The Middle East

Violent Co-Existence in the Middle East

oslo accordsThe 1993–95 Oslo Accords bore the promise of peaceful co-existence between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). The Palestinian political leadership would reconfigure itself as the Palestinian Authority (PA) and begin an interim period of self-government in the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) followed by the establishment of an independent Palestinian mini-state. Israel and the PLO were going to “beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks” and neither nation would “train for war any more”.

Can you spot the glitch in this fine-sounding sentiment? You are exactly right—the PLO was never a nation. Yasser Arafat’s PLO was a militia-terrorist coalition formed in 1964 with the connivance of the Soviet Union and, by various accounts, the Romanian secret service. Clearly the establishment of a Palestinian mini-state in Judea and Samaria was not the PLO’s original goal since, at the time, Jordan occupied those territories. The PLO’s agenda, according to its 1968 Covenant, demanded the liberation of the lands of the Palestinian mandate—“an indivisible territorial unit”—in its entirety. In other words, the PLO’s maximalist objective was to subjugate every last town, village and city “from the river to the sea”, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.

The PLO, by the time of the Oslo Accords, was claiming to have down-scaled its goal from crushing the “Zionist invasion” to co-existing with the State of Israel. For instance, the September 9, 1993, letter from Yasser Arafat to Israeli Prime Minister Rabin: “The PLO affirms that those articles of the Palestinian Covenant which deny the right of Israel to exist … are now inoperative and no longer exist.” I recall, as a young man, wondering if Yasser Arafat’s volte-face might turn out to be as significant as the November 9, 1989, opening of the Berlin Wall or even the dissolution of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991. The notion of “the end of history”, à la Francis Fukuyama, was not entirely nonsensical in the early 1990s.

In one sense, at least, the PLO’s seeming compliance with the vision (or fantasy) of Western statesmen, diplomats and idealists can be linked to the collapse of the Soviet empire. Moscow was quick to recognise the State of Israel in 1948 but, by the time of Leonid Brezhnev, the Kremlin had accomplished the anti-Israel, anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic trifecta. However, the downfall of the Soviet Union and its satellite states left the PLO without a major power sponsor. In this context we begin to understand Yasser Arafat’s “epiphany” and subsequent participation in the Oslo Accords, not to mention his apparent acquiescence to the two-state solution.

In reality, neither Yasser Arafat nor Mahmoud Abbas ever abandoned the rejectionism of their antecedent, Haj Amin al-Husseini. The Arab nationalist leadership spurned a two-state solution in 1936, 1947, 1948, 1950, 1967, 2000, 2001, 2008 and 2013-14. Some might detect a pattern here. These days, regrettably, PA Television, the Palestinian Teachers’ Union, PA educators and PA schools all routinely—in the words of the Palestinian Media Watch site—“glorify and honour terror, demonise Jews and Israel, and deny Israel’s right to exist in any borders”. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama each insisted that some version of “the two-state solution” was the only viable answer to the Israeli-Arab problem, even though the Arab population of the West Bank has become, if anything, less reconciled towards the State of Israel over the past quarter-century.

Fatah and its Arab nationalist allies who control the PA were always more secular than the apocalyptic millennialist rulers in Gaza. That said, Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, has proven to be somewhat pragmatic on occasion given its neo-Salafist/violent jihad ideology. The PLO, on the other hand, has gone in the opposite direction. The 1968 Covenant made no mention of religion, and yet in 2003 the Fatah-dominated PA recognised Islam as the only official religion in Palestine and sharia law as the basis for all future legislation. Fatah and the PA progressed from Arab chauvinism to Islamic supremacism, the common factor being Judeophobia. Today the “experts” on PA TV insist there was never any Jewish presence in Jerusalem, Solomon’s Temple and the Second Temple included, and that the ancient (and non-existent) Canaanites are one and the same people as modern-day Palestinian Arabs.

