Ben- Atar 58.
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The secular Palestinian national movement is at a crossroad. Since 2000, it has
rejected three proposals of territorial compromise, thinking that a better offer
will be forthcoming. The Palestinians believe time is on their side; that
demographic trends, western strategic considerations, and the collective
economic power of the Arab world will force Israel to yield to their demands.
Recent developments prove the folly of these assumptions.
Talk of the
Arab birthrate has fueled the adage that Israel cannot hold on to the
territories and remain a Jewish and democratic state. We have been told since
the 1970s that Arabs would constitute a majority between the sea and the Jordan
River by 2000, 2010, and so on. These predictions rested on the Orientalist
assumption that Arabs would not undergo the transformation that took place in
other societies, in which the birthrate and family size declined following
modernization and urbanization. Recent demographic studies contradict the
demographic timebomb thesis. Arab birth rates are declining sharply, whereas
Jewish ones are on the rise. Moreover, the withdrawal from Gaza means that if
Israel established sovereignty over the entire West Bank and enfranchised all
its residents, Arabs would constitute only about 30 percent of the newly formed
body politic; hardly the demographic juggernaut envisioned by the Palestinians
and their supporters.
THE PALESTINIANS believe that the popularity of
their cause in the Arab street will translate into international support and
pressure on Israel by nations seeking to win friends in the Arab world. And, for
a while, it worked. The EU and the Obama administration tried to force Israel’s
But the current Israeli government, backed by strong public
support, successfully resisted the pressure for unilateral
At the same time, popular uprisings in Arab countries, which
were initially embraced in the West, have thrown those nations into chaos. It is
now clearer than ever that Israel is the only reliable western ally in the
region. This reality has dawned even on Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has
traded his theatrical anti-Israeli diatribes for low-key negotiations and
symbolic gestures of friendship, like the recent visit by cadets of the Turkish
army to Israel. Palestinian intransigence, not Israel, has turned out to be the
Finally, the Palestinians believe that economic
coercion will bring Israel to its knees. From the 1945 Arab League boycott of
“Jewish products and manufactured goods,” through the oil embargoes of the
1970s, to the modern BDS (Boycott Divest Sanction) movement, Palestinians and
their allies see Israel as a resource-poor, vulnerable state that can be
browbeaten into making suicidal concessions. Israel, meanwhile, has prospered,
and its economy has proven to be surprisingly resilient, even during the current
global downturn. Moreover, recent discoveries of large deposits of natural gas
off its coast will shortly turn it into a significant energy exporter. Surely,
Europeans would prefer getting at least some of their gas from reliable modern
Israel rather than continue their current total dependence on Putin’s
The Palestinians and their allies refuse to face these realities.
They eschew negotiations for symbolic gestures that do little to bring them
closer to self-determination.
While they add more days of defeat to their
nationalist calendar and celebrate greater numbers of meaningless UN
resolutions, Zionists continue to establish facts on the ground. The
Palestinians, I hope, will recognize the folly of their strategy and return to
the negotiating table.
The longer they wait, the less they’ll
get.The writer is a history professor at Fordham University and a
playwright. Habima is producing his play, Peace Warriors, in its forthcoming