The Arab nations should have accepted the U.N. partition plan in 1947, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said on Friday, about one month after he went to the U.N. to seek unilateral recognition of an independent Palestinian state.
In an interview with Israel’s Channel 2, Abbas conceded that “it was our mistake” for not agreeing to U.N. General Assembly Resolution 181, which called for the establishment of a Jewish state alongside an Arab state in the British Mandate for Palestine. According to Abbas, Arabs as a whole are at fault for rejecting the plan and should have acted like the Jews and established a state. “But should they [the Israelis] punish us for this mistake for 64 years?” he said, speaking in English.
Does this mean that he wishes there were a peaceful Palestinian state alongside Israel, as Resolution 181 envisioned? Does it mean that he recognizes the Jewish state, which was implied in resolution 181?
Of course not. If a separate state were all he wanted, he could have had it in 2008, when then-PM Olmert offered him 93.6% of Judea/Samaria plus swaps, and half of Jerusalem for a capital. Although he now claims that the opportunity was lost when Olmert left office, there is good evidence that the PA walked away from it. And even today he explicitly refuses to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish people.
In 1947, the Palestinian Arabs believed that — with the help of the Arab nations — they would succeed in driving the Jews out of Palestine or killing them, and therefore they did not accept partition. But that isn’t what happened. Their strategy backfired in the worst possible way.
Abbas understands that despite Arab mythology that the Zionists planned to force them out in any case, the nakba, the flight of about 600,000 Arabs from the area that became Israel, was a result of the war that the Arabs started.
Had there been no war, the Arab state that would have been created by the UN would have had almost no Jews (1%), and the smaller Jewish state would have been 55% Jewish and 45% Arab (Wikipedia). This would have been a much better starting point for an ultimate Arab takeover in almost every way than Olmert’s 2008 offer. No wonder he regrets that it was not accepted!
What is essential to understanding Abbas is to grasp that his demand for a right of return and his refusal to accept that Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people are essential, not rhetorical, demands.
This is because the essence of the ‘Palestinian Cause’ is the reversal of the nakba and the return of all of the land to Arab control. Accepting resolution 181 in 1947 would have prevented the nakba and laid the groundwork for a more gradual end to Jewish rule. Olmert’s 2008 offer would not have served the Cause — and neither would the bilateral negotiations proposed by Netanyahu today, because they do not include right of return.
This makes the somewhat puzzling last sentence of the quotation — “But should they punish us for this mistake for 64 years?” — understandable. The ‘punishment’ Abbas is talking about is the refusal of Israel to allow the refugees and their millions of descendents to ‘return’ to the Jewish state.
In the minds of Palestinians, great exertions and sacrifices are justified to end the unnatural situation of their ‘exile’. Thus they do not accept any solution to the refugee problem other than ‘return’, they engage in terrorism (including suicide terrorism), and they refused what appear to be excellent offers of statehood from Clinton/Barak and Olmert.
All this is completely understandable and unexceptional to every Palestinian. Although Hamas and the PLO disagree about who should be in charge and about the degree to which a Palestinian state will be governed by Islamic law, they are in complete agreement about the Cause.
What is hard to understand, at least for me, is that despite the fact that the Palestinians have been talking about it for the aforesaid 64 years, Western leaders and diplomats still don’t get it!