A New Peace Plan for the Middle East

Let's begin with the premise that it is the Palestinians -- and not the Jews -- that have to pay.

It is obvious by this time that the so-called “peace plan” intended to resolve the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians has reached an impassable stalemate. It is simply not working nor will it ever work. The Oslo Accords are a dead letter. The “road map” does not apply to the existing political terrain and is  going nowhere. Anyone who follows it is sure to get lost. As for the unilateral declaration of Palestinian statehood, this would produce only a phantom state, the specter of border closings, reduced economic activity and greater abrasion along the frontiers. It cannot supersede a negotiated settlement. Similarly, the notion bruited about by clueless or duplicitous intellectuals of a “bi-national state” or a “single state of all its citizens” is code for the destruction of Israel and is therefore a non-starter. What, then, is to be done?

Clearly, every round of negotiations has proven to be not only unproductive but often regressive, leaving the parties further back from a desired resolution than they were when they started. The problem is that the strategy of incremental concessions of land for peace demanded of Israel has been misapplied or, in effect, applied in reverse. All the interested parties—the Quartet, the Palestinians, the American president in his various wayward declamations, even the Israeli leadership—have internalized the wrong bundle of premises, for example: the Israeli heartland of Judea and Samaria is really the “West Bank,” a sobriquet for Fatahland; the instruments  of international law, such as the League of Nations Mandate, the San Remo Conference and Article 80 of the UN Charter, which legislate in Israel’s favor, can be dispensed with; half of Israel’s capital, Jerusalem, belongs to the Arabs; the Palestinians are a unified people and should be regarded as a “nation”; the Armistice Lines of 1949 constitute, to quote Jonathan Kay of the National Post, a “de facto border”; and territory legitimately won in a defensive war must be returned, in complete defiance of international covenants and of customary practice among all the nations of the world. None of these assumptions are valid, and it is primarily for this reason that every démarche for peace has inevitably failed.

In order to make some sense of this distortion, the issue should be placed in the larger context of anti-Jewish suspicion and antipathy. There is an implicit presumption or conviction regarding things Jewish and matters Israeli that animates individuals, groups and countries, an unacknowledged function of latent (and not so latent) antisemitic sentiment, namely, Jews have to pay. They have to pay for the world’s troubles via the well-known mechanism of scapegoating. They have to pay for their statistically disproportionate achievements in science, technology, commerce, medicine and the arts, which account for the ubiquitous phenomenon of envy and resentment to which they have been millennially exposed. (Jews number a fraction of 1% of the world’s population, yet make up approximately 20% of Nobel laureates.) And they have to pay for the unprecedented accomplishment of building a successful nation in the midst of desert and malarial swamp and in the face of the unremitting violence of hundreds of millions of hostile neighbors, a feat avowedly beyond the ability of most peoples. Therefore, according to this twisted logic, it is the Israelis who must pay for peace, not their adversaries who have done their utmost to ensure that the prospect of peace continues to recede.

This is the tacit mindset that prevails, one which has the force of an instinct and the deep penetration of a kind of secret epistemology, and is rarely questioned or brought into the light of consciousness. As Muslim scholar Salim Mansur asserts, it is “a uniquely lethal form of bigotry” that must deny “Israel’s role as a nation, an idea, a religious inspiration, an historic reference, an ethical compass, and as people of the book (the Bible) in the formation of Western civilization.” This is why the Israeli-Palestinian peace deliberations are constantly skewed to the benefit of the latter. This is why Israel is expected to give and the Palestinians are encouraged to take.

And this is why the entire diplomatic process must be re-valued if any progress is ever to be made. The terms and elements of the controversy need to be placed on a proper footing and the participants made to understand that they have approached the impasse from the wrong direction. When Barack Obama in his May 19 speech at the State Department declared that “The status quo is unsustainable and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace,” the toggling adverb “too” does not alter the fact that he got it entirely backwards. After all, what have the Palestinians done to “advance a lasting peace”? Forswear terrorism in conformity with UN Security Council Resolution 1377? Revamp their educational system that teaches hatred of Israel and Jews? Rein in the bellicose media? Prohibit antisemitic sermons in mosques? Revise their Charter in which the demise of Israel is presaged? Tone down their belligerent public rhetoric? Remove the keffiyeh curtaining the map of Israel?

