Before the state of Israel endorses the prospect of coexistence with its Palestinian neighbors, one must bear in mind that coexistence is well-nigh impossible when the efforts undertaken to achieve it remain one-sided: coexistence cannot be a unilateral affair. The refusal on the part of Palestinians to condemn violence and cold-blooded murder of Jews attests to the fact that the call for coexistence is just a means of masking hatred of Israel and facilitating the process of gaining statehood. In addition, continued refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state by Islamic nations in general and the Palestinian Authority in particular solidify one’s suspicion about the real motive of Palestinians. In such a situation, certain preconditions are imperative for coexistence to be achieved.
Both Israelis and Palestinians have died and lived for peace over the years. Yet it appears that the dispute is far from being resolved in the foreseeable future, and hence the prospects for peaceful coexistence are still dim.1
The July 1937 Peel Commission Report, which recommended that Palestine should be “the Jewish National Home” and that a Jewish state should be established on a part of the Mandate area that would become as Jewish as England is English, was rejected by the Arab Higher Committee (AHC) and the entire spectrum of Palestinian Arab society.2 In the aftermath of the report, mass violence began that was aimed at stalling its implementation and destroying the prospects for the Jewish state.3 A decade later UN Resolution 181(II), adopted by the General Assembly in 1947, recommended a partition of Mandatory Palestine at the termination of the British Mandate; this, too, was rejected by Arab leaders.4
Twenty years later, after Israel won the Six-Day War, the Palestinians rejected UN Security Council Resolution 242, which could have provided the basis for a two-state solution. The Arabs’ rejection stemmed from the fact that the resolution required the recognition of Israel.5
Since the onset of the Oslo process in September 1993, five Israeli prime ministers – Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert, and Benjamin Netanyahu – have openly and unequivocally endorsed the two-state solution. In contrast, the Palestinian Arab leadership as well as the neighboring Arab states have invariably rejected it from the start.6 Hamas and other Palestinian rejectionist groups did not accept Oslo and instead launched suicide bombings against Israelis. There was opposition within Israel from settler-led groups. Thus, Oslo was only partially implemented.7
Until his death in November 2004, Yasser Arafat, leader of the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) and chairman of the Palestinian Authority (PA), played a proactive role in derailing the peace process. Arafat’s approach was also sustained by his successor Mahmoud Abbas, a true rejectionist who has stopped many peace initiatives in their tracks.
Given this record of Palestinian leadership, coexistence appears to be an impossibility as continued calls for a two-state solution are rebuffed. So long as Palestinian leaders do not recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state, the prospects for peaceful coexistence will be null.
Apart from recognizing Israel, Palestinians will have to renounce violence and hatred, and to achieve peaceful coexistence they will have to adopt a secular way of life. More specifically, there are certain prerequisites that must be fulfilled before prospects for peace and coexistence can even begin to materialize.
Demilitarized Palestine: A Precondition for Coexistence
From the time of Oslo, Israel has sought a demilitarized Palestine. Israel’s long-standing insistence on the demilitarization of any independent Palestinian entity stems from strategic security threats that could easily arise both within a future Palestinian state and from a number of hostile regional actors.8 Israel’s obsessive concern with self-defense cannot be said to be irrational as the country has suffered numerous military and terrorist attacks since its founding in 1948. Given that there is no territorial contiguity with “friendly” neighboring states that could provide transportation arteries to help protect the country’s vital security interests, for Israel self-defense is a matter of utmost priority.9 Moreover, Israel’s population of eight million lives in an area of less than 10,000 square miles compared to three hundred million Arabs who live in a total land mass that is 650 times larger. Hence what Israel can afford is demilitarized Palestine.10
For Israel, the term “demilitarization” does not simply mean what is enshrined in international law; the scope of demilitarization is much wider and must encompass the changing nature of military conflicts and threats. Israel views demilitarization as a means to an end: that no security threat – whether symmetrical, asymmetrical, military, terrorist, or one that entails any other disruption of daily life in Israel – could develop or come to fruition either within or by way of Palestinian territory.11
From the realist perspective, Israel’s desire for a demilitarized state of Palestine is a situational imperative. Israel’s demand is neither impractical, exploitative, nor unfair to Palestine. However, Palestine will not agree and will characterize such a deal as exploitative for a state in the making. Palestine will not consent to forgo its sovereign rights to bear arms and maintain a regular standing army.12
Given, however, the Palestinian Authority’s poor track record in security-related matters, and that there is no indication this behavior will change once the Palestinians achieve statehood, Israel’s demand for a demilitarized Palestine is reasonable. Moreover, demilitarization would eventually benefit the new state; maintaining a standing army would impose a heavy economic burden on Palestine, costing around $1 billion annually for salaries for security personnel.13 This huge expenditure could be better spent on infrastructure, health, education, and other development programs.
