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The Palestinian issue: A land-for-peace proposition?

“Cleansing the 1948 land of the Zionist presence,” not peaceful coexistence, is the focal point of the Palestinian ethos.

Artifacts that belonged to the late PLO chairman Yasser Arafat on display at the Yasser Arafat Museum in Ramallah, Nov. 9, 2016. Photo by Flash90.
Artifacts that belonged to the late PLO chairman Yasser Arafat on display at the Yasser Arafat Museum in Ramallah, Nov. 9, 2016. Photo by Flash90.
Yoram Ettinger
Yoram Ettinger

The conventional wisdom is that the Palestinian Authority is amenable to peaceful-coexistence with Israel; that peaceful-coexistence is advanced by financial support of the P.A.; that a core concern for the P.A. is the land acquired by Israel in the 1967 war; and that land-for-peace (Israel’s retreat to the pre-1967 lines) is a prerequisite for peaceful Israel-Palestinian coexistence.

Are these assumptions consistent with the Palestinian reality?

While the Palestinian ethos features religious, political, ideological, demographic and legal components, its core ingredient is a specific parcel of land, which pulls the rug out from under the “land-for-peace” assumption.

The centrality of the “1948 land” in the Palestinian ethos is underscored by the late Dr. Yuval Arnon-Ohanna, who was the head of the Mossad’s Palestinian research division and a groundbreaking researcher of the Palestinian issue (“Line of Furrow and Fire”). This is documented by pivotal Palestinian books, such as the six-volume “Al Nakbah” (“The 1948 Catastrophe”), as well as the 1959 and 1964 Fatah and PLO covenants—which are the ideological and strategic core of the P.A.—and the Palestinian educational curriculum.

These foundational documents have served as a most effective generator of Palestinian terrorism since 1948, and especially since the signing of the 1993 Oslo Accords. They focus on the outcome of the failed 1948 Arab military invasion—by five Arab countries and the local Arabs—of the Jewish state.

This Arab offensive was expected by the CIA, which assessed that it would be successful, yielding the destruction of the Jewish state and a second Jewish Holocaust in a decade.

According to Dr. Arnon-Ohanna, the aforementioned Palestinian documents shed light on the fragmentation of the Arab society west of the Jordan River. Thus, the mountain Arabs in Judea, Samaria (West Bank) and the Galilee have demonstrated relative cohesion, socially, ethnically, culturally, politically and historically. On the other hand, the coastal plains Arabs have exhibited a relatively feeble social structure, recently immigrating from Muslim areas, as evidenced by the names of major clans.

For example, the al-Mughrabi clan immigrated from North Africa (Algeria), al-Turki from Turkey, al-Ajami from Iran, al-Kurdi from Kurdistan, al-Iraqi from Iraq, al-Hindi from India, al-Masri, Masrawi and Abu Kishk from Egypt, Haurani from Syria, Bushnak from Bosnia, Habash from Ethiopia, Yamani from Yemen, Turkmen from Turkmenistan and the Caucasus, Hawari from north Sudan, etc.

While most of the mountain Arabs remained in their homes during the 1948/49 war, most coastal plains Arabs—the lion’s share of whom migrated to the area during the 19th and early 20th centuries—left their homes. In fact, many of the coastal Arabs left their homes before the eruption of the war and during its initial stage, when the invading Arab military forces and the local Arabs had the upper hand.

The (mostly coastal plains) Arabs who left their homes are referred to as al-Kharj (“Outside”) and the (mostly mountain) Arabs who stayed put are referred to as al-Dakhil (“Inside”).

The coastal/outside 1948 Arabs constitute the leadership and most of the rank and file of the PLO, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority. They claim “the right of return” to the 1948 territory, which is the pre-1967 area of Israel. “Cleansing the 1948 land of the Zionist presence” is the focal point of the Palestinian ethos, as highlighted by the Palestinian school curriculum, media, religious sermons and the 1959 and 1964 Fatah and PLO covenants (eight years and three years before the 1967 war).

Contrary to conventional wisdom, the core concern of the Palestinians is not the 1967 but the 1948 “occupation”; peaceful existence not with but without Israel; not the size of but the very existence of Israel.

Yoram Ettinger is a former ambassador and head of Second Thought: A U.S.-Israel Initiative.

This article was first published by The Ettinger Report.

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