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Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs
Strategic Alliances for a Secure, Connected, and Prosperous Region

The Palestinians Never Meant to Make Peace with Israel

Filed under: Palestinians, Radical Islam
Publication: The Oslo Accords at 30: Lessons Learned

The Palestinians Never Meant to Make Peace with Israel
Uri Avneri and Arafat in Beirut, 1982. (Anat Saragusti/Uri Avneri Archives/CC BY-SA 4.0)

The peace process with the Palestinians, known as the Oslo process, differed significantly from the two peace agreements that Israel signed with Jordan and Egypt. In contrast to those treaties with Arab states, the agreement with the Palestinians was deceitful on the PLO’s part.

All acknowledge that the PLO violated the commitments it took upon itself in the Oslo Accords. It is essential, however, to know why it did so.

Egypt and Jordan sincerely wanted to make peace with Israel, seeking to improve their economies and their international status and to stabilize the common borders. The PLO, however, had completely different aims, and in retrospect, Arafat’s innovation was to make the “peace process” a tool for continuing the struggle, including the armed struggle.

The PLO is an organization of refugees with their origins in Israel. Thus, for the PLO, the sphere of conflict does not pertain to the 1967 borders but to those of 1948. For that reason, Israel’s goal of resolving the struggle in terms of the 1967 lines had no relevance for the refugees; ending the conflict meant realizing the so-called ” right of return” and nothing else.

Israeli leftist political actors, such as the Meretz Party and Uri Avneri, regarded the 1967 lines as the future border between Israel and the Palestinian state.1

But when Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, sought international recognition of the Palestinian state, he saw it as an intermediate objective that could help bring Israel before the international tribunals and delegitimize its existence. It would be the basis for arriving at the 1947 partition borders, leading to the complete elimination of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel. Thus, in his most recent address to the United Nations, Mahmoud Abbas set Israel’s borders at the 1947 lines,2 essentially burying those of 1967.

In his speech, Abbas called to implement UN General Assembly Resolution 181 of 1947, which constitutes a basis for the two-state solution, along with Resolution 194, which, in the Palestinian interpretation, calls for the right of return. He also posed Israel’s compliance with those resolutions as a condition for its acceptance by the UN. He asserted that because Israel had not complied with them, its membership in the world body was invalid. Here Abbas reiterated the narrative implicit in Arafat’s speeches, namely, that the Palestinians have a right to the entire Land of Israel.

And why did Abbas call for a return to the 1947 partition borders? So that the refugees could be settled in the land envisaged for the Arab state in the partition plan—that is, in their original homes.

Like Meretz, then-Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, in negotiations with the Palestinians, regarded the 1967 lines as the basis for a future border, though with land swaps that would grant the Palestinian Authority parts of the villages that straddled the 1967 lines, such as Beit Safafa and Barta’a. However, her interlocutor, Ahmed Qurei (Abu Ala), rejected the offer immediately,3 saying the residents of the villages would not accept those terms and, in general, that the PA would not agree to incorporate Arab villages located in Israel.

After that, as noted, Abbas designated the 1947 lines as the borders of the state of Palestine. What, then, was the difference between Tzipi Livni’s proposal and Abbas’s speech? The difference is that whereas Livni maintained that the permanent borders would be based on the 1967 lines – meaning that the Palestinian state would relinquish the villages abandoned in Israel and that the right of return, if implemented at all, would be implemented within the 1967 lines – Abbas’s proposal means that the 1967 lines are not the basis for the Palestinian state, and the 1947 lines signal a right of return to the old domiciles within Israel itself, or that the lands of those villages will be part of the Palestinian state.

Thus, on one side, it was believed by Israel and the West that the 1967 lines constituted the basis for the peace agreement and that the Palestinians wanted a state on those lines. On the other side, however, the Palestinians had a different objective, centered on realizing the right of return within Israel itself.

All this could be learned from Arafat’s rhetoric and the terminology he inculcated in Palestinian society.

A look at his statements makes clear not only that, from the start, he had no intention of making peace with Israel but also that, in his conception, the Palestinian people would inherit Israel’s legitimacy and replace Israel. His gaze was directed not at Jericho, Nablus, and Ramallah but at Jerusalem and Israel itself.

Arafat was a believing Muslim, imbued with the Koranic mindset. He made apt choices of Koranic verses. One that he often quoted at the beginning of his speeches refers to the Muslim prophets, whom he treated as a Palestinian asset:

ِنَّا لَنَنْصُرُ رُسُلَنَا وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا فِي الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَيَوْمَ يَقُومُ الْأَشْهَادُ —“We will certainly help our messengers and the believers, both in this worldly life and on the day the witnesses will stand forth” (Sura Ghafir 51).

This may appear an innocuous verse, but all the prophets are Jews, prophets of Israel. Arafat Islamized them as a way of demanding that the right to the land of the prophets be transferred to the Palestinians from the Jews.

We all remember his “Palestinian Jesus.” 4

It turns out that not only Jesus but all the prophets of Israel became Palestinian Muslims, and the Holy Land belongs to the Palestinians.

Arafat also used quotations to underline the religious imperative of the right of return.

  • For example: أذن للذين يقاتلون بأنهم ظلموا وأن الله على نصرهم لقدير. الذين أخرجوا من ديارهم بغير حق إلا أن يقولوا ربنا الله — “Permission to fight back is hereby granted to those being fought, for they have been wronged. And Allah is truly most capable of helping them prevail. They are those who have been expelled from their homes for no reason other than proclaiming: ‘Our Lord is Allah’” (Sura Al-Hajj 39).

In other words, the Nakba was not a Palestinian disaster but a blow to Islam. It should be noted that this verse is usually brought as a justification for jihad, and Abbas, too, has used it implicitly in that context.

