Living with the Palestinian ‘No!’

Meanwhile, we say “Yes!” to life and the Zionist dream.

Palestinians protest the 100th anniversary of Britain's Balfour Declaration (photo credit: ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)
Palestinians protest the 100th anniversary of Britain's Balfour Declaration
(photo credit: ABBAS MOMANI / AFP)
Awaiting a Trump administration “peace plan,” hoping to end the Arab-Israeli conflict, it would be wise to recall foreign minister Abba Eban’s observation that “the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” It is important, however, to understand that this persistent failure is not because of poor judgments or unintended mistakes; it is deliberate PLO policy, strategy and ideology.
Rather than lament the absence of a “Palestinian Sadat,” willing to make peace, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should explain why this false scenario is inevitably doomed to fail. Calling for an Israeli leader like Menachem Begin or Yitzhak Rabin, willing to make territorial concessions, is worse because it keeps the fantasy of a “two state solution” on life support when there have been no vital signs for many years.
Rejecting peace with Israel is and has always been fundamental to what Palestinians demand – an independent state – and what Palestinianism means: the struggle against Zionism in any form. Any compromise based on accepting Zionism and the State of Israel is, for Arab Palestinians, a non-starter. The reason is simple: Palestinian nationalism – according to PLO and Hamas charters – is dedicated to wiping out Israel. Accepting Israel would be denying the PLO/Hamas raison d’etre and admitting that those who sacrificed themselves in terrorist attacks died in vain, that Palestinian “martyrdom” was a fraud. It means the end of the Palestinian revolution and its ideology.
Arab Palestinian leaders recognized this nearly a hundred years ago, when, led by the pro-Nazi Mufti Haj Amin Husseini, they rampaged in murderous attacks against Jews. After the State of Israel was established, many Israeli Arabs accepted the new reality, but many did not and never will. The reason is simple: Arabs view Jewish success as their defeat. Moreover, unlike Arabs who migrated to what was called Palestine, Jewish nationalism, Zionism, is rooted in a historical and biblical attachment to the land. Nor did local Arabs imitate Zionist institution-building during the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s. Jews built hospitals and agricultural settlements; Arabs raided them. Jews built schools and parks; Arabs initiated pogroms.
As Israel developed economically, technologically and demographically, Israeli Arabs realized that they could not compete with Jewish state-building and never would. They could become part of the Israeli socioeconomic system, but as a dependent minority; advancement depended on integration. Since the 1967 Six Day War, this reality has only become clearer. Arab businesspeople understand this and it underlies their commercial and personal relationships with Israelis. And this reality explains why so many Arab Palestinians seek accommodation with Israel and Israeli citizenship. Palestinianism may be a nice idea, but stability and feeding one’s family come first.
What determines – and will determine – the future of Israel and Arab communities on both sides of the “Green Line” (the armistice lines of 1949) is not “Palestinian self-determination” politically, but the imperative of working together economically. The flourishing of Jewish communities in Area C of Judea and Samaria (“settlements”) is irreversible. Arabs can sabotage and try to slow the settlement movement, but they cannot stop it because it has become a committed national policy.
Despite this, the PLO hopes that the international community, led by the EU and UN, will stop Israel from expanding, and that a Palestinian state in some form will emerge. Most experts agree, however, that a Palestinian state is not viable. And political pressure is no substitute for economic development. Economists have concluded that the Palestinian economy is a “basket case,” unsustainable, dependent on foreign aid and Israeli markets, technology and infrastructure. No “peace proposal” can replace that bottom line.
Ironically, the very countries, institutions, organizations and individuals which provide generous funding and are dedicated to Palestinianism have misled and impaired Palestinians. Like it or not, the Palestinian and Israeli economies are bound together. In 2014, officially 12% of employed Palestinians in the West Bank worked in Israel, mostly in construction; many more work illegally and even more work in West Bank settlements. Currently, about 60,000 Palestinians from the West Bank possess Israeli work permits, though estimates are that about twice that number are actually employed and that number is increasing. Two-thirds of all goods imported into the Palestinian Authority come from Israel; sales to Israel account for 80% of PA exports; the PA is Israel’s biggest export market after the US. The Palestinian GDP is only 7.4% of Israel’s. The Palestinian economy relies entirely on the Israeli, Egyptian, Jordanian currencies – and the US dollar; their banks depend on Israel’s banking system. Without monetary independence, political independence is meaningless. The Palestinians simply can’t survive without Israel – and they know it.
This leaves Arab Palestinians only three realistic options: 1) federation with Jordan, 2) peace with Israel, or 3) moving to another country. They can continue building their communities, economy and infrastructure; defeating Israel and/or establishing a separate is not possible.
When these realities are understood, there will be peace – not through interventions by the international community, anti-Israel campaigns, incitement and terrorism. Until then, Palestinian leaders will continue to miss opportunities, to the detriment of their people. That’s why there is no “Palestinian Sadat” and why suggesting further concessions like those made by previous Israeli politicians is not only irrelevant, it is not based on reality. Although unpleasant, we can learn to live with “No!” Meanwhile, we say “Yes!” to life and the Zionist dream.

The author is a PhD historian, writer and journalist living in Jerusalem.