Where did the idea that we can “divorce” the Palestinians come from?
Commanders for Israel’s Security—an Israeli movement founded by former senior security officials and military generals—is responsible for coining this concept. But military generals, as high up as they were, may be good at orchestrating military operations but they are obviously not so good at foreseeing the future or analyzing history. In the past, similar experts (possibly those very same generals) explained to us that if we disengage from Gaza, Israel’ security will increase. Increased security was also promised after the Oslo Accords. Considering how those promises panned out, it would be wise to take these generals’ advice with a grain of salt. It is a view (or rather an ideology or belief), but not a rational conclusion.
In a short video distributed by the Commanders for Israel’s Security, an actor talks about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as if it were an unhappy marriage. The couple isn’t getting along, and it is suggested that they divorce for the sake of their and their children’s quality of life. But the basic premise of the video is unfounded. The video assumes that both sides prefer quality of life over constant war. The last 150 years teach us that this assumption is wrong: The Arabs of the region repeatedly rejected compromise agreements to divide this land.
After World War I, on Jan. 3, 1919, Zionist leader Chaim Weizmann signed an agreement with Emir Faisal of the short-lived Kingdom of Hejaz calling for a certain division of the land. Several months later, Faisal backtracked and withdrew from the agreement.
In 1937, the Arabs rejected the Peel Commission’s partition plan, which gave them 85 percent of the land of Israel while leaving less than 5,000 square kilometers for the Jewish state.
In 1947, they once again rejected U.N.’s partition plan and launched a war with the express aim of eradicating the Jewish settlement in the land.
In 1993, the Oslo I Accord was signed, bringing tens of thousands of armed gangs into the land of Israel, and the last thing on their minds was making peace with the “Yahud.” The security situation deteriorated quickly, and violence erupted.
In July, 2000, then-PLO chairman Yasser Arafat rejected a (in my view, reckless) proposal made by then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, who offered to withdraw almost entirely from Judea and Samaria and divide Jerusalem. He not only rejected the offer but launched a war against us.
In 2008, Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud Abbas rejected the (even more reckless) offer made by then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to fully withdraw from Judea and Samaria (including land swaps), divide Jerusalem and even resettle Palestinian refugees to a certain degree. There was never even a response.
The vast experience we have amassed, coupled with our understanding of Arab culture and its symbols, teaches us that the Arabs in this area do not have a unique national concept around which they unite. In other words, they don’t have a positive nucleus of “Palestinian nationality” that distinguishes them from the rest of the Arabs of the Middle East. The thing that unites the Palestinian nationality is the rejection of Jewish sovereignty and the elimination of the State of Israel. This is their identity. It’s not that they want a state, but rather that they don’t want us to have one, regardless of size or territory.
No Arab or Palestinian leader thinks that the conflict began in 1967 when Israel seized territory in the Six-Day War. Everyone talks about 1948 at the latest, and some even say it began with the 1917 Balfour Declaration. Others go back as far as the 1880s, with the start of the Zionist aliyah. These are not nuances, they have a practical significance: The Arabs of the region won’t agree to any solution other than reverting back to the point in history that they have chosen before the establishment of the State of Israel. They make no effort to conceal this fact. But some of us, with our typical arrogance, tend to speak for them and assume that they think and feel the same way we do. (If we are going to go back in time, we should also visit the seventh century, when Islam occupied the country and Muslim conquerors expelled some Jews and forced others to convert to Islam. Yes, quite a few of the veteran Palestinians in the region are actually descendants of Jews who converted to Islam.)
Another fundamental assumption made by the Commanders for Israel’s Security is that both sides are thinking rationally and possess a natural human predilection for compromise. It is on this assumption that they base the notion that a solution can be found. An example of rational thinking is as follows: The Talmud tractate Bava Metzia opens with a detailed legal discussion of a monetary dispute in which two disputants are grabbing hold of a garment and claiming ownership. Each claims total and exclusive rights to the garment (kula sheli; it’s all mine), and neither side can definitively refute the claim of the other. Ultimately, they share. This kind of conclusion represents causal thinking, where everything has a cause and therefore, since there’s a cause to the problem, it can be resolved.
According to this logic, the reason for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a dispute over territory, and therefore, if we share the territory, we can resolve the conflict. This causal thinking is a staple of Western logic, starting with Aristotle and through David Hume and to modern times. But in the Middle East, causal thinking doesn’t hold much sway. Here, not every problem has a solution. Even the way time is perceived is different here than it is in the West.
In the Middle East, time isn’t necessarily money. The concept of time is far more flexible here, and problems are often left unresolved on the assumption that time will take care of it, in a hundred years or a thousand years. It may never be resolved, and that’s an acceptable outcome, too. The attempt to impose a solution on the assumption that both sides share the feeling that the problem is territorial is misguided. That is not the problem. The Middle East is more ancient than Europe and in many regards, it is the birthplace of human civilization. There are deep-seated traditions, perceptions, customs, beliefs, myths and historical events here. These paint a very different picture than the one that has taken hold in the West.
Every time it appears as though the problem is nearing a solution, which involves imposing Western dictates on the Arabs, everything blows up. In the Middle East, not every problem has a solution.
The Israeli representative, taking the Western approach, always talks (in English) about “territory” that can be shared. In the media, the shallow discourse is also habitually about territory. Meanwhile, the Arab representative always talks (also in English) about territory, but in the ancient sense of the word—the way it appears in the sacred texts. He refers to the concept of adamah (“land”), from which the word adam (“man”) is derived. This means that in the Middle East, a man without land has no existence, and therefore, “blood” (dam) needs to be spilled. This is not mere wordplay; it is a reflection of profound gaps in perception. The sides are speaking completely different languages and conduct negotiations in completely different ways. The gap is so wide that the two different approaches are unlikely to ever converge. Documents in exchange for swathes of land? Here in the Middle East? Anyone who knows even a little bit of history must realize how futile that is.
And we haven’t touched on the religious aspect yet. According to the Muslim faith, every inch of the land of Israel is sacred land (waqf) that belongs to the Muslim nation. We have yet to find a single Muslim leader who recognizes the Jews’ right—historical, legal or religious—to even one street in Israel. As a rule, across the Middle East, the Muslim identity is far stronger than the secular national identity. The national identities around us are collapsing, because they were originally artificial European construct that the colonialist powers imposed on the nations and tribes of the region after World War I. Now, the region is reverting back to the original, more stable, divisions that characterized it in the past: tribes, ethnic groups and clans.
So of all the groups in the Middle East, the Palestinians will be the ones to succeed in maintaining a sustainable state with a stable national identity? How will they do that, in the absence of any historical, ethnic or even linguistic link between the Arabs of Gaza and the Arabs of Ramallah? Or between them and the Arabs of Nablus?
Eventually, we arrive at the demographic question: what will we do with the millions of Arabs between the Jordan River and the sea? How will we maintain a Jewish majority? I have outlined a number of ideas in previous columns, but in broad strokes, we must first abandon evil before we can do good. We need to understand that the previous solutions have brought us nothing but calamity, so it would be irresponsible to continue on the path that brought us to Oslo.
So why do the former military generals keep coming back to the same “solution” that always turns out badly for the Jewish people? The fate of a people is not something to experiment with. Perhaps what these generals need to do is to divorce their minds from this fixation that has trapped them.
Dror Eydar is a columnist for Israel Hayom, whose English-language content is distributed in the United States exclusively by JNS.