By Dr. Frank Boehm
For what seems to be a very long time, I have been an ardent student of Israel’s evolutionary history. Over the years I have kept up with the many attempts to solve the seemingly intractable problems of establishing peace between Israel and their Palestinian neighbors and often shared my knowledge and opinions with many of my friends on the complexities of achieving and maintaining peace between these two passionate people.
In the past few months, however, I have become more and more frustrated in my attempt to answer many of the difficult questions my Jewish and non-Jewish friends are asking. The issues are complex and multi-layered, making short and simple answers difficult to articulate in a concise and informative manner. It seems that with each military event between Israel and the Palestinians, Israel may win the battle, but with a seemingly biased press, lose the war.
Recently, a survey revealed that 25% of American Jews believe Israel has become an apartheid state. That bothers me tremendously. Because of these concerns, I highly recommend a book entitled Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor by Yossi Klein Halevi be read by both Jews and non-Jews. Halevi clearly points out that the Israel of today is a result of the large number of unsuccessful attempts by Israel to make peace with their neighbors.
The British Peel Commission of 1936 was the first of modern day attempts to establish a peaceful solution to the two inhabitants of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean by recommending a partition into two states living side by side in peace. The Arabs vehemently opposed the recommendation. In 1947, the United Nations mandated partition of the land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean which resulted in an outright Arab rejection leading to the War of Independence, initiated by Arab nations, and resulting in an Israeli victory with the establishment of the modern State of Israel in 1948.
Following victory in the 1967 six-day war which was also initiated by the surrounding Arab nations, Israel offered to return all the land they had taken, including the West Bank, Gaza, East Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, and the Sinai Peninsula, for the price of peace and the establishment of a two-state solution. Israel was met with the famous three “Nos” - no peace with Israel, no recognition of Israel and no negotiations with Israel.
Then there was the amazing offer to Yasser Arafat at Camp David in 2000 where then Prime Minister of Israel, Ehud Barak, along with President Bill Clinton’s blessing, again offered the Palestinians the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem as its’ capital for the prize of peace. Arafat rejected the proposal without presenting a counteroffer. Six months later, in December of that year, President Clinton offered 95% of the West Bank with land swaps and a road cutting through Israel territory to connect Gaza to the West Bank. Once again Barak said “Yes” and Arafat said, “No.” And in 2008, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas the equivalent of full withdrawal from the territories with land swaps and the offer was again rebuffed.
With each rejection for peace by the Palestinians, (as well as the first intifada of 1987 to 1993 and the second of 2000 to 2005 which killed and wounded thousands of Israel citizens), those Israelis who strongly supported a two-State solution were pushed further to the political right. They lost faith because the worst wave of terrorism in Israel’s history came after Israel had made two significant offers of peace and an end to occupation.
There have, thankfully, been success stories of peace between Israel and Arab nations. In 1993, the Oslo agreement brought hope of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, however that failed due to Arafat’s refusal to fully comply with the agreement. Remarkably, in 1994, Arafat gave a speech in a Johannesburg Mosque telling all that his intention for peace was just a ploy and that the Oslo process was nothing more than a cease fire, to be broken at the appropriate time. Israeli citizens were once again pushed to the right.
Real success for peace occurred with the 1979 Peace Accord between Israel and Egypt resulting in the total return of the Sinai Peninsula, which lasts to this very day. Israel’s military removed all Israel settlers in the Sinai Peninsula proving that Israel would do what it had to for peace. In 1994, Israel made peace with Jordan which ended the state of war that had existed between the two countries since the 1948 War of Independence. If Arab nations wanted a real peace, Israel complied.
In 2005, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon voluntarily and unilaterally removed all Israeli settlers from Gaza, returning the land to the Palestinians. However, as we now know, this dismantling of Israel from the Gaza strip did not result in peace but rather in prolonged terrorist attacks by Hamas, which controls Gaza, against Israel.
In his book, Halevi states that the key to ending the occupation is giving the Jews some hope that Israel’s withdrawal and willingness to territorially contract will be reciprocated by a willingness on the Palestinian side to accept the West Bank and Gaza as the Palestinian state, without trying to undermine the State of Israel.
Halevi believes, “The moral argument of partition is simply this: For the sake of allowing the other side to achieve some measure of justice, each side needs to impose on itself some measure of injustice. The enemy of justice for both sides is absolute justice for either side. To demand a Palestinian right of return to what is now Israel, is the political equivalent of Israel demanding the right to continue settlement in a Palestinian state. Peace requires a mutual constriction: My side contracts settlements, and your side contracts refugee return. Those reciprocal concessions are the pre-condition for a two-state solution.”
The trade-off then is 1948 for 1967 according to Halevi. “I give up most of the territorial gains of 1967 in exchange for your acceptance of Israel’s creation in 1948. In the last two decades, Palestinian leaders have rejected every peace offer in part because of their maximalist interpretation of return. For them, the precondition of peace is my agreement to commit suicide.”
With each refusal for peace and with each attack on Israel by Palestinians, Israelis are pushed to the political right and against further attempts for a two-state solution. If Palestinians were to recognize Israel tomorrow and declare a peaceful relationship, Israel would accept the offer within days. Unfortunately, there is a saying that if the Arabs would put down their guns there would be peace, but if Israel were to put down its guns, there would be no Israel. Jews have learned that when your enemy says he intends to destroy you, believe him.
Halevi argues that “Denying Israel’s right to exist, turning the Jewish state into the world’s criminal, and trying to isolate it from the community of nations, fits the classic anti-Semitic pattern. The Holocaust in parts of the Muslim world could be summed up, only half-ironically, this way: It never happened, we’re glad it did, and we’re going to do it again.”
The media paints a picture of an Israel that refuses to make peace, but how can you make peace with those whose only goal is to destroy you. This is the conundrum Israel faces. The next time I am asked why Israel will not make peace with Palestinians, I will give them a copy of this article. You should do the same.