The Fashla [great failure or mistake] of 1993
Some commentators have argued that the worst single policy mistake that Israel has made since the founding of the state was the 1993 decision to recognize Yasser Arafat’s PLO as the legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and to bring Arafat back from Tunisian exile to head the newly formed Palestinian Authority.
The result was that any moderate forces that existed among the Palestinians were marginalized, driven out, or killed, and a system of indoctrination was developed including schools, mosques, media, children’s camps, etc. designed to do one thing: teach Palestinians — especially young ones — that the goal of destroying Israel and replacing it with an Arab state was achievable and worthy of the ultimate sacrifice.
Meanwhile, while Israel began a program of ‘educating for peace’ to try to get suspicious Israelis to accept the new ‘reality’ that the conflict with the Palestinians — and perhaps even the whole of the Arab world — was coming to an end, that a ‘new Middle East’ was in the offing, Arafat ramped up terrorism, using arms and money supplied by the West in order to ‘fight terrorism’ (as someone said, this was like paying Kellogg’s to fight cornflakes) to create a private army.
It all blew up (pun intended) in 2000, when Arafat rejected the Camp David/Taba offers of a state and chose war instead.
Caroline Glick has written an absolutely masterful paper (“Israel and the Palestinians: Ending the Stalemate“) in which she argues that what happened in 1993 was a “paradigm shift” in the understanding of the conflict by the US and Israel:
Prior to 1993, both Israeli and U.S. policies were based on the view that the root of the conflict was the Arab world’s rejection of Israel’s right to exist. That view was codified in United Nations Security Council Resolution 242, which asserted that two principles were to form the basis of any “just and lasting peace in the Middle East.” The first was an Israeli withdrawal from some of the territory taken over by the Israel Defense Forces during the June 1967 Six-Day War. The second was that the Arab states must accept Israel’s right to exist…
Since Israel has consistently demonstrated its readiness to make territorial compromises for a lasting peace with its neighbors, it was this second condition that formed the foundation of both U.S. and Israeli policies towards the Palestinians specifically, and the Arab world generally, from the end of the Six-Day War until the onset of Israel’s peace process with the PLO in 1993.
After 1993, however, both the US and Israel adopted the point of view common to the Arabs, the EU, the UN and Russia [Glick says “Soviet Union”, but of course after 1991 there was no USSR] that the root of the conflict was not Arab rejectionism but Israeli occupation of the territories captured in 1967:
…they argued that the Arab world generally, and the Palestinian Arabs specifically, could not be expected to accept Israel’s right to exist until the military outcome of the Six-Day War was entirely reversed. In this latter view, it was Israel, not the Arabs, which bore responsibility for the intractable nature of the conflict. And it was Israel, not the Arabs, which would have to amend its policies if peace were to be achieved.
By accepting the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian Arabs in 1993, both Israel and the U.S. essentially adopted this latter view of the nature of the conflict. A terrorist organization founded in 1964 with the goal of eliminating Israel altogether, the PLO represented the most extreme assertion of Israeli responsibility for the Arab world’s refusal to accept its existence. Indeed, eternalizing that refusal was its raison d’être.
Since then the US has moved farther and farther in this direction. Glick points out that the Bush Administration in 2002 was the first American administration to call for the creation of a Palestinian state as a goal of the ‘peace process’. At that time President Bush linked the creation of the state to an end to terrorism, and the road map of 2003 made this part of the first stage, before the establishment of a state. Glick writes,
In November 2007, however, the Bush administration broke with that view. Its new policy is founded on the belief that Israel and the Palestinian Authority must sign an agreement spelling out the borders and sovereign rights of the sought-for State of Palestine even before the Palestinian Authority fights—let alone defeats—the terror forces operating within its territory in Judea, Samaria and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made this point clearly in a press briefing on November 4, 2007. In her words: “The real breakthrough, it was actually a few months ago now, is that for a long time, if you remember, the argument was you couldn’t talk about the Palestinian state or core issues, which was in phase three [of the road map], until you had completed phase one [requiring the Palestinian Authority to fight terrorism], which got us into an extended kind of circular problem for a long time about phase one. Well… now we’ve broken through and they are, indeed, talking about… what’s in phase three, which is the establishment of a Palestinian state.”
