‘Palestine’: Two countervailing hypotheses

Do the Palestinians genuinely wish to establish a state for themselves?

Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, U.S. President Bill Clinton and PLO head Yasser Arafat at the signing of the Oslo Accords, Sept. 13, 1993. Photo by Vince Musi/The White House.
Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, U.S. President Bill Clinton and PLO head Yasser Arafat at the signing of the Oslo Accords, Sept. 13, 1993. Photo by Vince Musi/The White House.
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman spent seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli defense establishment. He is the founder of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a member of the Habithonistim-Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF) research team, and a participant in the Israel Victory Project.

To this day, I cannot understand why the Palestinian leadership did not accept the far-reaching and unprecedented proposal I offered them. My proposal included a solution to all outstanding issues: territorial compromise, security arrangements, Jerusalem and refugees. – Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, The Washington Post, July 17, 2009

Lamentably, the international debate on the Arab-Israeli conflict, and in particular its Israeli-Palestinian component, has been obscured by political correctness and mendacious myths.

This has had a corrosive effect on public discourse, suppressing historical truth while sustaining heinous untruths—in particular, the fatally flawed notion of a separate state for the Palestinians.

Puzzling and persistent failure

Anyone still advocating the establishment of a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River must confront an irksome question: Why have the Palestinians consistently failed to attain such a state, when many other national movements, with far less moral and material support, have succeeded?

Indeed, the Palestinians have enjoyed widespread international endorsement of their cause, unmitigated support from one of the two superpowers during the Cold War—the USSR—highly sympathetic coverage from major media organizations and over a decade of Israeli governments that have not only acknowledged but at times even identified with their declared national aspirations.

Despite all these advantages, the Palestinian Arabs have failed to produce even the semblance of a stable, productive society. Indeed, despite billions in foreign aid, the proto-Palestinian state appears to have the unique—if dubious—distinction of becoming a “failed state” before its actual establishment.

Clearly, there is room for the “heretical” postulation that the Palestinian’s real aspiration is not the establishment of a state. Perhaps, then, the time has come to suggest that most of the conventional wisdom regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is totally unfounded–even misguided and misleading.

Two countervailing hypotheses

In principle, there are two hypotheses that can account for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. According to prevailing conventional wisdom, the conflict is caused by the lack of Palestinian self-determination. The only thing the Palestinians want is to establish a state for themselves.

There is, however, an alternative proposition, diametrically opposed to the former, and it appears to be the more plausible: The conflict is caused not by the lack of Palestinian self-determination, but by the existence of Jewish self-determination. As long as Jewish self-determination continues, so will the conflict. Moreover, the goal of the Palestinians is not to establish a state for themselves but to dismantle a state for others—the Jews.

The question which now must be addressed is which of these two hypotheses has the greater explanatory power.

The answer seems to be unequivocally in favor of the latter, because it provides plausible explanations for a range of events that the former cannot.

  • It explains why the Palestinians have rejected every territorial proposal that would have allowed them to create a state of their own.
  • It explains why only the total negation of Jewish independence appears acceptable to the Palestinians. This is evidenced not only by their repeated rejection of a two-state solution, but also by Palestinian rhetoric and symbolism, which invariably portrays the whole of the Land of Israel as Arab “Palestine.”
  • It explains why the Palestinians originally eschewed any claim to the pre-1967 “West Bank” and Gaza. Formulated in 1964, years before Israel had any presence in the “West Bank,” the Palestinian National Charter explicitly rejects the desire to “exercise any territorial sovereignty over the West Bank in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan [or] on the Gaza Strip.” The Palestinians now claim these territories as their historic homeland.
  • It explains why millions of Palestinians in Jordan—who constitute the majority of the population—have resigned themselves to being ruled by a non-Palestinian monarch. This indicates that they are not averse to non-Palestinian rule, only to Jewish rule.
  • It explains not only why the Palestinian Arabs rejected former Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s generous peace offer in 2000, but also why they reacted to it with an unprecedented campaign of terrorism. This seems to indicate that even Barak’s far-reaching concessions fell far short of their real if unspoken demands. After all, if the concessions were only marginally inadequate, the Palestinians would have negotiated the details, rather than turn to terror. Their choice is explicable only if the prospect of an end to the conflict is fundamentally unacceptable to them.
  • It explains why the Palestinians rejected the expansive—some might say excessive—largesse of Ehud Olmert’s 2006 peace proposal, which addressed virtually all the Palestinians’ demands (see here). Olmert’s expression of astonishment in the Washington Post op-ed quoted above starkly underlines the inadequacy of the assumption that the Palestinians genuinely wish to negotiate the establishment of their own state alongside Israel. “It would be worth exploring the reasons that the Palestinians rejected my offer,” Olmert wrote. Indeed it would.
  • It explains why the Palestinian Arabs stubbornly insist on the “right of return,” which would involve placing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians—and possibly even more—under Israeli jurisdiction. This tears the mask off Palestinian intentions, because it is hardly consistent with their supposed desire to be free of “oppressive” Israeli control, let alone an equitable two-state solution.

None of the above can be reconciled with the conventional wisdom that the Palestinians want only a state of their own.

On which of these hypotheses, then, would it be prudent for Israel to base its future policies? The hypothesis that can account for all the phenomena listed above or the hypothesis that accounts for none of them?

Dr. Martin Sherman spent seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli defense establishment. He is the founder of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a member of the Habithonistim-Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF) research team and a participant in the Israel Victory Project.

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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