The decision by the Obama Administration to stop pressuring Israel to end the West Bank settlements in order to get the Palestinian leadership to return to the negotiations table, should not obscure the following sad reality: The fact that the Israeli occupation of the West Bank has not ended is largely, if not entirely, the fault of the Palestinian leadership. This may sound counter-intuitive, since it is Israel that is continuing to occupy the West Bank, but it has been the Palestinian leadership that has repeatedly refused to accept Israel’s offers to end the occupation. It was recently revealed that in 2008, the Israeli government again offered to end the occupation, and once again the Palestinian leadership failed to accept the offer. This is what the Associated Press reported on November 27, 2010.
Since leaving office, [Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Olmert has confirmed that he made Israel’s most far-reaching offer to the Palestinians, proposing a Palestinian state on close to 94 percent of the West Bank and offering the equivalent of the final 6 percent of territory in a land “swap.”
Olmert said yesterday that the Palestinians never responded to his offer, made in the final months of his term in office.
“I think that they made a mistake.”
Yassir Arafat made the same mistake in 2000 and 2001 when he refused a similar offer from Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and United States President Bill Clinton.
In 2005 when Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon completely ended the occupation of the Gaza Strip, Hamas responded by showering thousands of rockets on Israeli civilian targets.
And now in 2010 the Palestinian leadership is refusing to sit down and negotiate with the Netanyahu government unless Israel accepts “preconditions.”
This reminds me of what Abba Eban famously said after Israel won a decisive war started by the Arabs in 1967:
“This was the first war in history that on the morrow the victors sued for peace and the vanquished called for unconditional surrender.”
It is no wonder that so many Israeli citizens are skeptical about whether the Palestinian leadership is willing to make, or capable of actually making peace with Israel. This skepticism has been fueled by a recent article on the official website of the Palestinian Authority claiming that there is no hard evidence of any Jewish connection to the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site. Instead, it claims that “this wall is the place where the Prophet Muhammad tethered his winged steed, Buraq, during his miraculous overnight journey from Mecca to Jerusalem in the seventh century.” The Palestinian Authority article asserts that “the Al Buraq Wall is the western wall of Al Aksa, which the Zionist occupation falsely claims ownership of and calls the Wailing Wall or Kotel.” In other words, the Palestinian leadership expects Israelis to believe Muslim theological claims over Jewish archaeological evidence.
Moreover, the Palestinian Authority refuses to accept Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, and refuses to end the repeated incitements against Jews that are a staple of the Palestinian Authority controlled media.
It is also no wonder that many Israelis have concluded that the Palestinian leadership has marginalized the Palestinians. What can the P.A. now offer Israel in exchange for the end of the occupation and the division of Jerusalem? Not peace in the north, which is controlled by Iran’s wholly owned subsidiary Hezbollah. Not peace in the west, which is controlled by Hamas, another Iranian surrogate. All the Palestinian Authority can now offer Israel is peace on the relatively quiet eastern border. And it would be an uncertain and incomplete peace even with the P.A., since there is no assurance that the Palestinian Authority will retain control over the West Bank, and even if it manages to isolate Hamas in Gaza, there is no guarantee that terrorist groups will not use the West Bank as a launching pad for rockets and other forms of terrorism.
The Palestinians have employed two weapons as alternatives to actually sitting down and negotiating a two-state solution. The first was the violence incited by Arafat after he rejected the Barak-Clinton offer of 2000-2001. Instead of continuing to negotiate, Arafat ordered the beginning of a second Infada with its suicide bombings and the deaths of thousands of Palestinians and Israelis. This tactic got the Palestinians nothing but bloodshed, and the continuing support of the hard left. It lost them the support of the Israeli peace movement and drove many Israeli moderates to the right.
Following Arafat’s “untimely” death—untimely in the sense that if he had died a few years earlier would have ended by now—the Palestinian Authority shifted from guerrilla warfare to guerrilla “lawfare.”
Under this tactic, the Palestinian Authority has taken advantage of the United Nations’ biased machinery of international “human right” to push Israel into the “dock” as a “criminal state,” accusing it of war crimes every time it takes any action in defense of its citizens, whether it be building a security barrier against terrorists, treating terrorists as combatants and targeting them for military attack, of defending its civilians against rocket attacks. This “lawfare” tactic is also backfiring. It is making it more difficult for Israel to end the occupation, because many Israelis fear that leaving the West Bank will bring the same violent response that followed the end of the occupation of Gaza: namely rocket attacks on Israeli civilians. And if Israel were to seek to protect its civilians, as it did in Gaza, it would be accused of war crimes and hauled in front of the International Criminal Court.
A related weapon, now being widely used on university campuses around the world, is to challenge Israel’s legitimacy as a state—even within its pre-1967 borders. This tactic too is making it harder for Israel to make peace, because many Israelis fear that any agreement is only a tactic that will lead to further attacks on the legitimacy of the Jewish state and calls for a single bi-national state, which would inevitably become yet another Muslim Arab state.
To hold the Palestinian leadership responsible for the continuing Israeli occupation of the West Bank is not to blame the victim. The Palestinian people have indeed been victims—of their own leadership and the refusal of so many Palestinians to take “yes” for an answer when they have been offered an end to the occupation, and have instead chosen violence, lawfare and rejection of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.
I have long believed and written that when the Palestinian leadership wants their own state more than they want the end of the Jewish state, there will be a two-state solution.
The time has come for those Palestinians who seek peace to take control over their own destiny and demand that their leaders sit down, with no preconditions, and negotiate an end to the occupation and the implementation of a two-state solution. If they do not, they too will share the blame for the continuing occupation and lack of statehood.
Professor Alan Dershowitz’s latest book is a novel, The Trials of Zion.