In other words, “Damn the [terrorism], full speed ahead [to a state]”.
But, as Glick goes on to show, the Palestinians — of course Hamas, but also the ‘moderate’ Fatah — which is after all the Fatah of Yasser Arafat — have never wanted statehood alongside Israel. The goal has always been to “end the occupation” — the Jewish occupation of the land that began in 1948, and indeed, long before that:
This view was evident in Arafat’s rejection of Barak’s offer at Camp David in 2000. While Arafat never made a counteroffer, he gave three justifications for walking away from an offer that would enable the establishment of a Palestinian state. First, Arafat rejected Barak’s argument that the establishment of a Palestinian state in Judea, Samaria, Gaza and Jerusalem would end the Palestinian conflict with Israel.
Second, Arafat rejected the Israeli position that the immigration to Israel of Palestinian Arabs who left Israel during the 1948-49 war and their descendants would be limited to family reunification. In Arafat’s words, “the right of return [of the former Arab residents and their descendants to Israel] is sacred and its sanctity is not less than that [assigned to] the holy places [in Jerusalem].”
By couching Palestinian rejection of the Israeli offer in such terms, Arafat made clear that the Palestinian demands on Israel are not limited, and so amenable to compromise and conciliation. Rather they are unlimited, and impossible to appease. Here it should be noted that there are no Palestinian leaders who are willing to compromise on the demand that millions of foreign-born Arabs be allowed unfettered immigration to Israel. Moreover, the Palestinians are fully cognizant of the fact that such a move will destroy Israel by overwhelming its Jewish majority. Indeed, Fatah is no different from Hamas or Islamic Jihad—or Iran, for that matter—in its refusal to accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state.
Finally, Arafat explained that he refused Israel’s offer of statehood because the Palestinian conflict with Israel is not simply a nationalist quest for Palestinian statehood, but an Islamic religious struggle…
This last was a new and somewhat hypocritical maneuver for Arafat, who had always been a secular communist-style radical. But ever skilled at determining wind direction, he realized that the growing power of Islamism (and the loss of a communist sponsor in the Soviet Union) would have to be taken into account. But one thing has never changed from the days of the Nazi Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini through Arafat and now Abbas:
Since the issuance of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, far clearer than the Palestinian Arab desire for statehood has been the Palestinian Arab rejection of Jewish statehood. Championing Palestinian Arab statehood has never been the explicit policy of either the Palestinians or the rest of the Arab world. Rather, rejecting the right of the Jewish nation to sovereignty in the land of Israel has been the consistent policy of the Palestinian Arab leadership as well as the general Arab leadership since 1917, and most pronouncedly since the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
Glick thinks, as do I, that the US and Israel took a seriously wrong turn in 1993, a turn based on a misunderstanding of Palestinian goals and intentions, wishful thinking, and projection of Western ideas on Arab peoples who do not share them. And possibly there is more to it than just misunderstandings. In the US there is an alignment of pro-Arab forces in the State Department with oil interests and Saudi Arabia who would be happy to see Israel replaced with a Palestinian Arab state. And in Israel there are those whose ideology has driven them to take positions that are counter to their own continued existence.
Glick provides a detailed prescription for the changes needed to undo the fashla [great failure or mistake] of 1993. I suggest that in the US, we can begin by understanding that the problem is not that there is no Palestinian state — but rather that the Arabs, including the Palestinians, do not want there to be a Jewish state.
Both American presidential candidates have pledged to work for a “two-state solution”. This is putting the cart several miles ahead of the horse. Our policy should make any Israeli withdrawals contingent — as UN resolution 242 states — on real recognition of Israel’s right to exist, expressed in part by an end to the support of terrorism by Arab nations, Iran and the Palestinian Authority alike.