By Boris Shusteff

The recent visit of the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to Washington and the US Secretary of State Colin Powell´s trip to Middle East were as helpful to the solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict as the latest earthquake in Turkey. The conflict cannot be solved through forcing Israel to "return to the negotiation table." However, while no Israelis will go skiing in a desert, a very large majority of them still believe that the Jewish state can achieve peace with the Arabs by negotiating with Arafat the surrender of the lands that she gained in the Six-Day War.

The reason for the common misconception is the complete misunderstanding of the nature of the conflict itself. David Brooks explained in an excellent article in the July 2nd edition of the "Weekly Standard" that the core of the conflict is embedded in the Jewish and Arab incompatible moral claims. He wrote, "The whole dispute hangs on a simple question: Is Israel a criminal state? The Arab population has swung behind the idea that it is, and the Jewish population has swung behind the idea that it isn´t."

For the Arabs, the existence of Israel itself is unacceptable. On June 29 "The Jerusalem Post" quoted Dan Meridor, Chairman of the Knesset Foreign Relations and Defense Committee, who was a member of the Israeli negotiating team at Camp David. Talking on June 28 to the Israel-Britain and the Commonwealth Association he explained why the negotiations failed.

"The problem was not putting an end to occupation nor the creation of a Palestinian state, it wasn´t even Jerusalem or the right of the Palestinians to self-determination… The very acceptance of the Jewish state was the issue. Israel has to be courageous enough and truthful enough to see the reality and not substitute it for wishful thinking."

For the Arabs, Israel is an illegitimate child of the western imperialism implanted in their midst. The Arabs do not want to recognize anything that will even hint at the legitimacy of Israel´s existence. Brooks described an episode that happened during the Camp David summit when the Israeli delegation proposed to give the control of the top of the Temple Mount to the Arabs. In exchange they asked the Arabs never to dig into the earth below the mosque plaza, since there lay the remains of the Holy Temple destroyed by the Romans almost 2,000 years ago. The Arabs agreed to this arrangement. However, "when Shomo Ben-Ami asked them to put words into the agreement making clear why the Israelis didn´t want the Palestinians digging, the Palestinians vehemently refused. They could not sign a document that acknowledged even the possibility that the spot might be legitimately holy to the Jews. This symbolic position could not be compromised because it goes to the core of the moral claims."

The Arabs are not shy to shove their position into everybody´s face. Even at the peak of the Camp David´s summit Arafat stared straight into Clinton´s eyes and "expressed doubts that the ancient Jewish temple actually lay beneath the Islamic-run compound in Jerusalem."

The more frequent the lie is repeated the more it is believable. The Arabs categorically reject any Jewish connection with Eretz Yisrael prior to 1917. To them the starting point of the Jewish history in Palestine is the issuance of the Balfour Declaration. Their position is simple: the Jews are the occupiers that came to Palestine from all over the world to displace the local Arab population; the Jews robbed them of the land and of their right to self-determination.

The Israeli "peace camp" cannot understand that it is not the Jewish presence in Judea, Samaria and Gaza (Yesha) that is rejected by the Arabs, but the Jewish presence in all of the Land of Israel. On June 14-17, the Jerusalem Media & Communication Center conducted a poll among the Palestinian Arabs throughout Judea, Samaria and the Gaza Strip, that unequivocally proved this. When asked, "In your opinion what should be the final goal for the current intifada?" 41.2 % of the respondents answered - "the freedom of all Palestine." Asked if they "agree to the cessation of the Palestinian intifada in return for cessation of Israeli settlement in the occupied territories," 67.1% disagreed. This hatred towards the Jewish state did not develop as a byproduct of the "intifada." The poll performed among 2000 Arabs of Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Palestinian Autonomy by the Israeli daily "Maariv" in November 1999, showed that 67% of the respondents "believe that Israel must be destroyed."

