President Barack Obama’s declaration that the new US Administration will aggressively pursue peace in the Middle East reminded me of the statements made by all his predecessors: Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton, and Bush Jr. At times the intonation or phrasing was different, yet the essence was always the same.
There is no doubt that America wishes to bring peace to two veteran enemies, both in order to put an end to the ongoing Mideastern headache bothering the Western world, and to quiet the Western conscience that views the State of Israel’s establishment in 1948 as a case of resolving an injustice through another injustice.
All of Obama’s predecessors found it extraordinarily difficult to serve as an honest broker in this lengthy conflict. Bill Clinton described it best when he compared the talks in Camp David in 2000 to pulling out a tooth without anesthesia. Why? Because this longtime conflict was unlike any other quarrel he was familiar with.
Israel and Egypt, for example, could have signed a peace treaty many years before they ended up doing it, as there was no real dispute between them. Jordan and Israel could have also signed a peace agreement dozens of years ago if it wasn’t for the Jordanian king’s artificial attachment to the Palestinian issue. We would also have no real conflict with Lebanon if it wasn’t for Hizbullah, which invented such conflict. Even our conflict with the Syrians can be resolved.
Yet the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is very different than all others. By the way, the person who predicted that Jews and Arabs will be fighting each other until one side overcomes the other happened to be a Christian. Back in 1905, Najib Azuri predicted that we are facing a conflict between two national movements competing for the same territory, and as no compromise would be acceptable, we would have to wait until one side defeats the other.
These words were uttered long before the Partition Plan, before the question of the “territories” ever emerged, and before even one settlement was established. It appears to be a self-fulfilling prophecy. For more than 60 years now, the Palestinian Arabs are claiming that “all of this land is ours” and are unwilling to compromise on even a small tract of the land of Palestine. The only time they seemingly agreed to compromise, via the “Oslo Accord,” they in fact resorted to an international act of fraud. Their leader, Arafat, regretted it soon after, admitted his mistake, and apologized to his people.
For 60 years now, the various mediators always turn to us, the Israelis, and ask us to proceed with a “gesture that comes from strength.” Meanwhile, the Palestinians are always shown forgiveness and the kind of sympathy reserved to the weak. To this day, every “aggressive” round of talks started with making demands of the Israeli side and asking us to accommodate the Palestinians while gambling away our security.
Perhaps the time has come for Obama to start the latest “round” with the Palestinians, in what we can refer to from now on as full disclosure on the Palestinian side? Perhaps the time has come to ask the peace-seeking Palestinians to clearly declare, in an unequivocal and irreversible manner, that they have no intention of resettling in Israel, where they claim to have been expelled from? This point, which is so critical to the ties between us and which is so important to the notion of “two states living peacefully alongside each other” was never fully clarified.
My personal experience of being involved with the implementation of the Oslo Accord etched in my mind one statement made by a senior Palestinian figure at a moment of truth: “No Arab leader has the right to renounce the right of return, because the return is beyond anything.”
And this is so true. After all, all of us were living an agreed upon lie. The Palestinians did not really change their position on the notion of “return.” They believe, and not only behind closed doors, that there can be no solution accept for the return of refugees to their homes. Their refugee camps will only be dismantled after the return.
Even Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of the Palestinian moderate camp, promises dwellers of Lebanese and Jordanian refugee camps that they will swiftly return to their homes when he appears before them. If Abbas is indeed a partner for peace, he should take the US ambassador in each Arab country along with him on a “refugee camp tour,” and in the presence of the ambassadors inform residents of refugee camps in Lebanon, Syria, Gaza, and Jordan, that “we must forget about the notion of return” and that “there would be no compromise with a return of refugees.” What do you think will happen then, Mr. President?
Therefore, it would be good if George Mitchell’s and Hillary Clinton’s expected offensives start with the Palestinian side this time around.
On the day where the Palestinians prove that they changed their position and are no longer dreaming about a return to Haifa, Jaffa, the Coastal Plain’s villages, and the Galilee they will find that the people of Israel are willing to support genuine territorial compromise.
Colonel (res.) Moshe Elad served as the head of the security coordination mechanism with the Palestinian Authority in the Oslo Accord period. Today he is a lecturer at the Western Galilee Academic College