It is not the Israelis who should be suing for peace but the Palestinians, which would redound to their undoubted advantage. The Israeli leadership should inform the Palestinian team that it is eager and willing to arrive at a peaceful resolution of the ongoing embroilment and accept Palestinian sovereignty in the “West Bank” if the Palestinians for their part are ready to cede sundry territorial chunks to Israel and agree to transfer the affected populations to designated regions within the new Palestinian state. What is supposed to be good for the goose is even better for the gander. The Palestinians will make further appropriate concessions, such as renouncing terror, accepting the bustling city of Ramallah as their capital, recognizing Israel as the state of the Jewish people, and solving their refugee problem—for, historically speaking, it is their refugee problem—in the same way as Israel found room for Jewish citizens displaced from Arab countries after 1948. Additionally, the absurd concept of territorial “swaps” will be mothballed. Naturally, Gaza remains a problem. Whether it should revert to Israel and the Gazans welcomed to Palestine as fully empowered citizens, or pursue a hyphenated liaison with the PA, or strike off on its own as a quasi-independent enclave will have to be determined in the course of negotiations.

Moreover, Palestinians should abjure the propagation of arrant nonsense, such as PA president Mahmoud Abbas’ preposterous claim of Canaanite ancestry going back 9000 years—a double zinger—and the corresponding fantasy that the Jews are “incidental to history,” possessing no cadastral lien on the Holy Land. Their own scripture proclaims differently, as they would discover if they re-read Surah 17, ayah 1 of the Koran, which mentions the Temple at Jerusalem. A durable peace cannot be based upon the shimmer of a consensual mirage.

For the truth is that the Palestinians are not the “owners of history,” as per Abbas. On the contrary, as Joan Peters has indisputably shown in her magisterial From Time Immemorial, sifting through mountains of data, census statistics, official reports, internal memoranda, travellers’ narratives and archival material, the Palestinians are, to a considerable extent, a loose aggregate of settlers and immigrants to the area in dispute, a society comprised in large degree of comparatively recent arrivals. Seeking to reduce the importance of the Jewish claim to the land, British census reports during the Mandatory period were regularly falsified to create the impression of a massive and original Palestinian presence that did not exist. Data assembled from several credible sources, relying on economic developments, extrapolated migratory flows, imputation theory and growth rate differentials, as reported in The Middle East Quarterly (“The Smoking Gun,” Winter 2003), peg the figure of Arab immigration in the early part of the 20th century at somewhere between one third and one half of the population. Similarly, social historian Gad Gilbar in the essay collection he edited, Ottoman Palestine 1800-1914, attributes the remarkable urban growth of the Arab population to “immigrants from outside Palestine.” The analyses carried out in this volume are methodical, impartial and unfailingly scholarly.

It is evident, then, that a significant number of “Palestinians” migrated into the Holy Land from the surrounding Arab countries, mainly from what was then known as Greater Syria (i.e., Syria and Lebanon) when still part of the Ottoman Empire, and afterwards during the post-Balfour period. Many were unaccounted for; many others were registered by the British as “native.” But they are relative latecomers whereas the Jewish presence in the Holy Land is longstanding and inherent, not conditional. Historian Bruce Thornton in The Wages of Appeasement justly points out that “the professed concern for the dispossessed Palestinians” is only a pretext “based on an Orwellian rewrite of history that erases the 3,000 year presence of Jews in the Holy Land and makes the descendents of conquerors, occupiers, and immigrants the rightful possessors.”

Indeed, the popular history of Palestine as an indigenous “nation” may well be one of the biggest political and propaganda scams of all time as the veritable lies of yesterday become the counterfeit truths of today. Like Peters, Phyllis Chesler is not far off the mark when she writes that the Palestinians “are merely Arabs who once identified themselves entirely in terms of religion, tribe, clan, and ethnicity…Some grew up in Jordan, Syria, and Egypt, or lived there and elsewhere after 1948.” (Interestingly, major “Palestinian” figures such as George Antonius, Edward Said and Yasser Arafat were Egyptian. The identity switch turned out, as Daniel Pipes observes, to be “a good career move.”) The nebula of falsehoods in which the Palestinians have cloaked themselves and which the world has accepted—even many Israelis, principally those associated with the “peace” movement, dubious NGOs and the academic Left—must be dispelled.