While the Arabs consistently reject the legitimacy of the Jewish rights to Eretz Yisrael, the Israeli leaders are tirelessly working in support of the desires of the Palestinian Arabs. Before the creation of the PLO in 1964, nobody talked about the "Palestinian nationalism." It simply did not exist. The PLO itself was established by the Egyptian President Nasser as a weapon to obtain Egypt´s hegemony over the Arab world. Jillian Becker wrote in the book "The PLO" that, the first PLO Covenant specifically "denied that the PLO had sovereignty over the West Bank of Jordan (annexed by the Hashemite monarchy), Gaza (taken under Egyptian administration) or the al-Hamma region (annexed by Syria)."

Since the proclaimed intention of the PLO was to "forge a Palestinian consciousness in the present generation," it is apparent that this "consciousness" was not supposed to be forged among the Arabs of Judea, Samaria, Gaza and al-Hamma. That means that they were not considered to be a "separate people" and did not need to exercise the right of self-determination.

After Israel´s 1967 victory, in addition to the lands of Yesha the Jewish state acquired a big group of Arabs that technically were the citizens of the Arab states - Egypt and Jordan. Instead of annexing the land, thus making the Arabs that lived there the foreign nationals of the neighboring countries, Israeli leaders demonstrated indecisiveness and utter non-preparedness to deal with the situation. Many of them say today that they "do not want to rule over another people." The truth is that they never ruled over the "other people." The option that they chose was the worst possible. They were "teasing" the Arabs of Yesha, developing among them envy, forcing them to compare the standards of living in Israel with those in Egypt and Jordan.

Never in all other wars in the history of mankind has such a problem existed. The victors either expelled without hesitation the population of the enemy countries from the conquered territories or incorporated them. Israel neither had the guts for the former nor the desire for the latter. This uncertainty gave the chance to the PLO to gain a foothold among the Arabs of Yesha, and it began to "forge a Palestinian consciousness" among them.

By exploiting the 20th century mantra of "self-determination," Arafat and the PLO established a smokescreen of legitimacy for their actions. The Arabs proved to be capable students of the Western democracy. They realized that they could not sell the plan of the outright Israel´s destruction and found a brilliant way to substitute it with the "legitimate" struggle of the "Palestinian people." The terror was presented as a legitimate action of the "occupied people" against the "Israeli occupiers." The Arab propaganda lured the western world to buy a story of an "indigenous Palestinian people" devoid of "homeland and rights to self-determination." What is even worse, the Israeli intellectual elite played the first violin in helping to sell this story.

It took the Arab propaganda only a few years to convince the world and many Israelis themselves of the "moral equivalence" between the Jewish claim to Eretz Yisrael and the claim of the "Palestinian people" to Palestine. More than 4,000 years of the Jewish history became equivalent to the 30 years of the history of the "pseudo-people." The Arabs convinced others and themselves that the Jews are the "criminals that stole their land," and that the Jews are so greedy that they do not want to "return" even a small piece of "Palestinian land."

The Palestinian Arab propagandists skillfully piled together the UN Resolutions 242 and 338, the formula "land for peace," and the declaration of their "right" to establish an "independent Palestinian state with holy Jerusalem as its capital." However, the fact is that in Resolutions 242 and 338 there is not a single word about establishment of any states, and, moreover, the word "Palestinian" is not even mentioned there.

It is absolutely clear that the moral claims of the Jews and the Palestinian Arabs are incompatible. While the Arabs are demanding from Israel to recognize the rights of the Palestinian Arabs to Palestine, they are categorically rejecting the rights of the Jews to Eretz Yisrael. All these are the elements of the plan to substitute the Jewish state in Palestine with the Arab one. As Faysal al-Husseiny said in his last interview published on June 24 in the Egyptian daily "Al-Arabi," "if we agree to declare our state… [in] West Bank and Gaza - our ultimate goal is [still] the liberation of all historical Palestine from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] sea, even if this means that the conflict will last for another thousand years or for many generations" (1).

Meridor was right when he said that, Israel has to be courageous enough and truthful enough to see the reality and not substitute it for wishful thinking. The only question is how long will it take?

1. The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI): Faysal Al-Husseiny in his Last Interview: "The Oslo Accords Were a Trojan Horse; The Strategic Goal is the Liberation of Palestine from the [Jordan] River to the [Mediterranean] sea." 7/2/01.

02 July 2001

Boris Shusteff is an engineer. He is also a research associate with the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies.

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