Time is on whose side?

Immediate return to the negotiating table is in the Palestinians’ interest.

By DORON S. BEN-ATAR
July 11, 2011 22:32
3 minute read.
DORON S. BEN-ATAR

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.

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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 hand.

But the current Israeli government, backed by strong public support, successfully resisted the pressure for unilateral concessions.

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 strategic liability.

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 Russia.

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 season.


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