By Samuel Hyde
In part one of this article series titled ‘From Dreams to Fears’ , I articulated the two dreams birthed within Israel post its sweeping victory in the 1967 Six Day War and how the visions of these two camps of dreamers has led to a paralysis within Israeli society and its approach to the conflict. In part two titled ‘From Paralysis to Pragmatism’, I developed a concept called ‘conflict reduction’ which aims to replace this paralysis by providing actionable steps to develop renewed strategies when dealing with the obstacles to peace. These pragmatic steps are aimed at producing economic enrichment and independence for the Palestinians while simultaneously resulting in necessary political separation for Israel. Conflict reduction is an approach that will not solve the conflict but can be undertaken with immediate effect to alter the current reality. To even begin to approach the conversation around solving the conflict, one would need to reckon with its cause. As long as Israel attempts to deal solely with the obstacles to peace without reckoning with the cause of the conflict, new obstacles will continue to arise. In this piece I’ll attempt to articulate why. Arriving at the point of reckoning begins with one question:
What do the Palestinians want? A question which has swindled the minds of Israeli society for decades, one that remains an ongoing debate in a search for nuance; and a desire to understand the narrative and demands of those across ‘the green line’.
The Israeli peace camp concluded in the 1990s that they had arrived at a definitive answer to this question. It came to a head in 2000 when Israel’s Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, traveled to Camp David to meet with the head of the PLO, Yasser Arafat. Barak, who was elected on a campaign of establishing peace based on the “land for peace” model, offered the Palestinians an unprecedented proposal which addressed all the obstacles to peace that Israelis had been told would see an end to the conflict.
Israel was told that the obstacle to peace was the occupation: Palestinians wanted Israel’s military presence in the West Bank and Gaza to cease. The proposal offered the Palestinians a fully sovereign independent state in the West Bank and Gaza, thereby ending the occupation.
What was the other obstacle to peace? Settlements. The proposal stated there would be no settlements in the State of Palestine. Settlements were to be removed or exchanged for land of equivalent value. As a result of this proposal, two obstacles have been eliminated.
Then, Israel was told that Jerusalem was the obstacle to peace. The Palestinians want a capital in Jerusalem. Jerusalem would need to be divided. The proposal included:
The Jewish neighborhoods to Israel.
The Arab neighborhoods to Palestine.
A split of the Old City with concessions of the holy sites and a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem.
Therefore, the sovereign independent state of Palestine would see an end to the occupation, have no settlements, and a capital in Jerusalem. Check, check, check!
But Arafat walked away.
It’s possible to explain that walking away was a negotiating strategy, that’s how politics works. Unfortunately for those that arrived at such a conclusion, eight years later, in 2008, Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat’s heir, declined yet another far-reaching proposal from Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Olmert. Arafat and Abbas walked away from two proposals that would have created a sovereign independent Palestinian State with no occupation, no settlements and a capital in East Jerusalem.
If this is genuinely the Palestinian aspiration, one would imagine someone would publish an op-ed. Perhaps an NGO would be created, where just one individual would remark, “We could have everything we want, return to the negotiating table and secure our state”. But there were no such voices among the Palestinians. There were no objections about Arafat walking away and no objections about Abbas walking away. However, they walked away to celebrations, indicating that by walking away, they delivered what their people wanted. I know some attempt to “reason” with this by stating: “It’s because you cannot criticize in this society. Palestinian society is not democratic”. Look at Russia today, people are holding signs and protesting, and the stakes there are much higher.
To add to this point, two months after Arafat walked away, the Second Intifada (28 September 2000 – 8 February 2005) erupted, resulting in the deaths of over 1,100 Israelis. Buses were engulfed in flames, entire families were killed, and restaurants were blown to pieces. “The cause of terrorism and no peace is the occupation”, a canard still accepted by people who portray themselves as “reasonable”. However, here in Israel, the Israeli-peace camp was forced to abandon its notion that the conflict was about restoring the 1967 borders and recognized that when Palestinians spoke of “freeing the land”, they referred to 1948. The claim that the occupation caused the violence of the Second Intifada could no longer be accepted, since it began only a few weeks after Israel had offered an end to the occupation.
Other “reasonable” people might say “well Israel proposed this accord but would it have followed through?” Regardless of Arafat walking away, five years later, in 2005, Israel disengaged from the Gaza Strip. As a result of the disengagement, Gaza was left with no settlements and no occupation. Instead of the Palestinians using the disengagement as an opportunity to build upon sovereignty and independence, they voted into power an Iranian terror proxy, Hamas, with a founding charter that calls for the genocide of Jews and destruction of the Jewish State.
What do the Palestinians really want? They do not want a Palestinian state that ends the occupation, has no settlements, and has its capital in East Jerusalem. Or, you could say that they want that, but there is something that they want more.
For those who chose to see it, the answer was there all along. The Palestinians told the world what they wanted. The world continues not to listen. Or, in Israel, if we did listen, we explained it away. Ask a Palestinian today if they view Tel Aviv as occupied, and you will more often than not receive a resounding “yes”. “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”. The establishment of a Palestinian state with no state for the Jewish people within any borders has always remained the absolute top priority for the Palestinians.
They have consistently pursued this for almost a century.
In the late 1950’s, the British Foreign Minister, Ernest Bevin, reached a poignant conclusion. He said the following:
“There were two people on the ground, Jews and Arabs. Two nations exist in the land, and they are not religions. Jews and Arabs are two distinct collectives”.
