Palestinian Arabs cannot sign an agreement that ends all claims and recognizes the right of a Jewish state to exist and live unmolested on land that was ever Muslim.
According to the usual international peace negotiators, everyone knows the end game to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, exactly what each party must concede for a final treaty. They say all that is needed is for Israel to withdraw to the 1967 lines with minor adjustments, with east Jerusalem as the capital of the new Palestinian state. If only Israel offered that, peace would reign.
But diplomats twist themselves into knots, finding ways to rationalize Palestinian intransigence, trying to explain away the fact that all those concessions were already offered to the Palestinian Authority in 2001 and 2008 and were soundly rejected. In 2008 the Israelis offered 94% of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) with land swaps to make up for the 6%, east Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, while Israel even conceded giving up exclusive sovereignty of the Temple Mount, the Mount of Olives, and the City of David, not to mention billions in international investment in a new Palestinian state. The Palestinians only had to give up the right of return, sign “an end-of-conflict and end-of-claims” agreement for perpetuity and be demilitarized.
If the Palestinians’ goal was truly two states for two peoples, and they truly wanted an independent Palestinian state living side by side a Jewish state, as UNGA Resolution 181 called for, why has this conflict not been resolved?
A recent article in The Hill by Dennis Ross and David Makovsky, two veteran peace negotiators and advisers who should know better, referred to a “two-state solution” and a “viable two-state outcome” in their attack on the Trump peace plan. Those terms mean completely different things to the Palestinians than they do to Western negotiators.
To Palestinians, two states mean an Arab state in the West Bank and a binational state in Israel that will become Arab-ruled with time, because the Palestinians will never give up the right of return, as well documented in the new book The War of Return by Adi Schwartz and Einat Wilf, a former Knesset member from the Center-Left Independence and Labor parties. The Palestinian demand is that all Palestinian refugees and their descendants in perpetuity have the right to move into Israel at any time of their choosing. In other words, this is the demographic destruction of Israel as a Jewish state.
Western negotiators and politicians of both American political parties have never fully understood or let on that they understood what the Palestinians really want, believing the answer to bridge the divide was leaving any documents between the parties ambiguous, so both could claim victory.
The only logical approach to truly ending this conflict is to write the most clear, unambiguous and specific documents, with every possible “i” dotted and “t” crossed, so no party can ever claim it still has outstanding issues in the future. Even contingencies should be included in the agreement, with a mechanism to respond to any violations.
Because Palestinian Arabs cannot at the present time sign an agreement that ends all claims and sign an end-of-conflict resolution that recognizes the right of a Jewish state to exist and live unmolested on land that was ever Muslim. I brought this up with president Bill Clinton in 2004, a man who truly gave his all to solve the conflict. Surprisingly, despite his sincere personal investment in the conflict, he didn’t seem to appreciate the essential importance of signing an end-of-conflict resolution, but he did tell me that prime ministers Yitzhak Rabin and Ehud Barak insisted upon it, as did Ehud Olmert in 2008. This is the eternal blind spot of Western negotiators and American presidents who seem to just want a deal signed, and inexplicably believe ambiguity will build trust. That was the failure of the Oslo Accords, giving away tangible assets for unfulfilled promises.
Western peacemakers have claimed without a credible basis that acknowledging the Palestinian right to return is just a needed gesture for Palestinian dignity, and say that the Palestinians will never take advantage of it, knowing that only a token number of refugees can be allowed. Just listen to what Palestinian leaders from Yasser Arafat to Mahmoud Abbas say, that vehemently contradicts this.
There is no international right for the return of refugees, certainly not descendants of refugees. In fact every other refugee in the world aided by the UNHCR (UN High Commission for Refugees) is to be rehabilitated in the country where they received refuge. This is especially true for refugees from the 1948 War of Independence, who were active participants in the war to annihilate the Jewish inhabitants, joining five Arabs armies whose goal was the complete annihilation of the Jewish state. The most the pro-Palestinian world can argue is that UNGA Resolution 194 calls for the right of return. However as with all General Assembly resolutions it has absolutely no force of law.
If peacemakers truly want a sustainable peace, they have to acknowledge that Israel has legal rights over the 1949 armistice lines if an eventual deal includes land swaps. Just like with the refugee issue, if it is not completely spelled out, no matter what agreement is signed, Palestinians will always have a pretext to say Israel stole Palestinian land with land swaps, and once again, preach and prepare for a new war.
The pro-Palestinian Middle East Monitor said it the best. “Palestinians will continue to seek a just peace that will provide future generations with their birthright; their land will be returned, one way or another.” Naïve Westerners hear the words “just peace” and assume it means two states for two peoples. What it actually means is the unlimited right of return for every Palestinian forever to Israel, as no Palestinian government can give up an individual Palestinian descendant’s claim to be a displaced owner of what is now Israel.
The annexation debate has obscured the true paradigm of the conflict. The question is not if Israel annexes 30% of the West Bank, would it end the dream of a Palestinian state. The question to ask is, would the Palestinians accept the West Bank with land swaps that ensure Israel’s security, sign an end-of-conflict resolution and accept a Jewish state? The answer for the foreseeable future is no. This is not a territorial conflict or else this would have ended long ago.
If this hill for a comprehensive agreement is too high to climb at this time, so be it. What is needed is honesty, so a putative peace agreement is not just a recipe for fruitless concessions by Israel.
If all the Palestinians are capable of doing is negotiating a better status quo with more economic development and investment in exchange for nonviolence, then that should be the path for this generation.
The Trump peace plan or any other agreement will never have any staying power if it doesn’t include an end-of-conflict agreement, a recognition of two states for two peoples that clearly states that one of those states is Jewish, and an absolute end of any right for descendants of original Palestinian refugees to return to the State of Israel.
The writer is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political Information Network). He regularly briefs members of Congress and their foreign policy aides, as well White House advisers. He is the senior security editor for the Jerusalem Report/ Jerusalem Post, and writes for The Hill, JNS, JTA, RealClearWorld and Defense News.