By Harry Storm
Only peace efforts by Palestinians can resolve their intractable conflict with Israel.
One regularly hears talk about how complicated the situation between Israelis and Palestinians really is. But is it really that complex? Many if not most Palestinians and their allies in the Muslim world and in the West simplify the issue quite succinctly, with their slogans “Free Palestine” and “From the River to the Sea, Palestine will be Free”. Nothing particularly complicated about that, and no two-state solution for these people: They want all the land of mandate Palestine (after Transjordan, later Jordan, was split off from the original Palestine mandate), and want it free of Jewish Israelis.
On the Israeli side, things are more nuanced, but not particularly complicated either. Israel has never sought to control all of mandate Palestine, as evidenced by the 2005 unilateral withdrawal from Gaza. What most Israelis want is a negotiated settlement between themselves and the Palestinians that results in a true and sincere peace. That, however, seems unattainable, given that many Palestinians – and most in leadership positions, whether in Hamas or the Palestinian Authority – make little effort to hide their desire for all of Palestine and for Jewish Israelis to leave by any means, and, as the events of Oct. 7 have made crystal clear, there is no act too horrific or too depraved to do to Israelis they would not do in pursuit of that goal.
In short, as many Israelis regularly point out, there is no partner for peace on the other side. You cannot make peace, Israelis will tell you, with people whose sole aim is to get rid of you. Although I agree with both statements, it’s easy for Israel’s enemies to make counterarguments that are perceived by many as successfully undermining this line of thinking. For example, pro-Palestinians will point to the hardline Netanyahu government, not entirely without reason, as being, at best, an extremely reluctant peace partner that is every bit as intransigent as the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas and one that looks the other way when extremist settlers commit crimes against Palestinians on the West Bank. And the number of Palestinian deaths at the hands of the Israeli state make it difficult to argue that it is only the Israelis who can’t make peace with an enemy bent on killing.
Another argument Israelis and their supporters regularly make, which I also believe is true, is that “If the Palestinians laid down their weapons there would be peace. If Israel laid down its arms there would be no Israel.” The reason this argument is less effective than many think is because it is hypothetical. Nobody – not Israel, not the Palestinians bent on its destruction, are laying down their arms anytime soon.
But this argument can be moved from hypothetical to real by reformulating it from a statement to a simple question: “What unilateral action(s) can Israel/Palestinians take that would end hostilities between them? For Palestinians, the answer is simple, though it’s an answer many would prefer to never give. And that answer is: make a peace offer; engage in sincere negotiations; put down your arms (as in the hypothetical scenario above). All of these would ultimately have the effect of ending hostilities between Palestinians and Israelis, and very likely could result in a final settlement of the question of Palestine.
However, the same doesn’t hold true for the Israeli side. There is no action Israel could unilaterally take, nothing Israel could do on its own, that would end hostilities, short of (a) creating a wasteland in the West Bank and Gaza and driving out the Palestinian population, and that is something that would never be contemplated by Israel, even after the gruesome massacre of 1,400 of its citizens and the kidnapping of another 230; or (b) dismantling itself and have all Jewish Israelis find refuge elsewhere, something the Holocaust-traumatized Jews will never consider.
So is there any action Israel could take to secure itself without taking military action? For instance, could Israel make a peace offer? Of course. It has done so several times. All have been rejected, without even a counteroffer being proposed. Could it unilaterally leave the West Bank, as is demanded by pro-Palestinians in the West as a way to end the conflict? Not if Gaza is any example. Israel left Gaza lock, stock and barrel in 2005. Instead of peace, it got Hamas, rockets and Oct. 7. Would removing the Jewish settlements from the West Bank bring about peace? Highly unlikely, given the experience of Gaza and the fact that the Palestinian Authority leadership has twice been offered a deal that would see Jewish settlements dismantled, and rejected both. As noted earlier, no counteroffer was even made. It’s also worth noting that prior to 1967, before Israel controlled the West Bank and there were no settlements, Arab rejectionism was every bit as absolute as it is today, perhaps even more so.
I won’t pretend that answering the above question is a solution or deals with all the other issues that plague the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. It doesn’t, for example, address the Palestinian claim that the Israelis are interlopers who shouldn’t be there in the first place. It doesn’t address the issue of Jewish settlements in the West Bank. But it does help to understand why a solution to the conflict seems forever elusive, and reveals a root cause, in my opinion the root cause, of the conflict.
The problem may be intractable, but the reason why is evident. All one has to do is ask what actions either party could take to end the conflict. When one considers the answer to that question, the “complex” problem becomes far easier to understand.