OpinionIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

Learning some painful Mideast history lessons

We have to ask ourselves: Is this experiment of “land for peace” working?

Israeli and Palestinian officers hold a field-situation assessment in preparation for Israel's 2005 disengagement from Gaza, Aug. 16, 2005. Credit: Israel Defense Forces.
Israeli and Palestinian officers hold a field-situation assessment in preparation for Israel's 2005 disengagement from Gaza, Aug. 16, 2005. Credit: Israel Defense Forces.
Sarah N. Stern
Sarah N. Stern
Sarah N. Stern is the founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET), a think tank that specializes in the Middle East. She is the author of Saudi Arabia and the Global Terrorist Network (2011).  

The U.N. Security Council issued a one-sided rebuke of Israel on Feb. 20, stating that “the Security Council reiterates that continuing Israeli settlement activities are dangerously imperiling the viability of the two-state solution based on the 1967 lines.”

It is important that remember some painful lessons of history.

In 2005, in a heart-wrenching, politically divisive move, the Israeli government decided to uproot any remnant of a Jewish presence in Gaza and withdrew to the pre-1967 lines, giving the Palestinian people in the region total independence.

Jewish philanthropists actually bought the greenhouses to give to this “nascent Palestinian state.” Some rabbis wanted to leave the synagogues in Gaza, arguing “After all, we all pray to the same God.”

Many of my friends who were for the Gaza withdrawal explained to me: “This will prove to the world just how far Israel is willing to go for peace.”

Do you think the world remembers any of this today?

As soon as the blue and white flag was lowered and the Israel Defense Forces closed the gate, those greenhouses and synagogues—and any other vestige of Jewish life—were all destroyed in a heightened display of hate-infested anarchy and mayhem.

And then in 2007, after a bitter internecine war between Fatah and Hamas (Hamas being an organization totally created for the imminent destruction of the State of Israel without the politically correct pretenses of Fatah), took over the Gaza Strip.

The result of this magnanimous gesture of the Gaza withdrawal was the more than 10,000 missiles that have rained down on Israel, provoking Israel to have to fight four wars: “Operation Cast Lead” in 2008, “Operation Pillar of Defense” in 2012 and “Operation Protective Edge” in 2014. And then, during the 11-day Gaza conflict with Palestinian Islamic Jihad in May 2021, another 4,000 missiles rained down over Israeli civilian communities and homes.

With each successive war, the range of the rockets has extended. These weapons can now reach Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa. I was in Israel nearly two years ago in May when I had a mere 60 seconds to run into a sealed room together with my children and grandchildren. And the people living in the border communities of Gaza have far less time than that.

We have to ask ourselves: Is this experiment of “land for peace” really working?

Another important point: Are these territories “disputed territories” or “Palestinian-occupied territories?”

Alan Baker, former ambassador to Canada and former legal advisor to Israel’s foreign ministry, in a recent presentation by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs stated that although the phrase “Palestinian occupied territories” is accepted parlance, that has no basis in law.

However, it represents the majority of states that voted in favor of hundreds of resolutions, and further stated that “in the agreements between Israel and the Palestinians (the Oslo Accords and the 1995 Interim Agreement), the Palestinians themselves agreed that these are disputed territories that will be agreed upon during final status negotiations.”

Does the world remember the offers in 1936 from the Peel Commission, the November 1947 vote in the United Nations, the 1967 Khartoum Conference, and the offers by Israeli prime ministers Ehud Barak at Camp David in 2000 and Ehud Olmert at Sharm el-Sheik in 2008?

Each one was successively more and more generous, and all were summarily rejected by our Palestinian interlocutors. They didn’t want to share the pie; they wanted the entire thing.

Since the bar was set so high by Barak and PLO chief Yasser Arafat, and Olmert and Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, it makes it very difficult for a Palestinian interlocular to accept less. And in all of the years of ensuring terrorism and violence, it makes it extremely hard for an Israeli interlocutor to offer as much or more.

Yet there are many powerful voices in the international community that refuse to learn the lessons of history. They want a precipitance withdrawal from Judea and Samaria, and try to delude themselves into thinking that Israel giving up land will bring peace. They are looking at the current impasse with the Palestinians and, as difficult as this situation is, many want to seize upon a solution—any solution—not realizing the lessons of the Gaza withdrawal or the stream of later rejected offers.

It has become a mantra, a quick and superficial solution that has really proven to be no solution at all—one that emboldens the terrorists and their Iranian sponsor.

Palestinians chose to willfully blind themselves to what their leaders say—of how their leadership from the P.A. on down is guilty of the very worst kind of child abuse by exhorting Muslim children to become shahids, or “martyrs.”

This has taken root within the Palestinian body politic for generations and has only served to radicalize the Palestinian population. It is no wonder that according to a recent poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, a majority of the Palestinian population in both Gaza and the West Bank (72%) say they are in favor of forming armed groups, such as the Lion’s Den.

It is time we finally examine some of the premises behind our glib and superficial mantras and learn the painful lessons of history.

Sarah N. Stern is the founder and president of the Endowment for Middle East Truth (EMET).

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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