January 3, 2011

Palestinian Leaders Have Compromised Enough

In case you haven’t been following the news over the past few months, I just thought I’d let you know that the Middle East peace process has again stalled.  Yes, surprising, I know.  Israeli leaders have blamed the failure entirely on Palestinian leaders.  Equally surprising, I know.  Writing in Foreign Policy, Israeli official Moshe Ya’alon contends:

[W]hat stands between the Palestinians and eventual statehood is their insincerity when it comes to real peace. Israel has repeatedly proposed the independence that the Palestinians ostensibly desire. But instead of concluding a deal with Israel, they have demonstrated a total unwillingness to compromise.

Ya’alon goes on to claim:

The Palestinians remain steadfast in their refusal to accept that there even exists a Jewish nation that lays legitimate claim to its land. They reject the entire premise of a state for the Jewish people—not only beyond the pre-1967 lines of the state of Israel, but even within its original 1948 boundaries.

Now even if you haven’t kept up with recent events, it should be obvious that Ya’alon is lying.  For several years now, Palestinian leaders have recognized Israel’s right to exist and have shown that they are willing to compromise on every single core issue.  Consider the 1999 Camp David Summit.  Although many claim that the summit failed because Yasser Arafat essentially got greedy, the truth is that he made tremendous concessions to Israel.  Robert Malley, who served on Clinton’s peace team during the summit, has written:

The Palestinians were arguing for the creation of a Palestinian state based on the June 4, 1967, borders, living alongside Israel. They accepted the notion of Israeli annexation of [roughly 9% of] West Bank territory to accommodate settlement blocs. They accepted the principle of Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish neighborhoods of East Jerusalem—neighborhoods that were not part of Israel before the Six Day War in 1967. And, while they insisted on recognition of the refugees' right of return, they agreed that it should be implemented in a manner that protected Israel’s demographic and security interests by limiting the number of returnees. No other Arab party that has negotiated with Israel—not Anwar el-Sadat's Egypt, not King Hussein's Jordan, let alone Hafez al-Assad's Syria—ever came close to even considering such compromises.

And yet Israeli leaders felt that these concessions didn’t go far enough.  

Of course, the truth of the matter is that these concessions went much too far.  Consider the following:

  • According to international law, Israel is obligated to allow all of the refugees to return, not a predetermined number intended to preserve Israel’s Jewish majority.

So, although Arafat was well within his rights to demand Israel to withdraw from all of the West Bank and from all of East Jerusalem and to demand that it allow all of the refugees to return to their homes, he simply asked that Israel withdraw from 91% of the West Bank, the non-Jewish parts of East Jerusalem, and that it allow a fraction of the refugees to return. 

Palestinian leaders continue insisting that they are willing to recognize Israel’s right to exist within its 1967 borders.  In other words, Palestinian leaders continue demanding a mere 22% of Historic Palestine.  From last October:

Senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Yasser Abed Rabbo said…that the Palestinians will be willing to recognize the State of Israel in any way that it desires, if the Americans would only present a map of the future Palestinian state that includes all of the territories captured in 1967, including East Jerusalem…

“If the map will be based on the 1967 borders and will not include our land, our houses and East Jerusalem, we will be willing to recognize Israel according to the formulation of the government within the hour,” added Rabbo.

The Netanyahu government, by contrast, refuses to offer Palestinians anything that remotely resembles a state.  Yes, Netanyahu says that he’s willing to grant the Palestinians a“state,” but his idea of a Palestinian “state” isn’t really a state at all. Not only has he made it clear that Israel will permanently retain large areas of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley, but he has stated that any future Palestinian “state” will not be allowed to have an army and that Israel will maintain complete control over the area’s borders and airspace.

Although some Israeli hardliners believe that Netanyahu has offered more than enough, as Malley wrote of the Barak government, so too we can say now: “the measure of Israel’s concessions ought not be how far it has moved from its own starting point; it must be how far it has moved toward a fair solution.”

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