Understanding the roots of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict might make it even more difficult for us to remain optimistic, but at least it will help us understand what we need to do in order to get through this difficult period and why there’s no sense in counting how many knife and shooting attacks there have been.
This conflict has never been just nationalistic. It’s always been interwoven with the fate of all the Arab nations of the Middle East.
No one refutes the fact that the Jewish people has a historical right to the Land of Israel.
The Muslims believe in the holiness of the Old Testament and the Koran recognizes the Jewish people’s right to live on its land, as prophet Muhammad says in the fifth section of the Koran: “Mousa [Moses] said to his people, ‘Remember the favor of Allah to you, O my people! Enter the holy land which Allah has assigned to you, and turn not back in flight for then you will be returned as losers.’” (Sura 5:20-21). And everyone recognizes that the Foundation Stone and the two Jewish Temples were located on the Temple Mount many years before the holy Muslim mosques were built on the same spot. This makes Jerusalem holier to the Jewish people than to any other religion.
However, this is just a partial list of historical facts.
Over the years, the Jewish people has twice been exiled from its country. In the meantime, Arab tribes have settled on the land.
The Muslim conquest of the land took place over a number of centuries under the auspices of the Islamic caliphate starting in the seventh century and continuing through the time of Ottoman rule in the 19th century.
Throughout all of these centuries, the majority of people living on the land were Muslim Arabs.
The few Jews in the land mostly lived in Jerusalem.
Only in the late 19th century did the Zionist movements begin calling for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in the Land of Israel. At the end of World War I, the British and French conquered the Land of Israel from the Ottomans.
Even before the war, the Jews and Arabs had been given promises that the land would be given to them once the Ottomans were removed. The British governor in Egypt had promised the Arabs that an Arab state would be established, and a year later, the Jews were also promised that the land would be theirs, in what today is known as the Balfour Declaration. Attempts to reach an agreement between the Jews and the Arabs under the guidance of the British were unsuccessful.
During those years, waves of Arab terrorism against Jewish residents increased as the Arabs realized that the likelihood of them achieving their long-awaited Arab state was getting smaller each day.
Palestinian identity first formed under the leadership of the mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who was the first one to claim that the Jews were trying to conquer the Temple Mount. In his attempt to stop Jewish immigration to the Land of Israel, he turned to the Nazis, long after they had begun massacring European Jewry.
Husseini was personally promised by Hitler that after Germany had conquered the Middle East, all the Jews would be wiped out.
At the same time, Arab terrorism against Jews living in the Land of Israel grew exponentially and the British lost patience and withdrew their offer to establish a Jewish national home and instead opted for a two-state solution for the two peoples. In 1947, the newly created United Nations passed Resolution 181, recommending the Partition Plan that divided the country into a Jewish state that would exist side-by-side next to an Arab state within the then-British-controlled territory in the Land of Israel.
And all along, Arab terrorism has continued. The tragedy the Palestinians experienced, what they call the Nakba, was their own fault. It began with Israel’s Declaration of Independence and the ensuing war in which all of Israel’s Arab neighbors attacked the new state and then suffered a crushing loss. It continued during the Six Day War in which the Jordanians lost the West Bank and east Jerusalem.
These areas were never part of a Palestinian state, but were under either Jordanian or international control.
So what did we have? Two feuding nations with a long history of conflict living together in one country. One people was promised the land as it is written in the Torah, but they were exiled and were absent for many years and finally came back to make their home here.
The other people, that hadn’t ever been considered a nation before, was also promised a country of their own by the nations of the world, but they were not satisfied with what they were being offered and so they engaged in war and lost all of the area they had previously been offered.
There is no relevance to the debates between the Right and the Left, between people who love and hate Arabs, between those who support creating a Palestinian state and those who are categorically opposed to one.
There’s also no point in discussing whether the Greater Israel idea is the correct one or the historical significance of the Islamic caliphate in the Middle East. From both a historic and religious point of view, it is clear that the land is ours. Jerusalem is the capital of the Jewish state and the Temple Mount is the holiest place in Judaism. But for better or worse, the modern-day organization that determined our legal right to establish a state after the Holocaust also decided to grant the Palestinians the same right.
And they lost the war as a result of their stubbornness and their greed for absolute control. And even so, Israel has allowed them to return and establish an independent Palestinian Authority.
We’ve wasted years fighting wars in which unnecessary blood has been spilled. The time has come to say goodbye to the Palestinians, to liberate ourselves from them, but under our own conditions.
The current reality gives us no other option. The neighborhoods in east Jerusalem have remained Palestinian all these years. The Temple Mount will always remain holy to everyone, under Israeli control and foreign supervision as it’s been all these years. It will not always be peaceful and our relationship with the Palestinians will not always be harmonious. But we can make arrangements that will allow us to live side by side in peace and quiet, and there are many solutions that can enable us to live in peace without relinquishing our security.
If we want to live in quiet, we must show leadership, take bold decisions and not let the extremists lead the way.
The writer is a former brigadier- general who served as a division head in the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency).
Translated by Hannah Hochner.