Mark Lavie reviews recent Israeli-Palestinian history - at each point the
Palestinians source of problem
[With thanks for Mark Lavie for providing IMRA with a copy]
"Everything depends on where you start your history."
That's one of the wisest observations I've ever heard. It came from my 8th
grade history teacher.
So where do we start the history of Israel and the Palestinians?
Nov. 29, 1947, when the U.N. voted to partition Palestine into a Jewish
state and an Arab state? The Jews accepted it. The Arabs rejected it, but
despite the war they declared on the Jews, with the stated object of
throwing them into the sea, the Jewish state survived, but the Arab state
was never born. Jordan swallowed up its territory. Yet that is the date
today’s Palestinians have chosen to ask the same U.N. to recognize their
state. The irony is too bitter.
How about June 1967? That's when Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip,
Golan Heights and Sinai desert. Its army crossed the cease-fire lines drawn
in 1949 at the end of the above war. In other words, the "border" of the
West Bank, now accepted by practically everyone as a sacred frontier drawn
by God and handed down from generation to generation, was in fact just a
cease-fire line that held for all of 18 years of the 4,000-year recorded
history of the Middle East.
Or maybe July 2000, when Israel's prime minister offered Palestinian leader
Yasser Arafat a state in more than 90 percent of the West Bank, all of Gaza,
parts of Jerusalem and a corridor between the West Bank and Gaza — something
that has never existed, certainly not within the "holy" pre-1967 "borders."
To the dismay of the host, President Bill Clinton, Arafat turned down the
offer, walked out of Camp David and slammed the door. A violent uprising
broke out two months later, and 6,000 people died, most of them
Certainly Israel has done stupid things, like settlements, has been guilty
of acts of cruelty and has elected some bad leaders. None of those are
decisive, though the world usually focuses on those aspects.
And all the above is well known historical fact. So let's start somewhere
that isn’t so well known.
A year of negotiations between high-level teams of Palestinians and Israelis
has come to an end. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert shows a map to
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. It delineates a Palestinian state in
93.5 percent of the West Bank, all of Gaza, ceding Israeli land to make up
the 6.5 percent, including that corridor between the two territories, the
Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, shared control of the holy sites in the Old
City. Olmert said, "Sign this." Otherwise he would not give Abbas the map,
knowing from bitter experience that any proposal handed to the Palestinians
simply becomes the starting point of the next round of demands. This was
Israel's final offer. Abbas knew that.
So he emulated his predecessor, turned around, left the room and never met
Olmert again. The chance was lost for good within a month when Israel
invaded Gaza to try to put a stop
to incessant rocket attacks, something that might sound familiar — and the
motivation for me to finally write about this now, four years later.
Olmert's offer of a Palestinian state in the equivalent of all of the West
Bank, Gaza and significant parts of Jerusalem was never properly reported at
the time. Olmert didn't make it public then. He didn't have to. The
On March 27, 2009, the chief Palestinian negotiator, my old friend Saeb
Erekat, a fellow night owl who was always ready with a comment on current
events at 2 a.m., went on Al-Jazeera and spelled it out. He said then that
Abbas "could have accepted a proposal that talked about Jerusalem and almost
100% of the West Bank."
Then he quoted the response Abbas gave:
"'I am not in a marketplace or a bazaar. I came to demarcate the borders of
Palestine — the June 4, 1967 borders — without detracting a single inch, and
without detracting a single stone from Jerusalem, or from the holy Christian
and Muslim places.' This is why the Palestinian negotiators did not sign…"
Chances are the real reason for his timidity was the refugees. About 700,000
Palestinians fled or were forced from their homes by Jewish soldiers in that
war that followed Israel's creation. They were housed in camps along
Israel's borders, in the West Bank, Gaza, Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. They
have been kept there by Palestinian and Arab leaders, with the willing and
continuing cooperation of the U.N., to be a festering sore, bolstered by the
promise that they would one day return to their homes in Israel. After four
generations, their numbers have reached about 5 million, and all are
considered refugees from Palestine. All have been promised the right to
Yet Arafat and now Abbas say they want a state in the West Bank and Gaza.
Pulling these two threads together, it means they want a Palestinian state,
and they also want most of their people to go live in someone else's state.
For sure there are winks and nods in the direction of some sort of other
arrangement, but no Palestinian leader has ever told his people, sorry, you
will not be going back to that village that is now under the runway of
Israel's international airport, you will be fortunate to live in a free
Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. If Arafat couldn't do it, no
So why am I writing about this now? I was unable to write about it then, and
we will have to leave it at that. I'm writing about it now because we have
just had a conflict in Gaza that brought many journalists from all over the
world who landed at that same airport, went straight to Gaza and began
reporting on the suffering of the Palestinian people at the hands of the
But history did not start when they got off the plane. The downward slope
into insoluble stalemate, despair and violence started in July 2000 and got
its last fatal push in November 2008. Between those two dates, Israel
withdrew from Gaza. Palestinians tired of the corruption and nepotism of the
party headed by Abbas, voted for Hamas, and when Abbas refused to yield to
the verdict of his own people, Hamas pitched his forces out of Gaza.
That was two years after Israel pulled out of Gaza. The Palestinians had a
chance for independence and glory. Instead they chose rockets and war.
And so we arrive at today. There is a cease-fire. It will last a month, a
year, a few years. Negotiations are pointless. An understanding of the
background will help us all realize that the peace process reached its
logical conclusion, and it did not produce peace. Twice.
An understanding of where this all comes from, and especially the sorry
events of November 2008, give an entirely new perspective to the problem.
Because everything depends on where you start your history.