To the victor belong the spoils?

Losing the wars hasn’t stopped the Palestinians from calling the shots.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas addresses UNGA _311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
PA President Mahmoud Abbas addresses UNGA _311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Throughout history, nations and political entities which have waged war and lost have faced disastrous consequences. The loss of political legitimacy, enforced demilitarization and war guilt are imposed to punish the belligerent for the destruction they have wrought. Not only is this morally right, it is essential to suppress man’s endless appetite for destruction and love for settling old scores. The Palestinians have stood on the wrong side of history from World War II to the Gaza War of 2008-2009. Yet they are the only people to have avoided such consequences. Today, they enjoy equal standing with Israel in post-war negotiations, command the sympathies of the international community and have shed the guilt of their failed wars, successfully projecting themselves as refugees and victims of events entirely of their own making.
While the role of the Palestinians in the cycle of war and terrorism since 1948 is well known, the role of the Palestinian Arabs in World War II is less so. Led by the belief that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ and seizing the chance to import the Holocaust to Palestine to advance Arab nationalist aspirations, then-head of Palestine’s Supreme Muslim Council Haj Amin Al-Husseini was an important Axis ally and materially aided the destruction of the European Jews. Not only did Al-Husseini recruit Muslim soldiers to serve in the Waffen-SS and fight the Russians on the Eastern Front, his personal intervention and relationship with Holocaust war criminal Adolf Eichmann ensured that thousands of Hungarian Jewish children who were to be allowed to flee the clutches of the Nazis were re-routed and dispatched to the gas chambers of Poland.
Al-Husseini is still revered as a Palestinian hero and, at the time of his actions, enjoyed the wide support of both the political elite and the public. He should have suffered the same fate as his fellow Nazi collaborators – a war crimes trial or being left to ceremoniously dangle in a town square. The Palestinian national movement should have gone the same way as the other chauvinistic nationalist movements which threw their lot in with the Nazis. Instead, Al-Husseini set the trend for future Arab action vis-à-vis the Jews and Israel - incredible brutality and collaboration with murderous regimes without a shred of guilt, popular opposition or impact on their national aspirations.
Indeed, the Camp David negotiations of 2000 demonstrated how little damage the Palestinians’ wars and alliances had done to the credibility of their cause, or even their bargaining position. Bizarrely, it was Israel who made the extraordinary concessions and it was the vanquished Palestinians, who had backed the Nazis and repeatedly unleashed war and lost, who were free to reject a fair settlement and walk away without comment or counter-offer and resume war.
Israel continues to wait for the emergence of a genuine peace partner with which to negotiate a final settlement; one willing to accept the legitimacy of the Jewish State and able to speak on behalf of all Palestinians. Yet, with the failure of bilateralism, Israel’s military victories in defensive wars give it a moral right (and indeed a duty) to unilaterally set its borders so as to prevent further harm befalling its people. To borrow the words of historian Martin Van Creveld, “withdrawal may well have to be carried out unilaterally and the other side, be damned.”
Instead, Israel has followed a doctrine of appeasement, hoping that recognition of Palestinian national aspirations will be greeted with a reciprocal recognition of a Jewish state. But this policy has come to naught. The Palestinians have offered only the largely meaningless recognition of Israel’s right to exist – but not to exist as a Jewish state, and the only marked shift in their position is to favor a gradual destruction of Israel by flooding the Jewish State with Palestinian refugees rather than seeking to destroy Israel head on, through war. Israeli appeasement has also meant that while the Palestinian claim to some part of historic Palestine is common ground, the Jewish claim to the land is in dispute, meaning that the Palestinian position, in spite of their successive military aggression and defeat, is comparatively stronger.
Giving the Palestinians parity of negotiating status has a further effect. By treating the belligerent as its equal, Israel has tacitly erased the Palestinian culpability for waging war and terror. If the parties enjoy equality in negotiations post-war, it follows that they must have been equally guilty for the war. A fallacy borne of Israel’s elevation of the Palestinians from warmongers to peace partners, from belligerent to deserving.
Time and time again, the Palestinians have stood with tyrants and with aggressors. Yet, remarkably, the cause of Palestinian nationalism has not suffered. Today, the Palestinians occupy the unprecedented position of equal standing in negotiations with the state they tried and failed to destroy. Perversely, it is the Palestinians who have taken the road of unilateralism and seek to impose a settlement on the people of Israel, who have stood shoulder to shoulder with the Allied powers in both World Wars and survived three wars of annihilation. Perhaps worst of all, this most twisted of outcomes has been fueled by the Israeli policy of appeasement, and a reluctance to throw off the shackles of misguided world opinion and take the unilateral steps necessary to preserve the future of Israel as the secure and viable home of the Jewish people.
The writer is a London-based lawyer and the founder of The Jewish Thinker ( a non-profit organization promoting discussion and awareness of matters affecting Jewish life.