In the peculiar mental space of the ‘Palestinian’ movements — the PLO, Hamas and their supporters — there are some words that are used very differently from the way most Israelis and Americans use them. Here are some definitions to keep in mind when you read or listen to their statements:
Palestine — The entire land area between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.
Palestinian land — All of Palestine as defined above.
Palestinian People — All Arabs that lived in Palestine in 1948 and their descendants, including those who migrated into the region from Egypt or Syria in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Jews — Adherents to the Jewish religion.
Jewish People — There isn’t one. Unlike Palestinians, the PLO and Hamas do not consider Jews a ‘people’.
Zionists — Jews who colonized Palestine.
Occupation — The presence of a Zionist colony on Palestinian land. The occupation began in 1948. It is illegitimate despite League of Nations and UN resolutions, either because it is a colonialist enterprise (the PLO) or for religious reasons (Hamas).
Palestinian Refugees — Those Palestinians who lived in the area of the Zionist colony and were displaced in 1948, and their descendants. There are 4.5 million of these, and they are the true owners of the land in the Zionist colony.
Palestinian Cause — To end the occupation and return all Palestinian refugees to their ancestral homes, as defined above.
Two-state solution — An outcome to the conflict which ends the occupation by declaring two states: one in Eastern Palestine which will be entirely populated by Arabs, and one in the part of Palestine occupied by the Zionists in 1949, where Palestinian refugees will return.
Although Hamas and the PLO diverge sharply on many issues, including the kind of state that should ultimately be created in ‘Palestine’ and the best way to end the ‘occupation’, they all agree on the definitions above.
If you keep these definitions in mind, you will have no trouble understanding:
The refusal of PA leaders and negotiators to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish People. For one thing, they don’t agree that there is a Jewish people (although with massive illogic they then insist that there is a ‘Palestinian’ people), and for another, this would declare the ‘occupation’ legitimate — in contradiction to the basic principle of the Palestinian Cause.
The rejection of the Camp David proposal in 2000 and Olmert’s offer in 2008. Both of these would have created a state of Palestine in the territories and included unprecedented concessions on Jerusalem. But they didn’t include return of ‘Palestinian refugees’ and contained various provisions that would safeguard and legitimize the ‘Zionist colony’. They would not have ended the ‘occupation’ and so contradicted the Palestinian Cause.
The derisive response to PM Netanyahu’s statement in support of a two-state solution. Netanyahu’s position represented a significant departure from previous Likud principles that it would not accept a Palestinian state, and caused him internal difficulties with his supporters on the Right. But since he insisted on demilitarization and did not accept the ‘return’ of ‘refugees’, this was not considered a legitimate ‘two-state solution’.
The continued rocket and suicide terrorism of Hamas after Israel withdrew from Gaza. Hamas considered the withdrawal as a victory in the battle to end the ‘occupation’, brought about by its policy of violent resistance. Therefore it chose to continue this successful policy to end the rest of the ‘occupation’.
And of course, the persistence of the conflict.
Most Israelis and Americans, including — one hopes — the Obama Administration, believe that Israel is legitimate and that it is the nation-state of the Jewish people. They use the word ‘occupation’ to refer to territories occupied in 1967, and they imagine a two-state solution as one in which an Arab state of Palestine lives peacefully alongside a Jewish state of Israel. All of these usages are significantly different than the ‘Palestinian’ definitions above.
Those who — deliberately or from ignorance — deny these ambiguities may say things like “everybody knows what the general outlines of a solution are; we just need to work out the details.” But that’s far from true.
Communication is impossible without agreement on the meanings of words. As long as systematic ambiguity about basic concepts remains, the conflict cannot be ended by negotiation.
So why don’t negotiators agree on terms?
The answer is that they are not trying to end the conflict. Diplomats love ambiguity, because it allows them to pretend to be making progress so they can demand concrete concessions from the other side or from third parties.
The dirty little secret about diplomacy is that it is more like warfare than problem-solving.