Many claim that demilitarization is impractical; critics of Israel say it will not work. It could, however, be effectively enforced. First, as Dennis Ross recounts, “Palestinians had more of a problem with the symbolism of not having an army than with the practicality of limiting their forces and the weapons they could possess.”14 That is, the Palestinian Authority could be persuaded that a demilitarized Palestine would not pose a barrier to a peaceful two-state solution, provided the PA was not convinced otherwise by its Arab allies. Second, a demilitarized Palestine would not constitute a novel or unusual state of affairs; earlier nations that started and lost wars have agreed to disarm and remain essentially demilitarized for at least some considerable period of time.15 Third, as noted, a demilitarized Palestine would benefit the Palestinians themselves as wealth could safely be channeled into development programs instead of arms and ammunition.
Radical Islam: A Barrier to Coexistence
Hatred of Jews linked to refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist is a century-long, religiously motivated phenomenon. Radical Islam poses not only a menace to peace but also a potential threat to democracy itself. History is replete with cases in which radical Islam uprooted democracy and established theocratic regimes in its stead, be it in Mesopotamia, seventh-century Persia, or Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh in the 20th century.
The radicalization of Palestinian society has time and again resulted in the killing of innocent Israeli civilians, including mass murder. Emboldened by radical preaching, men and women alike, and even children, perpetrate violence on Israeli soil. This radicalization of Palestinian society is not without motive. Hamas, which is the main factor behind the phenomenon, has one supreme objective: to mutate the essentially ethnopolitical Palestinian national struggle into a fundamentally religious conflict.16
Studies have revealed that Da’wah, Hamas’ social-service infrastructure, has played a critical role in exploiting the needs of angry and desperate Palestinians to push them into terrorism and other subversive activities. A telling corollary of this point is that whatever the categorization of the troublemakers, each requires “a social environment that is supportive of [attacks]; media that disseminates the information among the supportive population; spiritual leadership that encourages such attacks; and financial and social assistance for families of suicide terrorists after their death…. Together, these conditions create a comprehensive social environment — a culture of radicalization — within Palestinian society.”17
The goals of the radicalization efforts of Hamas and similar organizations are to create a supportive social environment for the Islamist agenda; undermine the peace-seeking efforts of moderate Palestinians and thereby derail the peace process; and gain popular support by exploiting the financial dependency of Palestinians. It is through Hamas’ charitable and humanitarian organizations alongside the direct contributions of the Palestinian Authority that the families of suicide bombers and other terrorists get paid. However, in order to win sympathy and support, Hamas has created a parallel support structure to the PA’s that finances health, education, and welfare projects that are badly needed in the West Bank and Gaza. This financial and humanitarian aid is, however, extended on Islamist terms so as to build grassroots support for Hamas’ religious agenda.
Against the backdrop of the radicalization of Palestinian society and the role of the Palestinian Authority as merely a mute spectator – or a partner, active or reluctant – the Israeli leadership’s peace efforts remain frustrated. It appears that in all likelihood peace will remain a distant dream, let alone a prospect for coexistence. As peace always precedes coexistence, the failure to make peace renders the very notion of coexistence irrelevant. In order to achieve coexistence, Islamist activities must be stopped, and that would require the active engagement of the PA. It is only through the PA that the radicalization of Palestinian society could be halted and Hamas and its social-service wing could be dislodged.
Selective Outrage Mars the Prospects for Coexistence
Unique condemnation of the Jewish people in the guise of condemning Israel has become a trend in recent years. Israel is now often singled out for the persecution of Palestinians and any uncalled-for incidents in the region. Palestinians deliberately blame Israel for everything that is provocative so as to brand Israel as the region’s villain. This practice suggests the Palestinians’ true intent and thus casts doubt over their commitment to coexistence.
Enemies of the state of Israel have recently devised a devious strategy: since condemning the Jewish people will not pay off, condemn Israel instead. Israel is hyperactively criticized for brutal treatment of Palestinian protesters, but the same critics remain strangely silent about cold-blooded killings of Jews. For that matter, these critics also ignore mass killings of non-Muslims in Sudan and Nigeria.