He details what the top priority is for each of these collectives. He calls this top priority a point of principle. He says:
“for the Jews, the point of principle is establishing a State. For the Arabs, the point of principle is to prevent the Jews from establishing a state in any part of the land.”
Notice how he defines the cause of the conflict. He is not saying the conflict is one where the Jews want a State, the Arabs want a State, and they cannot agree on the borders. No. He zeroes in on why the conflict exists: the Jews want a State, and the Arabs want the Jews not to have a State.
This by definition is irreconcilable. Everything else you can divide. You can divide the land, divide the resources, and have all kinds of economic and security arrangements. But the one thing that you cannot divide, the one difference that you cannot split, is between the idea that the Jews want a sovereign independent State and the Arabs want the Jews not to have that state.
It is as simple as that.
Shifting from “reasoning” with the conflict to “reckoning” with its cause, allows one to understand why the conflict exists and remains. What would see an end to the Palestinian rejection of a Jewish state within any borders? Strategies and policies which expand normalization and peace with the wider Arab world. Why? Because for the Palestinians this conflict has never been viewed as Israel vs Palestine, but rather the Jewish state vs the Arab world. The Palestinians open a map. They see seven million Jews existing among half a billion Arabs, near one and a half billion Muslims, most of them still hostile to a Jewish State within any borders, and conclude that time is on their side.
Israel’s peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan did not fundamentally alter the Arab narrative regarding the Jewish state. They still referred to Israel as a foreign, colonial, Western outpost in the region that would one day disappear. The so-called peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan are better understood as non-aggression pacts. For decades, Israelis were told this is what peace looks like in the Arab world. As long as the conflict with the Palestinians continues, this is the best that Israelis could hope for.
But then came the Abraham Accords, an enlightenment in the Arab world’s engagement with the Jewish State. The Gulf states and later Morocco went all in. New agreements are signed daily between Gulf countries, Morocco, and Israel in education, space, and agriculture. The warm diplomatic relations have resulted in unprecedented and noteworthy societal normalization between Jews and Arabs. Moroccan leaders and Israel are collaborating on a project to rebuild destroyed synagogues and Jewish structures in Morocco. The UAE is hosting Holocaust remembrance ceremonies and Bahrain is welcoming Israel’s ministers to the sounds of Hatikvah. Which tells you that peace doesn’t occur as a result of societal normalization, but rather societal normalization occurs as a result of peace agreements and recognition.
In clear contrast to the agreements with Jordan and Egypt, the accords between the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco, shifted the narrative. Israel is no longer viewed by these states as a foreign outpost but an integral and natural part of the region and everything is in one word: Abraham.
When you say “Abraham”, you acknowledge the Jews as kin. You accept the Jews as people with a history in the region, not as foreigners, but as a people who belong.
Having spent the past few months working and engaging with Moroccan, Emirati, Bahraini and now Saudi analysts, researchers and columnists on what Israel’s next rules of engagement should be for an end to the conflict, we have collectively concluded that the conflict comes to an end in one of two ways: Either those who want a Jewish State will forgo that top priority, or those who believe that there should not be a Jewish state within any borders will forgo their top priority. That’s it. That is how we get to lasting peace. In the absence of one of these two outcomes, the conflict continues. In other words, you could say the conflict has its origin in Jewish Zionism vs Arab anti-Zionism.
Far too often peace-seekers are paralyzed by the idea that “there is no partner for peace“. As such, some still continue to advocate the notion that an end to the occupation would produce peace, while others argue that the removal of all borders between the “river to the sea” under Israeli sovereignty will produce peace. Both these ideas, the first which pursues a two-state solution through the same implementation of the past and the other that pursues a one-state solution by ignoring key political, ethical and legal determiners are destined to produce no greater outcome, because both fail to reckon with the cause of the conflict.
By reckoning with the cause of the conflict, we open up a path of renewed strategies which allows Israel to finally tackle the true obstacle to peace. Israel’s ‘end-goal’ policy of a peace accord with the Palestinians remains clear and very little has changed when it comes to what is on the negotiating table. When wider Arab acceptance occurs, it will be a relatively straightforward process. The negotiation with the Palestinians won’t require some end of times salvation because – as seen in the relations with the Gulf states and Morocco – when the Arabs forgo their war against Zionism they simultaneously forgo their support for the Palestinian cause, and it is Arab support which has always ignited the fuel that burns Palestinian ‘rejection’. When Arab acceptance occurs and Israel is predominantly viewed as an integral part of the Middle East, the Palestinian cause is drained of what grants it foundational staying power.
In order to bring about that eventuality, sooner rather than later, we must make it clear to the Palestinians and the Arab world at large that if their goal is “from the River to the Sea”, if their goal is no Jewish State within any borders, they will not have our sympathy and support. But, as in the cases of the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco if they finally adopt a path of having a Palestinian state next to Israel rather than instead of Israel, they will find a majority of Israeli society rushing to support them in that constructive cause. It is at that point, and only that point where we would have a Palestinian state living side by side a Jewish state as equal claimers to the land.
About the writer:
Samuel Hyde is a is a writer and research fellow at ‘The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance’. He is a South African born columnist and political researcher based in Tel Aviv, Israel, focussing on topics that range across Israel’s political climate, antisemitism, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict and the Jewish world. He is a contributing writer/ editor of two books with former Israeli Knesset member Dr. Einat Wilf titled “We Should All Be Zionists” and “Political Intelligence”. He has also worked in field related organizations and political research institutes investigating creative ways to deal with public policy, conflict resolution and education.
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