JERUSALEM — Abba Eban, who was serving as his country’s foreign minister after Israel defended itself from Egypt, Syria and Jordan in the Six-Day War, is said to have lamented that Palestinians “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
In Bahrain last week, Jared Kushner, President Trump’s senior advisor, struck a similar note. The plan he and Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt have been working on for the past two years, he said, should not be seen as “the deal of the century.” It should be seen instead as “the opportunity of the century.”
Virtually everyone ever involved in what is optimistically called the “peace process” has taken for granted that the primary goals of Palestinians – or at least those who lead them – are peace, prosperity and self-determination.
What if that’s wrong? What if the Palestinians – or at least those who lead them – really want something else? Would that not guarantee that “opportunities” offered by those seeking to end the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will be missed – or, more precisely, dismissed?
History may help answer this question. In 1947, the U.N. proposed partitioning western Palestine into two states: one for the Arabs of Palestine – back then they did not call themselves Palestinians – and one for the Jews of Palestine. (The more than three-quarters of Palestine to the east had become Jordan.)
This opportunity was immediately accepted by the Jews, and rejected by the Arabs.
Upon termination of the British mandate for Palestine, the region’s existing Arab states launched a war to drive the Jews into the sea. Miraculously, Israel survived.
The Six-Day War of 1967 was a second attempt to use military force to vanquish Israel. When the fighting halted, Gaza and the West Bank, territories that had been occupied by Egypt and Jordan respectively, were in Israeli hands.
That presented a new opportunity. The Israelis could attempt what Egypt and Jordan had not: establishing a Palestinian state in Gaza and the West Bank, a so-called “two-state solution.” In exchange, Palestinians would only need agree to peacefully coexist with their neighbor. The Arab League promptly issued the Khartoum Resolution, the “Three No’s”: “no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no negotiations with it.”
The Israelis persisted. Deals were proposed in 2000, 2001 and 2008.The Palestinians were offered more than 90% of the West Bank. Each time, the Palestinians – or at least those who led them – declined. No counteroffers were presented.
Yet another opportunity: In 2005, Ariel Sharon, then Israel’s prime minister, withdrew every Israeli soldier and farmer, every synagogue and cemetery, from Gaza. If Gaza became a peaceable neighbor, expending its energies and foreign funds lifting its people from poverty, a deal on the West Bank would follow.
You know what happened next: Hamas went to war – literally, not figuratively – with Fatah, its rival. Hamas prevailed, which is why Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas dares not set foot in the territory.
Hamas then turned its guns, missiles and, more recently, terrorist tunnels and incendiary kites on Israel. This was in line with the Hamas Charter which calls for Israel to be annihilated and replaced by an Islamic emirate. Hamas views its struggle against Israel as a jihad. To compromise would be a sin – literally, not figuratively.
The Trump administration’s two-day “Peace to Prosperity Workshop” in Bahrain last week was an unusual and perhaps historic gathering of Israelis and Arabs. Given the threat the Islamic Republic of Iran poses to the region, many Sunni Arabs – or at least those who lead them – are no longer implacably hostile to the militarily capable Jewish state.
Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed Al Khalifa went so far as to say: “Israel is part of this heritage of this whole region historically. So the Jewish people have a place amongst us.”
Mr. Kushner did not ask that Palestinians do anything in exchange for the massive assistance packaged he put on the table – including a $50 billion investment fund and a transportation corridor to connect the West Banks and Gaza.
Nonetheless, Mr. Abbas refused even to discuss the economic plan. At 83, he must be thinking of his legacy. I suspect he wants his portrait hanging next to that of his predecessor, Yasser Arafat, not used for target practice by the mujahedeen.
If there are Palestinians who would like to seize this opportunity, can they prevail over those who lead them? From the river to the sea, only in Israel are people free.
Ashraf Ghanem, a Palestinian businessman, attended the conference. On Monday, he told the Jerusalem Post that he was in hiding after Palestinian security officers tried to arrest him. “I’m afraid for my life,” he said.
Final thought for today: Consciously or not, the “international community” has been encouraging Palestinian intransigence. In Europe and America, too, anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and anti-Israelism are on the rise, with the far right and far left adopting views indistinguishable from those held by Islamists. The so-called BDS movement is transparently eliminationist.
A landmark of sorts was U.N. Security Council Resolution 2334, passed in late 2016 thanks to President Obama. It asserts that there is “no legal basis” for Israeli claims even to the Jewish Quarter of the Old City of Jerusalem and the ancient Jewish holy sites. Which implies that Israelis have no claim to anything – no right to exist.
So Palestinians have been missing opportunities for an unsurprising reason: The opportunity to wipe Israel off the face of the earth may yet present itself. It’s not an impossible dream.
Clifford D. May is founder and president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) and a columnist for the Washington Times.