Critics, including the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), take a biased approach to human rights violations. On as many as 27 separate occasions, the UNHRC has criticized Israel in resolutions that grant effective impunity to militant groups like Hamas and Hizbullah as well as their state sponsors. Obsessed with condemning Israel, in its first year the UNHRC failed to condemn human rights violations in any of the world’s 191 other countries. In its second year it finally criticized one other country when it “deplored” the situation in Myanmar, but only after it censored out initial language containing the word “condemn.” It even praised Sudan for its “cooperation.”18
The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement is a global, selective campaign directed against Israel. It promotes various forms of boycott against Israel by portraying it as a land grabber, human rights violator, and as responsible for the plight of Palestinians. This selective campaign is in fact aimed at the Jewish people and is anti-Semitic in its very spirit. A parallel can be drawn between contemporary calls to boycott Israel and Hitler’s efforts, in a nascent phase of the Holocaust, to strangle Jewish companies so as to isolate and dehumanize German Jews.19
Following the proliferation of pro-BDS activities in Germany, Felix Klein, the country’s commissioner for the fight against anti-Semitism, wrote in Die Welt in August 2018 that “the BDS movement is anti-Semitic in its methods and goals.” He added that BDS’s “Don’t buy!” stickers on products from the Jewish state are “methods from the Nazi period.”20
The proliferation of BDS activity in Germany and elsewhere around the world also reveals that such anti-Semitic efforts are not limited to the extreme right. Islamist, pro-Palestinian, and far-left groups in Europe advocate BDS.21 BDS and similar activities, which selectively target Israel so as to malign its image globally, strangle its economy, and isolate it politically, can produce no result for Palestine except a deficit of trust, further hindering the peace process and the much-coveted goal of Palestinians, a two-state solution.
Democratic Values: A Prerequisite for Coexistence
The exhibition of democratic values by Palestinians remains an essential precondition not only for coexistence but also for according recognition to Palestine. Many would argue that the democratic spirit is a subjective criterion and hence cannot be a determining factor as far as statehood or coexistence is concerned. Here democratic values entail understanding the rights of neighboring nations, endorsing the age-old tradition of “Live and let live,” and conforming to what is prescribed by international law.
The Palestinian posture, however, remains in marked contrast to what constitutes democratic values. Ever since the state of Israel came into existence, the Palestinians and their Arab allies have persistently tried to uproot the only Jewish state. It can safely be inferred from the Palestinian stance that they are much more interested in dismantling Israel than in establishing a Palestinian state.
The recourse to terrorism is yet another factor that sharply contrasts with democratic values; it involves bullying a nation into submission by employing indiscriminate violence. Over the years Palestinians have resorted to this method to establish a state at the expense of Jewish lives and democratic values. Palestinians’ open support for Hamas and Hizbullah, while celebrating cold-blooded killings of Jews by handing out candies and sweets on the streets, manifests the fact that democracy cannot flourish in a social milieu where death is celebrated and life is condemned.
Democracy always entails resolving issues through constructive dialogue, not by using force, propaganda, espionage, intrusion, or any others means that violate international law, contravene democratic principles, and are highly objectionable in terms of international moral standards. Palestinians, however, have always resorted to those means.
Thus, unless Palestinians exhibit faith in democratic values, unless the Palestinian Authority promotes such values and ensures their assimilation into Palestinian society by implementing proper educational programs and other measures, the goal of coexistence will never be achieved.
Coexistence as a policy of living together with other nations despite different ideologies and interests has been in practice for a long time. However, the term “coexistence” – or, to be precise, peaceful coexistence as theory and policy – was developed and applied by the Soviet Union at various points during the Cold War in the context of two ideologically different blocs, namely, the communist one led by the Soviet Union and the capitalist one led by the United States. Eventually, though, the term came to be used in the context of hostile nations making efforts to live together. Coexistence as a state of affairs is also sought by Israel and the Palestinians; but efforts in this regard have been made unilaterally by Israel alone. For decades the Palestinians have shown no clear sign of commitment to coexistence. The Palestinian leadership, however, advocates for peace and coexistence so as to let the world know that Palestine is not averse either of them. But advocating peace is not enough unless it is accompanied by constructive efforts that aim to fulfill all the preconditions for peace and coexistence. Coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians will only be possible when Palestine manages to establish the basic prerequisites for it.
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- Alan Dershowitz, The Case for Peace: How the Arab-Israeli Conflict Can Be Resolved (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2006).
- Shaul Bartal, “The Peel Commission Report of 1937 and the Origins of the Partition Concept,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, November 2017.
- Wm. Roger Louis, ed., Yet More Adventures with Britannia: Personalities, Politics and Culture in Britain (London, I. B. Tauris, 2005), 251-70.
- Benny Morris, 1948: A History of the First Arab-Israeli War (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008).
- Dershowitz, The Case for Peace.
- Aharon Ze’evi Farkash, “Key Principles of a Demilitarized Palestinian State,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, 2010.
- Dennis Ross, The Missing Peace (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2004), 702.
- Dershowitz, The Case for Peace, 109.