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Rejection of Palestinian state an obstacle to peace?

By W. James Antle III
web posted May 27, 2002

The emerging consensus among observers of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is that any resolution inevitably involves the Palestinians governing themselves under their own flag in their own country. The Bush administration has endorsed an independent Palestinian state and backed UN resolutions to this effect, something that just a few years ago would have seemed improbable even for an administration striving for "even-handedness" toward Yasser Arafat, much less one that is pro-Israel.

Even Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, hardly famous for his conciliatory attitude toward the Palestinians, has concluded that at some point in the future, there will be a Palestinian state or at least that the creation of one must remain on the table in order for there to be any meaningful negotiations. The only problem is that his Likud Party overwhelmingly rejected even the idea of such a state at a recent convention. Even a more innocuous resolution intended to head off an explicit repudiation of a Palestinian state by simply stating that Likud would support its prime minister's peace and security measures was rejected by 59 per cent to 41 per cent.

This brought forth the usual angry press releases and editorial hand wringing about Israel's largest right-wing political party. Likud is always seen as opposing the "peace process" and thus opposing the achievement of lasting peace. And there are of course members of the party who will never be able to accept even the most reasonable concessions.

Palestinians are of course as entitled to political self-determination as any other people. The fact that they have never before governed themselves in a nation-state known as Palestine is no argument against a Palestinian state in the future. Not only is a Palestinian state nearly unavoidable; there should be no objection to it in principle.

But there remains the question of what a Palestinian state would mean today in practice. The main sponsor of the Likud resolution rejecting the establishment of a Palestinian state, former (and perhaps future) Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, has contended that the result would be "Arafatistan."

Yasser ArafatThere is little evidence that increasing Palestinian self-government by creating the Palestinian Authority with Arafat in charge has contributed to peace given the unprecedented violence that has followed. Over 90 per cent of the Palestinians were effectively placed under Arafat's authority by the Oslo Accord, reducing the degree of Israeli "occupation." The Palestinian Authority had a security force that effectively acted as a standing army, a state media that broadcast anti-Jewish sentiment and a school system in which children read anti-Israel textbooks. This environment cultivated rather than dissipated Palestinian animus against Israel.

Why did the semi-independence of a majority of Palestinians fail to yield progress and why would a sovereign Palestinian state at this point be just as unlikely to have positive results? One reason is that Arafat's leadership of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, a group that engaged in terrorism and that opposed Israel's existence in its founding charter, was poor preparation for peacemaking and statesmanship. It is true that other leaders have overcome dubious pasts - Menachem Begin was head of the Irgun, which participated in armed resistance against the British in Palestine, Nelson Mandela led the African National Congress, both became heads of their respective countries. But as commentator Lawrence Auster pointed out in FrontPage Magazine, careful scrutiny shows that these past examples are not truly applicable.

Prior to becoming heads of governments, Mandela had 28 years of reflection in prison while Begin had served 30 years as a democratically elected member of the Knesset. As Auster wrote, "these men did not leap in a single bound from armed insurrection to Nobel prizes and presidencies, as happened with the unspeakable Arafat."

There is another even greater reason to doubt that a Palestinian state would today make peace with Israel. Many Palestinians seek not a political settlement but total victory, and total victory does not mean a Palestinian state that coexists with Israel but one that replaces Israel. According to a poll taken in February, 69 per cent of Palestinians said peace with the Israelis was not possible "under any circumstances" and 82 per cent did not think an attack on a Tel Aviv nightclub that left 21 dead was an act of terrorism. With this kind of public opinion, unreliable Palestinian leadership, popular support for such terrorist groups as Hamas and the loss of border security ceding such areas as the West Bank would entail, it is not difficult to see why Likud rejected the idea of a Palestinian state next door.

The conditions for a successful Palestinian state would have to be its ability to permanently recognize Israel's existence and the right of its 5.5 million Jewish citizens to physical survival. This would require that Palestinians come to believe, partly through Israeli intransigence, that there is more to be gained through negotiation than conflict. This would also require a responsible Palestinian leadership with peaceful intentions. There is no one who could presently lead a sustainable Palestinian state.

One day there will likely be two countries in the Middle East, one predominantly Arab the other predominantly Jewish, living in peace side by side. But that day has not yet arrived and pretending that it has prematurely will not hasten its arrival.

W. James Antle III is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right.

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