Jason Greenblatt, President Trump’s special envoy, scolded the United Nations Security Council on Wednesday for refusing to accept the obvious cause of Palestinian suffering in Gaza. He said that the Security Council needs “to admit that Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad are the primary barrier to the dreams of those residents of Gaza who want to live in peace, raise their families and find meaningful work.” Mr. Greenblatt condemned both terrorist organizations for continuing “to target Israeli hospitals and schools” and using Palestinian civilians, including children, as human shields. He asked, “When will the Security Council say this out loud? When will we clearly reject this terrorism?”
Mr. Greenblatt’s observation applies to the Palestinian people’s plight more generally. Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and the Palestinian Authority leaders are holding the people they claim to represent hostage to their campaigns of violence, incitement to hatred, and absolutist demands. These leaders have no more interest in genuine peace with Israel than their forebears who rejected the United Nations’ original two-state partition solution more than 70 years ago. Time and again, Israel offered major land concessions to the Palestinians within which they would have been free to determine their own future, so long as that future did not include continuing attacks against Israelis. Time and again, Palestinian leaders spurned the offers, insisting instead on “river to sea” elimination of the Jewish state achieved through violence and artifice.
Shortly after Israel won the 1967 Six-Day War against Arab aggression and took control of the territories of the West Bank and Gaza, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 242. This was the foundational UN resolution in attempting to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict following the changed situation on the ground. It called for negotiations under the framework of Israeli withdrawal from land it had won from Arab countries, including Jordan and Egypt, in exchange for “peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.” In June 1967, Moshe Dayan said, “We are waiting for the Arabs’ phone call. They know where to find us.” However, neither the major Arab states nor Palestinian leaders wanted any part of negotiations. They stubbornly clung to their three Nos: No recognition of Israel, no peace, no negotiations.
There were no Jewish settlements in the territories to speak of back in 1967 that the Palestinian leaders and their enablers could use as a pretext to delegitimize Israel. As far as they were concerned, the entire Jewish state of Israel was an illegal "colonial settlement” that needed to be eliminated for there to be any “peace” in the region. The Palestinian leaders and their enablers nullified any chance for a negotiated resolution of territorial disputes with Israel. As a result, the Palestinian people lost the opportunity more than 50 years ago to obtain control of significant contiguous territory, within which they could have taken concrete steps to begin establishing a state of their own. This would become a recurring pattern.
In 2000, former President Bill Clinton proposed a plan that would have handed to the Palestinians a contiguous area encompassing most of the West Bank. Clinton was quoted in minutes of a meeting of negotiators held at the White House in December 2000 as saying, “Based on what I heard, I believe that the solution should be in the mid-90%'s, between 94-96% of the West Bank territory of the Palestinian State.” Israel accepted the plan, which would have also included Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Clinton said that his plan would give “the Palestinian people the ability to determine their future on their own land” and “a sovereign and viable state recognized by the international community.” The plan also contemplated a split of sovereignty within the Old City of Jerusalem “to accord respect to the religious beliefs of both sides.”
PLO leader Yasser Arafat rejected Clinton’s plan. Clinton was reportedly furious. He blamed Arafat’s insistence on the so-called “right of return,” allowing millions of so-called Palestinian “refugees” to enter pre-1967 Israel to live, for the failure of his peace plan. Arafat’s answer to the Clinton peace plan he rejected was a campaign of violence, sabotaging a chance for his people to achieve their aspirations for self-determination in their own independent state. In short, rather than accept a solution that would have given the Palestinians their own independent state in return for giving up their absolutist claims, Arafat sold out his own people to keep the Palestinian victimhood narrative alive.
In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza and four northern West Bank settlements. Around 8,500 Jewish settlers were uprooted. Israel Defense Forces installations and troops were removed. Israel’s disengagement cost nearly $3 billion. “Some 3,000 homes were razed altogether, according to Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” Haaretz reported. Israel left behind synagogue buildings, some greenhouses, and infrastructure including pipes and roads. “The disengagement decision holds hope for a better future; it transfers responsibility for the Strip to the Palestinians, who will be in charge of their destiny,” then Chief of Staff Dan Halutz said at the time. “Their true test will be to prevent terror.”
The Palestinians were overjoyed. Not surprisingly, however, some of them showed their gratitude with wanton destruction and looting, including of synagogues, greenhouses and infrastructure left behind in some locations. The Palestinians' leaders squandered an opportunity to build a prototype of a viable state focused on economic development and trade with Gaza’s neighbors, including Israel.