The Obama administration’s confidence that it could impose a two-state solution on such fantasists beggars belief, and yet Secretary of State John Kerry visited Israel at least thirteen times in a futile attempt to force a round peg into a square hole. All the while Egypt struggled to throw off its Muslim Brotherhood masters and Syria went up in flames. Barack Obama believed that only the pride and small-mindedness of his predecessors in the White House prevented peace breaking out between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. In a similar vein, he appears to have assumed Israeli meanness and inflexibility caused Palestinian intractability. The Obama–Kerry team duly bludgeoned Prime Minister Netanyahu into accepting Mahmoud Abbas’s conditions for beginning negotiations, which included the release of Palestinian terrorists from jail and freezing any new Jewish settlements in Judea and Samaria. As soon as Abbas had all that in writing the game was up. In short, the 2013-14 peace talks were, for all intents and purposes, over before they began.

Barack Obama’s views about Israel appeared to have been influenced by the radical Rabbi Arnold Wolf. The term “left-wing Zionist” is often used to describe Wolf’s attitude to the State of Israel. Some commentators, such Norman Podhoretz, have argued this might be misleading:

What Obama learned from [Wolf] about Israel would have been entirely consistent with what he learned from the likes of Jeremiah Wright and [Palestinian activist] Rashid Khalidi, whose hatred of the Jewish state differed from Wolf’s views only in being more naked.

Wolf, who first became friendly with Obama in the 1990s, belonged to leftist groups advocating peace negotiations with the PLO long before Yasser Arafat (publicly) renounced terrorism in his September 9, 1993, letter to Yitzhak Rabin.

Rabbi Arnold Wolf, as early as 1967, argued that Israel should quit the West Bank in the aftermath of Six-Day War, even though (a) it had been acquired only weeks earlier in a defensive war against Jordan, (b) Jordan now relinquished any claim to this territory it illegally annexed in 1949, (c) the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) represented the religious heartland of the Jewish people, (d) occupation of the West Bank by enemy forces clearly constituted an existential threat to the Jewish state, (e) no Arab state sought responsibility for the West Bank, and (f) Israel retained a legitimate claim to sovereignty over the territory. We should not be so surprised, then, that almost half a century later President Obama conspired to have UN Resolution 2334 passed. The Radical-in-Chief was demanding—in principle, at least—that Prime Minister Netanyahu surrender, without further negotiation, the totality of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Jewish Quarter in the Old City.

The status of East Jerusalem changed after King Hussein’s armed forces invaded Israel during the Six-Day War and Jordan lost jurisdiction over East Jerusalem. One of Mahmoud Abbas’s boasts is that only an Arab Palestinian-governed East Jerusalem (and Old City) can guarantee freedom of worship for all monotheistic religions, Islam, Christianity and Judaism: “It is the right of all religions to perform their religious rituals with total comfort in Jerusalem, our eternal capital.” In Notes on a Century, however, Bernard Lewis reminded us that the last time Arabs, in the form of Jordanians, ruled East Jerusalem—1949 to 1967—the “inhabitants of the ancient Jewish Quarter were evicted and even dead Jews were removed from their graves in the ancient cemeteries”. All but one of the Jewish Quarter’s thirty-five synagogues was demolished during the Jordanian occupation. Moreover, Christian Israelis were only permitted to visit the Old City, including the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, once a year on Christmas Day (but not the Orthodox Christmas)—so much for performing non-Islamic religious rituals with “total comfort”.

The participation of the PLO/PA in “two-state solution” negotiations over the years has been less about accomplishing peaceful coexistence with the Jewish state than maximising leverage against it. In the light of Resolution 2334, for instance, Abbas argued that it would now be “hypocritical” for the US to relocate its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem before all outstanding Israeli-Palestinian territorial disputes, including a final agreement on Jerusalem, were settled. Abbas backed up his reproach with the threat that changing the US embassy would unleash a “crisis we will not be able to come out from” for “the peace process in the Middle East and even peace in the world”.

