Self-Inflicted Statelessness: The Palestinian Story

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be properly understood without appreciating the fact that, on at least 8 occasions, the Palestinians had the opportunity to end it, to make peace and gain their own sovereignty:

On each occasion, Palestinian Arabs did not miss a chance to miss a chance.

1936 – The Peel Commission

The Peel commission, led by Lord Peel, was appointed at 1936. The report that was published on July 7th, 1937, the

commission recommended, for the first time, a partition. Around 80% of the land was supposed to be under the Arab control, and another 20% under the Jewish control. The Arab Higher Committee, which was established on April 1936, and became the central political organization of the Palestinian Arabs in Mandatory Palestine – rejected the plan. It demanded an Arab state, with protection of the Jewish minority, and brought to the table the demand to stop all Jewish immigration and land purchase.

The Commission concluded that the prospect of a unified Palestine with Jews and Arabs as fellow citizens in a common state was remote due to the highly nationalistic natures of the two communities.

The commission wrote:

The Jewish National Home is no longer an experiment. The growth of its population has been accompanied by political, social and economic developments along the lines laid down at the outset. The chief novelty is the urban and industrial development. The contrast between the modern democratic and primarily European character of the National Home and that of the Arab world around it is striking.

Peel Commission, 1937

1947 – The UN Partition Plan

The long history of Palestinian rejectionism begins at the beginning, when the United Nations sent a fact-finding mission to British Mandate Palestine to propose a way to end the ongoing violence between Jews fighting for a state in their ancient homeland, and Arabs determined to prevent that state from emerging.

The solution proposed was partition; the division of the land into a Jewish state and an Arab state. UN General Assembly Resolution 181 was passed with 33 votes in favor, 13 against, and 10 abstentions.

The leadership of the Zionist movement supported the Partition Plan; the Palestinian Arab leadership rejected it. 

As British Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin described the essence of the conflict: “For the Jews, the essential point of principle is the creation of a sovereign Jewish state. For the Arabs, the essential point of principle is to resist to the last the establishment of Jewish sovereignty in any part of Palestine.”

The Palestinian Arabs launched a war against the Jews intended to prevent their state from coming into being. After the State of Israel was established on 14 May 1948, the neighboring Arab states joined the war, pledging to annihilate or expel the Jewish population of Palestine. They failed and Israel won its War of Independence.

1967 – Six-Day War and the Arab League’s “Three No’s”

Israel defeated the combined armies of Egypt, Syria and Jordan in just six days, in June 1967.

The Arab states had joined forces under the leadership of Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser to atone for the “humiliation” of 1948, declaring in a speech in May 1967 that “our basic objective will be to destroy Israel.”

At the end of the war, Israel had conquered the Gaza Strip and the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt; the Golan Heights from Syria; and the West Bank from Jordan, including the Old City of Jerusalem which housed the holiest sites in Judaism, the Temple Mount and Western Wall.

The Israeli government was divided about what to do with these territories newly under their control. Some opposed giving up territory in any circumstances, especially the historically and religiously important West Bank, but others, including the leadership of the ruling Labor Party, felt while some territory should be kept for security purposes, most could be used as bargaining chips in “land-for-peace” deals with the Arab states.

But ultimately, the idea of “land-for-peace” was taken off the table by the Arab League, who declared at a summit held in September 1967, the famous “Three No’s”:

  • No recognition of Israel
  • No negotiation with Israel
  • No peace with Israel

September 2000 – Camp David 

The 1990s saw the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO, establishing an autonomous Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and Gaza. In September 2000, President Bill Clinton hosted final status talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO chairman Yasser Arafat. Barak eventually agreed to the establishment of a Palestinian state on 91 percent of the West Bank and all of Gaza, with sovereignty in East Jerusalem. Arafat turned it down and the talks collapsed.

December 2000 – The Clinton Parameters

In the wake of the collapsed peace talks, Arafat turned to violence, inciting mass rioting against Israeli soldiers and police. This was the spark for what became known as the Second Intifada, a nearly five-year campaign of suicide bombings, shootings and rocket fire by Palestinian terrorists from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, that cost the lives of some 1000 Israelis.

But as the Intifada was getting underway, President Clinton presented a peace plan, intended as a last-ditch attempt to reach a two-state solution. The plan granted the Palestinians a state on about 95 per cent of the territories, a capital in East Jerusalem with sovereignty over the Temple Mount, and a solution to the problem of Palestinian “refugees” from 1948 by an international fund, and permission for a limited number to settle in Israel.

The Israeli government approved the parameters. Arafat came to Washington to speak to Clinton. Before doing so he met with the Saudi ambassador, Bandar Bin Sultan, who informed him of the Arab countries’ support for the Clinton Plan. According to several accounts, he told Arafat: “If you say no, it won’t be a tragedy, it will be a crime.”

Arafat said no.

2005 – Disengagement from Gaza

Despairing of finding a reliable peace partner on the Palestinian side, but determined to redraw Israel’s borders in a way which freed a substantial portion of the Palestinian population from Israeli territorial control, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon decided to unilaterally withdraw all Israeli soldiers and military bases, and 8000 civilians, from the Gaza Strip (as well as evacuating four isolated Jewish settlements in the northern part of the West Bank.)

There was considerable international backing for this plan, and the promise of both public and private investment into Gaza, to help the Palestinians to develop a flourishing economy in what would be the first truly independent Palestinian territory in history.

But in 2006, Hamas won the elections for the Palestinian parliament and in 2007 took full control of Gaza in a brutal coup. From then until today, Gaza has become a base of terrorism, and a launching pad for thousands of rockets on Israeli civilians. This terrorism culminated in the barbaric massacre of 1200 Israelis on 7 October 2023.

2008 – Olmert Peace Plan

In 2008, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sought to seal his legacy by making peace with the PLO chairman and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas..

It was not be. Despite Olmert offering even more than Clinton had offered Arafat in 2000, Abbas turned it down.

2013-2014 – Kerry-Obama Efforts

From late 2013 to March 2014, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry made Israel-Palestinian peace his priority. Although never officially confirmed, according to investigative reporting, it seems that right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had agreed to a plan that included a withdrawal from more than 90 per cent of the West Bank. This was rejected by the Palestinians. Kerry, desperate for a deal, put forward a new, more generous proposal. Before Netanyahu had the chance to respond to it, Mahmoud Abbas had already turned it down.

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