In particular, the Palestinians must clean up their act. In return, Palestine will be rewarded with clearly demarcated borders, unimpeded commercial traffic, start-up industries thanks in part to Israeli entrepreneurial and technological contributions, entry into the United Nations, the dignity of becoming self-sustaining rather than the ignominy of living as leeches on Western munificence, growing prosperity for all its people and, of course, the myriad blessings of peace itself.

All that is required to establish this heretofore elusive peace is for the parties involved to adopt the correct perspective. Easier said than done, of course, but failing such a perspectival recalibration, peace will never be attained, only perpetual war punctuated by unstable truces. Applying the right coordinates to our view of the situation leads to certain inescapable conclusions. It is the Palestinians who should be offering concessions, not only the Israelis. It is a large proportion of Palestinians who are “settlers,” not only those Israelis who made aliyah or moved beyond the Green Line in what is historically their country. It is the Palestinians who “must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.” And it is the Palestinians who will find themselves the chief beneficiaries of an accord which provides for their own sovereign nation—a nation, be it remembered, which has no historical warrant whatsoever, since the Palestinians were never an independent, intact and coherent people, have no archeology or scriptural muniment to justify their tenure in the region, and cannot produce an attested lineage beyond the modern era. There is not a single documented allusion to a Palestinian nation in antiquity nor can it be located in the Koran or ancillary Writ.

Yet they will receive the gift of viable statehood if they are prepared to come to the negotiating table (and to do so with open minds), refrain from substituting myth for history, cease ill-advised building projects, barter land for peace and make whatever other concessions are mutually deemed to be necessary. The protocols of the discussion will be “reset” and the Israeli and Palestinian delegations trade, as it were, the sides of the table they sit at. The solution to the Israeli-Palestinian imbroglio is really quite discernible, at least in essence, even if the chances of it coming to pass, given the triple factors of international manipulation, Israeli petitioneering and Palestinian intransigence, are slim to nonexistent. Even so, what has up to now been taken for granted must be seen as an obscure and reflexive presupposition unsupported by the facts, a pre-judgment which has acquired the halo of a dogma. This is what has to change before a breakthrough can be made. The international community needs to understand that it has embarked on the wrong track. The Israelis must come to understand that they don’t have to pay. And the Palestinians need to wise up.

The Palestinians, as we have seen, have no historically and legally justifiable case, certainly nothing that approaches the Israeli gravamen. In any honest trial their deposition would be thrown out of court. Almost every Palestinian stipulation or exaction is precisely what Israel is entitled to from the Palestinians themselves. Nevertheless, they are there now and practical considerations call for the effort to create a Palestinian state. A unilateral declaration, as noted above, is a bad idea, not so much for Israel as for the Palestinians, since it will inevitably release new demons in the region and check the economic upsurge the Palestinians are currently experiencing. A bilateral, or multilateral, agreement is de rigueur if Palestine is to become an abiding reality.

Improbable as it may appear, or be, all that is needed to bring it about is a healthy infusion of truth, a proper set of working assumptions and the right frame of reference—presuming that the Palestinians really want a state and are not actually maneuvering to obliterate Israel as their overriding objective. The Palestinians are by no means “dispossessed,” they are more likely possessed by a profound compulsion to gain territory at Israel’s expense with a view to realizing total domination. “The Arabs now speak of a ‘Palestinian homeland’ and Palestinian self-determination,” writes Thornton in a brilliant recent essay, “The Teacher of Fools,” in order “to grind Israel down in a process of specious negotiation.”

But if they do seriously desire to establish a legitimate, independent state, then truth must out and the negotiating paradigm must be inverted. Otherwise, we may as well just write the whole thing off and let the status quo malinger in perpetuity, as it then surely will.