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A hundred years of intransigence

A path to peace in the Middle East is clear, but Palestinians refuse to take it

Palestinians celebrate in Gaza City after a shooting attack near a Jerusalem synagogue that killed seven people, including a 70-year-old woman, on Jan. 27. Associated Press/Photo by Fatima Shbair

A hundred years of intransigence
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Violence in the Holy Land is once again on the rise, and many commentators are blaming Israel’s new right-wing government and controversial Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But the root cause of the violence is the ongoing refusal of Palestinian leaders to make peace with Israel, now for a whole century, and the path to peace is clear.

Renewed tensions have been building in the land of Canaan for a few years, but reached a gruesome new milestone on Jan. 27 with the murder of seven Jewish civilians outside a Jerusalem synagogue. More frightening is a new spirit of anarchy that is sweeping Palestinian cities like Jenin and Nablus where “Gen Z” terrorists linked to Islamic Jihad defy their own leaders in waging a private religious war on Israel.

Unfortunately, the violence has yet to peak. CIA director Bill Burns came away pessimistic after a recent trip to the region, describing the situation as akin to the bloody Second Intifada of the early 2000s. “The conversations I’ve had … left me quite concerned about the prospects for even greater fragility and even greater violence between Israelis and Palestinians,” Burns said. Meanwhile, the latest joint Israeli-Palestinian survey finds belief in peace through a two-state solution at a dismal low.

Predictably, senior Palestinian leaders are blaming the new spike in terrorism on Netanyahu, who swept Israel’s recent elections and now commands a government dominated by religious and hawkish politicians who are controversial even among many Israelis. But the photos and videos of the widespread exuberance that broke out across the West Bank and Gaza in reaction to news of the recent slayings of Israeli Jews is chilling indeed. The images were symptomatic of a sick society.

Netanyahu is uninterested in peace talks and against a two-state solution, but that is not new. But Palestinian violence is the fault of the Palestinians, as is the death of the peace process. With no Palestinian leader able to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state and make the necessary compromises for peace for a century now, who can blame Israeli Jews for moving on?

When Netanyahu promises Israelis security, he’s speaking to a felt need.

Let us look to history: The Arab world rejected a two-state solution in 1947—a two-state solution that would have given the Palestinians the vast majority of the Holy Land—a full 20 years before Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza. The Arabs again rejected peace in 1967, reinforcing the deadlock that was only broken by Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat, who announced his intention to make peace with the Jewish state a decade later. While PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat recognized Israel in 1993, he and his successors refused two far-reaching peace offers in 2000 and 2008 and rejected President Trump’s negotiating framework out of hand in 2019.

It is this longstanding pattern of Palestinian intransigence, often backed up by violence, that brought Benjamin Netanyahu back to power, and it’s what will keep him there until something changes. Many Israeli Jews were once in favor of coexistence with a peaceful Palestinian state, but a hundred years of senseless killing has made them give up hope in the short term. When Netanyahu promises them security, he’s speaking to a felt need.

The conflict may be complex, but the formula for peace is clear: The Palestinians must produce a leader who is brave enough to condemn antisemitic violence, restore rule of law to the Territories, accept the legitimacy of a Jewish state (however reluctantly), and promote the vision for a post-normalization Palestine whose raison d’être is based on something other than opposition to Israel. This must be a leader who will make the concessions needed for a final deal with Israel, and who will accept a “Palestine the size of a tablecloth” if it means saving his or her people. There is no doubt that the reaction to such a leader on the Israeli side would be overwhelmingly positive.

Intransigence and anger have gotten the Palestinians nowhere. Meanwhile, Israel is here to stay. The sooner the Palestinians recognize this fact and move on, the closer we will be to peace. In the meantime, the Israeli hawks will get stronger, the map of a possible State of Palestine will get smaller, and its would-be citizens will continue to suffer. And Palestinian leaders will have no one to blame but themselves.

Robert Nicholson

Robert Nicholson is president and executive director of The Philos Project.

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