Peace Not In Sight

“Have no mercy on the Jews, no matter where they are, in any country. Fight them, wherever you are. Wherever you meet them, kill them…We will not give up a single grain of soil of Palestine, from Haifa, and Jaffa, and Acre, and Mulabbas [Petah Tikva] and Salamah, and Majdal [Ashkelon], and all the land, and Gaza, and the West Bank…” — Dr. Ahmad Abu Halabiya, Fatwa Council, on Palestinian Authority Television, October 14, 2000. (See the Middle East Media and Research Institute.)

The irony is clear and poignant and not lost on those that have learned the history of the formation of the modern state of Israel. When the United Nations created the state of Israel in 1948, the area was divided into a Jewish and an Arab state, Jordan. The Jewish state was substantially smaller than even Israel’s pre-1967 borders. The Gaza Strip along the Mediterranean Sea was twice as large as it is now and Jerusalem was under the control of Arabs. In other words, if the Arabs had just accepted the 1948 situation, they would have had far more territory than they do now. Fifty years of strife could have been avoided.

Instead, the armies of Jordan, Syria, Iraq and Egypt, believing in the superiority of numbers, immediately attacked the fledging state. The combination of disorganization and distrust between the Arab states and the bravery of the Israeli Defense Forces allowed Israel to win its War for Independence. The borders after that Israeli victory included more of the West Bank of the Jordan River and most importantly it included Jerusalem.

In 1967, after continued border violence, the Israelis took six days to seize the Golan Heights and prevented the Syrians from lobbing artillery into Israel from the high ground bordering the Sea of Galilee. In the same six days, Israel created land buffers with Jordan and Egypt by capturing the entire West Bank and the Sinai Peninsula.

It has taken decades to reach some accommodation. Anwar Sadat realized that there was no percentage for the Egyptian people in continued belligerence with Israel and made peace. In return for this peace, Egypt received the Sinai back from Israel and Sadat was rewarded with bullets from Muslim extremists. King Hussein of Jordan, never a firebrand, also made an accommodation with Israel. Jordan’s claims to the West Bank were waived in favor of a separate Palestinian state. The idea of a separate Palestinian State, free of Jordan, gained in currency only after the 1967 War.

The key to the peace with Israel for Jordan and Egypt was that these states recognized that Israel has a rightful and permanent place in the Middle East. Once that fundamental tenet was truly accepted, peace negotiations proceeded rather quickly.

By contrast and despite the Oslo accords, Yasser Arafat and his Palestinian followers have never really accepted Israel. Vitriolic anti-Semitism in state-controlled Palestinian media is just one example of this recalcitrance. The refusal by the Palestinians to really recognize Israel is evidenced by the fact that they teach youngsters in Palestinian schools with Middle East maps showing no Israel. The true intentions of Arafat were further demonstrated by his actions following the recent Israeli peace proposal. Israeli Prime Minister Barak offered a settlement granting far more to Palestinians than any previous Israeli proposal. Arafat refused to even make a counter offer. Arafat sent Palestinian youths into the streets to confront Israeli soldiers with rocks and the occasional automatic weapon.

It is not clear whether Yasser Arafat does not have the leadership qualities necessary to persuade fellow Palestinians that peace with Israel is necessary and desirable or whether he just does not want peace. No matter how many times an American President invites Arafat to the White House, no matter how conciliatory an Israeli government is, unless Arafat grows into more than just one more street thug and gang leader, peace will prove impossible. It is the Palestinian Arabs who will suffer the most.

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