“So now here is the question” Netanyahu cleverly asked in his masterly address to the US Congress. “If the benefits of peace with the Palestinians are so clear, why has peace eluded us?” Netanyahu’s answer to his own rhetorical question was correct: the Palestinian leadership has always refused, and continues to refuse, to sign a peace agreement that entails the acceptance and permanence of the Jewish state, regardless of its borders. Hence the PA’s rejection of the offers by Ehud Barack (in 2000) and by Ehud Olmert (in 2008) to establish a Palestinian state on virtually the entire West Bank and Gaza. Arafat and Abbas said no, because they were asked to abandon the fantasy of invading Israel with the descendants of the 1948 Arab refugees, because they refused to recognize the Jewish past of the Temple Mount, and because they would not commit to ending the conflict after reaching statehood.
So then here is another question. If Abbas refused to establish a Palestinian state within borders that were practically identical to the 1949 armistice lines, why would he accept to establish a Palestinian state on a smaller territory in order for Israel to have defensible borders? Those who claim that Israel will eventually achieve peace by keeping offering the Palestinians what they’ve rejected many times are a lively example of Einstein’s definition of insanity (“doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”). And those who expect the Palestinians to agree to a downgraded version of what they rejected in the past somehow reenact the famous spat between Winston Churchill and Lady Astor (“Winston, if you were my husband, I’d poison your tea … Nancy, if I were your husband, I would drink it”).
A standard answer to this question is that all Israel needs to do in order to achieve peace with the Palestinians is to withdraw to “the 1967 border.” There never was such a border. What existed between 1949 and 1967 was an armistice line specifically defined as “temporary” in the Rhodes Agreements upon Jordan’s insistence. This line was not a border and never was meant to become one. UN Security Council Resolution 242 was specifically worded so as not to convert the armistice line into a border. There is no legal basis for “demanding” an Israeli withdrawal to the 1949 armistice line. But besides legality, claiming that withdrawing to those lines will produce peace with the Palestinians defies logics. There was no peace before 1967, so why would rewinding History back to 1967 bring a peace that didn’t exist then?
The reason why Israel was able to extract a peace agreement (though no real peace) from Sadat by withdrawing from Sinai is that all Sadat wanted was Sinai (and, incidentally, the American financial largess that came with it). If all the Palestinians wanted were the West Bank and Gaza, the “rewind to 1967” formula would work with them as well. But since what they want is all of Palestine, previous attempts to bring them to sign a peace agreement by settling for the pre-1967 setting have failed. The PA teaches Palestinian children that Jaffa and Haifa will eventually be liberated from the Zionist invaders and that the only purpose of signing agreements with the infidels is to achieve the ultimate goal of “liberating” all of Palestine. The message is getting through. A poll conducted by Stanley Greenberg in November 2010 reveals that 60% of Palestinians see in the two-state solution a mere step to replace Israel with an exclusively Arab state.
The claim that the Palestinians have abandoned their goal of “liberating” all of Palestine ignores what they themselves keep saying (though, admittedly, in Arabic). Yesterday (May 28), Mahmud Abbas declared in Doha that he will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state, that he will never give up on the “right of return,” and that the future Palestinian state will be “clean” (or “empty,” depending on the translation) of any Israeli presence (including civilians). In such a scenario, the State of Israel would lose its Jewish majority, while the Palestinian state will be “clean” of any Jew. Jews would become a minority between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, and they would be ruled by the Arab majority. If Abbas is so clear about his true intentions, and if he is so explicit about them, why is it so hard to believe him?
What would the world’s reaction be if Netanyahu declared that the State of Israel should be “clean” of any Arab? A two-state solution does not exclude the presence of minorities on both sides. India was partitioned in 1947, but there are Muslims in India and Hindus in Pakistan. This is what Netanyahu meant in his speech to Congress when he said that “in any real peace agreement that ends the conflict, some settlements will end up beyond Israel’s borders.” Contrary to what The Economist mistakenly (or mischievously) wrote, this doesn’t mean that some Jewish towns would “by implication, have to be removed” (“You can’t make everyone happy,” The Economist, May 26). It means that in a true peace there should be a Jewish minority in the Palestinian state, the same way that there is an Arab minority in the Jewish state. Either the Palestinian state is willing to tolerate a Jewish minority with equal civil rights similar to the ones enjoyed by Arabs in the State of Israel, or it is committed to ethnic cleansing. In that case, there should be a mutual population transfer, as suggested back in 1937 by the Peel Commission, between the two states.
Accepting the principle that there should be an Arab minority in the Jewish state but no Jewish minority in the Palestinian state would set an unprecedented double-standard; it would absolve the Palestinians for their intolerance towards minorities; and it would implicitly endorse the idea that the Arabs have stronger rights than the Jews over a land that both peoples claim to be theirs.