Three South American countries – Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay -- have formally recognized a Palestinian state defined by the 1949 armistice lines, and the European Union has expressed its intention of doing so at the appropriate time. The Palestinian Authority claims that ten European states have already committed to full diplomatic relations with the phantom state of Palestine.
The Palestinians have been down this road before. In 1988, before Oslo and before the Palestinian Authority, they persuaded over 100 nations to duly recognize a Palestinian state, with precious little to show for it. What more do the Palestinians hope to achieve this time? And what claim do they have to such recognition?
The answer to the first question would seem to be: To further delegitimize Israel in the West. The Palestinians have always viewed time as on their side. They trust that their growing numbers and arsenals, coupled with Jewish weariness, will eventually allow them to destroy the Jewish state. And every diminution of Western support for Israel, every successful effort to portray Israel as a rogue state denying the Palestinians their legitimate rights, encourages the Palestinians in their belief that the future is theirs and further demoralizes Israelis.
Now to the second question: What has changed now? Surely it cannot be Israeli recalcitrance. In terminating their request for a further three-month settlement moratorium, the Americans did not claim Israel had not been forthcoming. After all, Prime Minister Netanyahu had agreed to a ten-month moratorium on settlement building, including even Jerusalem, during which the Palestinians did not respond for nine months. Nor did Netanyahu reject a further three-month moratorium: He just waited patiently for written commitments from the Americans – commitments which were never forthcoming and without which the majority of ministers rightfully treated the America promises as worthless. In the end, the Americans simply determined that the sides were so far apart on every crucial issue that there was no hope of achieving anything in that three-month framework – certainly nothing worth the embarrassment of putting in writing promises likely to be broken.
Even Robert Malley and Hussin Aghi, authors of a revisionist account of Camp David 2000, in which it was not Arafat who backed out of negotiations, did not put the onus on Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. In an article in the left-wing Guardian, they admitted that Netanyahu has been propelled towards a peace deal by concerns about U.S. and regional pressure, Israeli public opinion, and fears of how the Palestinians might react to a prolonged impasse. And they speculated that history beckoned Netanyahu, as he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror as the prime minister who finally brings recognition and peace to Israel. Rather it was Abbas who felt that he lacked the necessary support to proceed with a peace deal.
Far from showing greater flexibility while negotiations were in limbo, the Palestinian Authority continually hardened its stand, until there was no room for flexibility at all. The message in Arabic coming out of Ramallah, writes the Jerusalem Post's invaluable Arab affairs reporter Khaled Abu Toameh remains "no and no and no – no to resumption of peace talks unconditionally, not to accepting Israel as a Jewish state, no to any solution that does not include all the territories captured by Israel in 1967." (He leaves out a fourth crucial no – no to any compromise on the "right of return," which would be the end of Israel.) Toameh adds ironically, "These no's are apparently being translated by the White House and Palestinians as one big yes."
PERHAPS THE PALESTINIANS have taken major steps to earn a state that justifies recognition at this point in time. Hardly. The West Bank and Gaza remain under separate governance. Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, continues in office well over two years after the expiration of his term. A poll last week by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that only 27% of respondents in the West Bank feel that they can criticize the Palestinian Authority without fear, and only 19% of those in Gaza that they can criticize Hamas without fear. The only model for Palestinian self-governance remains the brutal Hamas rule in Gaza.
If Abbas feels incapable of taking even baby step towards peace for fear of being assassinated, it is only because the Palestinian leadership, from Arafat to the present, has never educated the population for peace or broken the news to them that peace cannot be achieved with compromise. The resolutions of the most recent Fatah convention, calling for the destruction of the Zionist entity, could well have been passed by the founding congress of the PLO. Nothing has changed.
Palestinian media and schoolbooks, nearly two decades after Oslo, invariably portray all of Israel as part of the mythical Palestine. Sermons inciting the population "to murder the Jews wherever you find them" continue to be a regular feature on Palestinian TV. And the cult of martyrdom and heroic suicide bombers continues to be fostered by the Palestinian media. Is it any wonder, then, that Abbas remains deathly afraid of any peace deal as portending his own swift demise?
There can be no peace at the present – and perhaps ever – because the Palestinians have pursued not a two-state solution, but a two-stage solution, of which the second stage is inevitably the establishment of a unitary Palestinian rule from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River. Even those Palestinians who profess to support a two-state solution, make clear to pollsters that they do not see it as a final solution, but merely as a stage to a takeover of the Jewish state, which they will never, in any event, recognize as such.
