rejected compromises that would have given them the statehood they claim to want. It’s interesting that nowhere in the 1,000-word article does the Times take notice of this fact.
This omission speaks volumes not only about the ignorance and obtuse nature of the criticism of Israel that emanates from the paper, but also about the chattering classes and foreign-policy establishment that take their cues about the Middle East from its pages.
Arabs living in the West Bank have good reason to distrust their current leaders. In a few moments of rare clarity about the situation that are mentioned only in passing, some of the piece’s sources admit that life was better for them before the Oslo peace process that created the Palestinian Authority.
Since it took power in the territories in 1995, it has autonomously and tyrannically ruled the Arab residents of Judea and Samaria in such a way as to crush dissenting views. As Dina Teeti, a Palestinian who attended high school and college in the United States put it, the P.A. taught people “not to question stuff.” She only learned critical thinking in her studies abroad.
Others pointed out that the security checkpoints and separation barrier didn’t exist before Oslo, so before that they had far more freedom of movement. Unmentioned in the piece is why those checkpoints and the fence exist. They were only made necessary by the waves of violence inflicted on Israelis by the Palestinian terror groups that occurred after Israel ceded control of the West Bank and Gaza to the Palestine Liberation Organization, not before.
But as Palestinians ponder the options open to them, there are a number of other things missing from this analysis of their situation.
The first problem is the characterization of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s talk about applying Israeli law to the settlements as depriving them of land for a state. That isn’t true since it would still leave Palestinians most of the West Bank and Gaza even if all the settlements, rather than just the blocs around the border and Jerusalem, were left in place.
More important is what was completely omitted from the article. Left out was any mention of the fact that throughout the history of the conflict, including the era before the West Bank came under Israeli control in 1967 or the birth of the State of Israel, Palestinian Arabs have repeatedly rejected any compromise that would countenance a Jewish state of any sort –even if it also meant an independent state for them.
Various proposals for partitioning the British Mandate for Palestine were put forward during that era, and each one was rejected by both the local Arab leadership and the rest of the Muslim world. That included the 1947 U.N. partition plan that proposed two states, including a tiny Jewish one that didn’t include any part of Jerusalem. Instead, they chose a war that led to hundreds of thousands of Arabs fleeing their homes in the vain hope that they would return once the Jews were driven out.
Nor was there much noise about creating an independent Palestinian state from 1949 to 1967, when Egypt controlled Gaza, and Jordan illegally occupied Judea, Samaria and the Old City of Jerusalem.
But if that’s still too much ancient history for the Palestinians – or the reporters and editors at the Times – how is it that the events of the last 20 years escaped their attention?
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and President Bill Clinton offered P.A. head Yasser Arafat an independent Palestinian state in Gaza, almost all of the West Bank and a share of Jerusalem at Camp David in 2000. He said no to that offer and to an even more generous one, responding with a terrorist war of attrition known as the Second Intifada. His successor, Mahmoud Abbas, rejected an even sweeter deal in 2008, and refused to negotiate seriously over statehood during the eight years when President Barack Obama was hammering Israel and tilting the diplomatic playing field in the Palestinians’ direction.
It’s encouraging that at least some Palestinians are willing to be quoted as wanting to “choose peace.” But doing so requires more than acknowledging the truth about the moral bankruptcy of the Fatah-ruled P.A. or the Islamists of Hamas who rule Gaza. It requires a willingness to admit to the legitimacy of a Jewish state and giving up a sense of national identity that has, to date, been inextricably tied to a century-old war on Zionism and the Jews.
Palestinians need to accept that Israel will never be conquered by terrorism or diplomacy, and that a one-state solution in which they could hope to transform it into another Arab-majority state is a non-starter. They also need to accept that there will be no mass eviction of hundreds of thousands of Jews from Jerusalem or the settlements. If they were to do that, then Palestinian statehood might be possible. However, if they can’t change their leaders or the policies that have left them in this current state of limbo, then they have no one to blame but themselves, in addition to an international foreign-policy establishment that is just as willing to ignore historical facts as The New York Times.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS–Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.