Israel’s legendary Foreign Minister Abba Eban had famously quipped that “the Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” It is the most fitting attribute for the Palestinians. Historically, they have said no to the British Peel Commission of 1937, which promised them a state on 75% of mandatory Palestine. The Yishuv, Palestine’s Jews, who were originally called Palestinians during the British Mandate (1920-1948) said yes, despite of being offered a small piece of the second partition of Palestine. In the first partition of Mandatory Palestine, in 1922, Winston Churchill, then British Colonial Secretary, sliced off 34,495 miles originally slated to be part of the Balfour Declaration for a Jewish homeland, to create the Emirate of Trans Jordan. Of the remaining 10,309 miles, Jewish Palestine would be allocated a measly 2,577 miles.
Instead of accepting self-determination for his people, Haj Amin Al-Husseini, the Arab-Palestinian leader also titled Mufti of Jerusalem, and Hitler’s ally, ordered the Arab Revolt (1936-1939). Arab-Palestinian violence was repaid by British appeasement in the form of the White Paper, which shut the doors of Palestine to European Jews in the face of the looming Holocaust. In 1947, the Palestinian Arabs said no once again when offered an independent state by the United Nations General Assembly. Instead, they launched a war of annihilation against the newly born Jewish state of Israel, which accepted partition, and declared statehood on May 14, 1948.
In more recent decades, when Yasser Arafat, the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) chairman, made the wrong move by associating with Saddam Hussein, Iraq’s dictator who brutally invaded Kuwait and robbed it blind. Arabs throughout the Gulf turned their back on Arafat and the PLO. Arab states were part of the coalition forces led by the U.S. that fought Saddam and liberated Kuwait. Down on his fortune, and isolated internationally, Arafat endorsed PLO participation in the Oslo Peace Process. Immediately following the Gulf War, the W.H. Bush administration set up the Madrid Peace Conference with senior delegations from Syria, Israel, and a combined Jordanian-non-PLO Palestinians delegation.
These Palestinians were notables from Gaza and the West Bank. Arafat felt that he and his PLO were losing control as the only body to speak for the Palestinians. The Rabin government feared that it couldn’t make headways without the PLO consent. The Oslo process suited both parties. For Arafat and the Palestinians however, Oslo and the 1993 Oslo Accords signed on the White House lawn, was merely a Trojan Horse. Arafat and his PLO never really reconciled themselves to a small Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. His entire ideology, and terrorist activities were aimed at destroying the Jewish state.
Israel made a critical mistake of allowing Arafat to return to the West Bank and Gaza. Arafat’s Gaza and Jericho bases of the newly established Palestinian Authority (PA) was to serve as the beginning of a process over 5 years, that would culminate in a Palestinian State. That was not Arafat’s plan. He gave the Islamist Hamas terrorists a green light to pursue suicide bombing. Palestinian jails became a revolving door. Palestinian suicide bombers and murderers were apprehended and then released. The Rabin government, fearing that a tough Israeli reaction to Arafat might derail the ‘peace process’ did little to curb Arafat’s machinations. This only increased Arafat’s resolve that the Jews were weak and would crumble under the weight of suicide bombing and terror. Anti-Israel and anti-Jewish incitement in the Palestinian media, educational system, and mosques, encouraged by Arafat, upped the ante. It made a mockery of the Oslo Accords.
When President Bill Clinton facilitated the Camp David II summit in July, 2000, Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Barak agreed to make far reaching concessions to the Palestinians, including 73% of the West Bank, eventually to be raised to 91%, and 100% of the Gaza Strip. An elevated highway would connect the West Bank to Gaza. To compensate the Palestinians further, they would receive land from Israeli territory of the Halutza Sand region next to Gaza. More than 63 Israeli settlements would be dismantled, and its residents forced to evacuate to Israel within the Green Line.
Palestinians would have custodianship over the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and administrate the Muslim and Christian Quarters. Barak also agreed to allow a maximum of 100,000 Palestinian refugees into Israel, and a $30 billion International Fund be set up to compensate Palestinians for lost property. President Clinton, along with PM Barak insisted that Arafat sign a declaration of “end of conflict” with no more demands…Arafat walked out in a tantrum and waged the Second Intifada. Another missed opportunity, but then again, the “conflict” was Arafat’s essential power, and he was a revolutionary terrorist, not a statesman concerned with elevating the lives of his people.
In September, 2008, PM Ehud Olmert offered Mahmoud Abbas, President of the PA, additional concessions, including 93% of the West Bank, and the evacuation of over 60,000 Israelis from the West Bank. He offered to cede to the Palestinians Jerusalem’s peripheral neighborhoods, and the refugee camps surrounding the city such as Kalandia. The U.S. supported Olmert’s proposals but Abbas, like his predecessor Arafat, said no. Like Arafat, he knew that accepting peace would mean his assassination. He said no to the recent January, 2020 Trump peace plan even before it was unveiled. It offered the Palestinians a chance for economic revival and prosperity.
Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat understood his responsibility to the welfare of his people by making peace with Israel in 1979. He said yes to a better future for his people as did King Hussein of Jordan in 1994. They broke away from Abba Eban’s apt quip, ‘that Arabs never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.’
It seems that the Palestinian leaders believe that the longer they wait, the better the results for them will be. However, in the face of the historical record, every time the Palestinians said no, their domain was reduced, not extended. More importantly, the Israel-United Arab Emirates (UAE) peace deal shows that time is not on the Palestinians side. Arab nations prefer to pursue their self-interest and are no longer giving Palestinians veto rights. Moreover, the Palestinians have chosen to ally themselves with the radical islamists, non-Arab regimes of Iran (Shiite) and Turkey (Sunni), and are thus alienating their fellow Arab moderate Muslim states of Saudi Arabia, UAE, Egypt, and Jordan to name a few.
For the last 25 years, the PA leadership failed to build a viable state in spite of great opportunities and international financial support. The result has been a decline in international support for the Palestinians due to corruption, mismanagement, human rights violations, terrorism, and unwillingness to compromise for peace. Palestinian idealism pushed by Abbas is expressed in a musical video, along with the popular slogan, “We’ll Redeem the Land with Spirit and Blood, and make Zionists suffer.” This kind of idealism simply promotes bloodshed and shaheeds (martyrdom), not peace or prosperity for Palestinian people. This is not a pragmatic way to provide the Palestinian people with dignity, or a sovereign state. It reminded this reporter of Palestinian human rights activist, Bassem Eid’s words, “We don’t need an identity, we know who we are. We need the dignity that comes from having jobs that can support our families.” He added, “Israel has done more for us on that score than Mahmoud Abbas and the PA.” Pragmatic action means compromise, and Palestinian leadership has failed to seize the opportunity to compromise for peace for an entire century.