Dr. Mohammed Samhouri, a Palestinian economist and academic who had served as a senior economic adviser to the Palestinian Authority, has written about what could have been if the Palestinians had followed a constructive path. Instead, especially after Hamas took over full control of Gaza in 2007, Gaza was turned into a launching pad for terrorist rocket attacks. Dr. Samhouri wrote that he “was a member of a hopeful group of technocrats who developed a clear roadmap for Gaza after Israel unilateral disengagement in 2005, and then watched as that plan collapsed.” After Hamas’s “violent takeover of the entire Gaza Strip,” he added, “it was all downhill from there for Gaza.”
Israel did not initiate the violence wracking the Gaza region since Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. Israel only responded in self-defense to the escalating barrage of rockets and mortar fire, principally aimed by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad at Israeli civilian population centers. Israel also tightened security at border crossings and at sea to prevent the smuggling of arms into Gaza. The Palestinian terrorists brought devastation upon the residents of Gaza by their own aggressive acts, resulting in measures that Israel had to take to protect its own citizens.
The latest round of violence in Gaza earlier this month followed this same pattern. Lebanese journalist Nadim Koteich placed the blame where it belonged. "The peddling of the blood of the people of Gaza must stop. This battle was started by the Islamic Jihad, not by Israel," he said during an interview posted by MEMRI. "[Israel] was forced into this battle, in which it had no interest. Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005. The Palestinians should have turned the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza into an opportunity for a national Palestinian compromise. Instead, Hamas opted for a coup in 2007 and for a civil war…Hamas and The Islamic Jihad have thwarted all opportunities for peace, and they have ended up in a prison called Gaza."
Meanwhile, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas prioritizes payments to families of dead or jailed Palestinian terrorists over using tax revenue transfers from Israel, which have made up about half of the Palestinian Authority budget, to improve the lives of his own people. That is why, after Israel decided to withhold approximately 5 percent of the monthly transfer payments equivalent to Abbas’s “pay to slay” stipends, Abbas refused to accept the remaining 95 percent. “We have refused to receive the 700 million-shekel ($194 million) transfer after Israel deducted 42 million shekels from it,” Hussein al-Sheikh, the Palestinian Authority minister of civil affairs, told Reuters regarding the first planned monthly transfer of 2019.
Finally, Palestinian leaders continue to insist on the so-called “right of return” of millions of so-called Palestinian “refugees” as part of any final peace agreement. Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, which are engaged in a battle with each other to speak on behalf of all Palestinians under one centralized government, agree on this demand.
“Our people will not agree to keep the ‘right of return’ only as a slogan,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said last year in explaining the reason for so-called March of Return protests near the Gaza border with Israel that turned violent. “We have waited for too long to return to the lands from which our grandparents were expelled 70 years ago,” said another senior Hamas official.
A video for children, appearing on Palestinian Authority TV last year, was entitled “From generation to generation, there is no alternative to the return.” A narrator said in the video, “Our return is certain, and Jerusalem is the eternal capital of our state.” It is blind hatred against Jews that is being transferred from generation to generation.
Of course, for Israel the “right of return” demand is a non-starter because it would destroy Israel’s raison d'être as a secure homeland for the Jewish people. Surprisingly, the Palestinian leaders are also out of step with many of their own people, according to two surveys conducted by different Palestinian pollsters last October. As reported by the Washington Institute, “the data suggests that a peace plan advancing Palestinian aspirations, even at the price of major concessions, would be accepted at the popular level—despite its likely rejection by both the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Hamas.” Regarding the “right of return” issue, “Two-thirds of Gazans say Palestinians should accept that ‘right of return’ not apply to Israel, but only to the West Bank and Gaza, if that is the price of a Palestinian state.” Opinion is more evenly split in the West Bank, although “a mere 5 percent say they would probably move to Israel even if they could.” The surveys indicated that a majority of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank thought that “most Palestinians will not return to the 1948 lands.”
The leaders of both Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are leading their people on a self-destructive path. The rigidity of their leaders, enforced by harsh repression of dissent, is the single biggest cause of the Palestinian people’s continuing suffering and the lack of an independent Palestinian state existing side-by-side in peace and security with the Jewish state of Israel.