The two-state impasse serves the interests of the UN-financed PA political leadership. The last time Fatah faced a general election was back in 2005; the next one has been postponed indefinitely. In any case, the advent of a genuine two-state scenario would more than likely result in Abbas’s allies being ousted by Hamas, just as occurred in 2007 after Gaza attained autonomy. The whole point of PLO “resistance” is to battle against the presence of a Jewish state and not make peace. Making a compromise with the Zionist enemy would result in total humiliation, not to mention assassination, for the PA leadership team. This is why Yasser Arafat, in 2000, turned down Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s offer of 97 per cent of the West Bank, a capital in East Jerusalem, control of half of the Old City and $30 billion compensation for refugees. Arafat rejected the most generous two-state scenario that will ever be offered to a Palestinian leader because doing otherwise would have destroyed him.

The successors of Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas are no more likely to bend the knee to “the occupier”. There was talk of a “regional peace deal” during the February 15 meeting between President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu. The idea, ostensibly, is that Israel’s new Sunni “frenemies”—Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Egypt and so on—might apply pressure on the PA to accept a two-state solution so everybody can get on with the real business at hand—confronting the challenge of an adventurist Iran. This ignores the fact that the PA can find sponsors elsewhere in the form of the European Union and, perhaps more importantly, Iran. The population of Gaza is mostly Sunni but that has not got in the way of securing Iranian patronage. On February 20, a mere five days after the Trump–Netanyahu summit, the counter-move came. Salah al-Zawawi, the PLO’s envoy to Iran, told a Hezbollah-affiliated Lebanese television station that he hoped that “if Iran produces a nuclear bomb—and I pray to Allah that Iran will produce a thousand nuclear bombs”, it would use them “to defend, at the very least, the Islamic Republic and its principles”. The terrorist operation that perpetrated the 1972 Munich massacre of Israeli athletes never really went out of business.

The mainstream media censured Trump for his unorthodox remarks during the February joint news conference with Netanyahu: “I’m looking at two states and one state, and I like the one both parties like.” Nikki Haley, Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, was quick to explain that America’s official position on the subject had not changed: “First of all, the two-state solution is what we support. Anybody that wants to say that the United States does not support a two-state solution—that would be an error.” And yet Haley added that the Trump administration was “thinking out of the box as well”, which might indicate that at least some people in the corridors of power are reconsidering Oslo’s “two states for two groups of people” paradigm.

Alternatives are certainly not hard to find outside official circles. Caroline B. Glick’s The Israeli Solution (2014) makes the case for a one-state solution in which Israel extends its sovereignty to the West Bank, a move that would “transform the region from rule by a military government and a terrorist kleptocracy into one governed by a unified, liberal rule of law”. The inhabitants of the West Bank—Muslims, Christians and Jews alike—could thereafter enjoy the same civil and property rights accorded to citizens of the State of Israel. Glick insists that although adding West Bank Arabs to Israel’s overall populace has an obvious demographic implication, it is not as dramatic as the (deliberately) inaccurate census of the local population suggests.

There is also Mordechai Kedar’s “Eight State Solution”. Kedar envisages a scenario in which the West Bank towns of Hebron (the Arab part), Jericho, Ramallah, Nablus, Jenin, Tul-karem, Qalqiya and possibly Bethlehem are granted autonomy à la the United Arab Emirates. Local clannish leadership would govern each of these city-states independent of the others. All the rural areas of the West Bank, according to Kedar’s plan, would be incorporated into Israel proper, minimising the likelihood of a future base for radical Islamic terrorists, as is likely to be the case with a sovereign Palestinian mini-state. The rule of Hamas in Gaza seems to undercut Kedar’s contention. Nevertheless, any plan that promises to make the PLO redundant—without, of course, creating a vacuum for militant jihadists to fill—is worth consideration.

When civilised people sit down to make deals with professional killers, as occurred at the time of the Oslo Accords, there is always the danger of well-intentioned peacemakers losing their sense of right and wrong. Treating Yasser Arafat’s henchmen as terrorists-cum-statesmen has not brought concord but—if we are honest about the past quarter-century—quite the opposite. Enabling the PLO to build a “terrorist kleptocracy” in the West Bank—and maybe we should start calling it Judea and Samaria—has done nobody any favours, apart from the PLO’s leading cadres. The Oslo Accords are well past their use-by date. It is time for international diplomats, mediators and intermediaries to do a lot more “thinking out of the box”.

Daryl McCann has a blog at He tweets at @dosakamccann.


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