The first and greatest obstacle to peace, writes historian Benny Morris, "is one that American and European officials never express and—if impolitely mentioned in their presence – turn away from in distaste, is that Palestinian political elites, of both the so-called "secular" and Islamist varieties are dead set against portioning the Land of Israel/Palestine with the Jews. They regard all of Palestine as their patrimony and believe that it will eventually be theirs."
WELL PERHAPS NATURAL JUSTICE entitles the Palestinians to their own state. Indeed that does seem to be the view of most of those who would now recognize a Palestinian state: the Palestinians have justice on their side; the Jews are colonialists in a land not their own.
But that raises some questions. Why do the Palestinians deserve a state, even one that mortally threatens Israel, but not the Kurds? The Kurds have an ancient historical consciousness; the Palestinians' is no older than the State of Israel. The Kurds are linguistically distinct from the four nations out of which a Kurdish state would be formed, while the Palestinians speak the same language as their fellow Arabs in Jordan and Syria.
So why is the imperative of a Palestinian state so self-evident, while demonstrations are held nowhere in the world for Kurds or Tibetans denied self-determination? And if the case for a Palestinian state is so compelling, how come no South American or European country noticed this fact during the nineteen years of Jordanian rule (which was recognized by less than a handful of nations) over the West Bank? These questions, to which no answer has ever been forthcoming, suggest that at some level, perhaps subconscious, the issue is not the Palestinians but the Jews, not that the Palestinians should have a state, but that the Jews should not.
There have been many dispossessed peoples in the world since 1948, but of them only the plight of the Palestinians commands international attention and absorbs diplomats. Of the 12 million refugees created in that period, only the Palestinians retain that status. Only the Palestinians have deliberately not been absorbed by their fellow Arabs.
Of all those peoples dispossessed by war or other forces, the Palestinians and their sponsors have been the most complicit in their own fate. They could have had their own state in 1949. Instead they chose to flee their homes and return having destroyed the fledgling Jewish state. In 1967, they could have immediately regained all the land captured in the 1967 war, save perhaps parts of Jerusalem at the center of Jewish millennial yearning. But they responded with the three no's of Khartoum – no peace, no recognition, no negotiations. Yasir Arafat simply walked away from the table in response to an offer of a contiguous state in 97% of the West Bank at Camp David in 2000. And Mahmoud Abbas, as he confirmed to the Washington Post last year, did the same in response to an even more generous offer, including East Jerusalem, from Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008.
Secretary of State Hilary Clinton's repeated invocations of "the occupation that began in 1967" conjure up the conquest of territory of a sovereign state by a foreign army. But the Israeli takeover of Judea and Samaria was nothing of the kind. That fact should not be elided by constant references to the "occupation." The Six-Day War was fought in response to the massing of Arab armies on Israel's borders and repeated boasts of their intent to throw the Jews into the sea. Israel pleaded with Jordan's King Hussein not to join Egypt and Syria in making war on Israel. Only after he ignored those pleas and attacked did Israel enter the West Bank.
Nor did it enter territory under foreign sovereignty. There were no 1967 borders, just the 1949 armistice lines where the armies called quits to their fighting. As mentioned above, Jordan was not an internationally recognized sovereign. Though initially Israel retained the West Bank, and to a large extent still does, in order to ensure that it not be subjected to the same threats as in 1967, Jews did not enter as foreign conquerors, but as an ancient people returning to their Biblical heartland.
In their obsession with Palestinian "rights," the South Americans and Europeans only demonstrate to the Jews of Israel that they have nothing to look to from them. As Israel's ambassador to Great Britain Ron Prosor said this week, the Europeans would content themselves with ritualistic statements "that Israel has a right to exist," but not lift a finger to ensure that existence. The 100 French anti-tank missiles sold to Lebanon this week just drive home that point. Those missiles might as well be transferred directly to Hizbullah, the dominant power in Lebanon. The French know very well that those missiles will never be used against any foe besides Israel, and they also know that Israeli tanks will never enter Lebanon except in response to direct attacks on Israel or Israeli soldiers. So, in effect, the sale says, "We wish to help Lebanon attack Israel and defend against Israeli counter-attack.
But fear not, the French too recognize Israel's "right to exist."