Thus, for Arafat, the sphere of the conflict is not the 1967 lines but Israel as a whole and Judaism itself. The conflict, moreover, is not just national but also religious.

A turning point in Arafat’s approach was meeting with Uri Avnery in besieged Beirut during the First Lebanon War. Imad Shakor, an Israeli Arab who joined the PLO, testifies that Avneri broached to Arafat the idea of the Palestinian state on the 1967 borders in this meeting. Until then, Arafat had seen himself as belonging to the pan-Arabism movement, and he envisaged the establishment of a Muslim empire rather than a specific Palestinian polity. Although the phased plan preceded this meeting, the meeting revealed Arafat’s essential position; as in the case of the phased plan, his agreement to the 1967 lines was tactical and aimed at recruiting Europe to his side. To this day, the Palestinian Charter does not mention any aim of establishing a state but of “the liberation of Palestine.”

Why, then, did Arafat accept Avneri’s proposal? It was not from any deep belief that dividing the land along the 1967 lines was the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; instead, Arafat saw a means to be accepted in the West as a legitimate leader, as Avneri advised, and a tool to sow division in Israeli society.

According to Shakor, the purpose of the meeting was to help Arafat become an agreeable figure, a “partner,” whom Israeli public opinion could accept.

I discovered the truth about his firm belief in the legitimate rights of our Palestinian people, and Avneri was the first from whom I heard the term “independent Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel,” and that this is the only solution and is certain to be implemented sooner or later. He said he wanted to confront the Israeli racists and the Menachem Begin government so that we could present Arafat as a gentle and normal man who loves children and sanctifies life. 5

Creating a rift in Israeli society around the “peace process” was also a lesson the Palestinians had learned from the experience of the Eastern Bloc. A senior Palestinian official, a graduate of a military academy in the Eastern Bloc, told me that among the subjects taught in those military academies was a lesson from the Vietnam War, which was not decided on the battlefield but in the massive demonstrations in the United States.

In his speeches, Arafat often described the Palestinians as a heroic people. Seemingly, it is to be expected that the leader of a revolution would refer to his people that way. However, a deeper look at the Islamic and Koranic context suggests an association with the spies Moses sent to spy on the Land of Canaan. They returned with the message that the land could not possibly be conquered, or in the Koran’s language, قَالُوا يَا مُوسَىٰ إِنَّ فِيهَا قَوْمًا جَبَّارِينَ وَإِنَّا لَن نَّدْخُلَهَا حَتَّىٰ يَخْرُجُوا مِنْهَا فَإِن يَخْرُجُوا مِنْهَا فَإِنَّا دَاخِلُونَ

—“They said, O Moses, there is an enormously powerful people there, so we will never be able to enter it until they leave. When they do, then we will enter!” (Sura Ma’idah Al– 22).

In Arafat’s interpretation, the mighty people are the Canaanite Palestinians, who preceded the Israelites. Hence the legitimacy of the land in its entirety—not just Judea and Samaria—belongs to the Palestinians. In Abbas’s time, the Palestinians’ Canaanite status motif was further developed.6

A look at the Palestinian Declaration of Independence, proclaimed in Algeria on November 15, 1988, reveals that it echoes Israel’s Declaration of Independence.

على7 أرض الرسالات السماوية إلى البشر، على أرض فلسطين ولد الشعب العربي الفلسطيني، نما وتطور وأبدع وجوده الإنساني عبر علاقة عضوية، لا انفصام فيها ولا انقطاع، بين الشعب والأرض والتاريخ.

On the same terrain as God’s apostolic missions to mankind and in the land of Palestine was the Palestinian Arab people brought forth. There it grew and developed, and there it created its unique human and national mode of existence in an organic, indissoluble, and unbroken relationship among people, land, and history.” In other words, the Palestinian Declaration of Independence attributes all the qualities of Israel, as outlined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, to the Palestinians.

It should be noted that Arafat quickly abandoned the Algerian declaration, preferring to highlight the Nakba and the right of return.

Just as Arafat accepted Avneri’s proposal as a tactical ploy, his successor Mahmoud Abbas adopted several tactical rules, which played down the armed struggle. 8

In its stead, he promoted the popular struggle, which entails forgoing the use of firearms but without forgoing the strategy.

And what is the strategy? It involves passing the armed struggle on to the next generation since the current generation has failed in its mission, 9 and its task is now to preserve the martial spirit. The next generation, educated on the values of the struggle, will then be able to carry the torch when its turn comes. Although it is hard to substantiate this point with references, the Palestinian Authority’s actions speak for themselves. The insistence on paying stipends to the families of “martyrs” and on exalting the names of the prisoners who committed terror activities serves two purposes: to sustain the armed struggle, even in a limited form, and even when the official policy is to refrain from it; and to instill the armed struggle as a value in the next generation—particularly in the refugee camps, from which the refugees are supposed to realize the right of return to Israel proper.

Two years ago, in the Al-Aida refugee camp between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, I witnessed with my own eyes that when the classes ended, the students left the school with plastic rifles on their shoulders.

A further illustration that the Palestinian Authority is not interested in the 1967 lines but rather in the struggle against Israel, is the behavior of its foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki. He almost completely avoids dealing with Palestinian affairs—such as securing budgets from donor states or promoting the PA’s joint interests with foreign states, including Arab ones. Most Arab states, particularly Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, do not receive him. There is only one thing that does occupy him: the diplomatic war against Israel. His sphere of interest is Israel proper, not the PA on the 1967 lines. He is often interviewed on Radio Palestine, and in a typical interview on January 8, 2023, he brought up his usual motifs: the struggle against Israel in the UN corridors and the UN agencies, the boycotting of Israel, getting it punished by the international community, and bringing it to trial in the international tribunals.

Sabotaging U.S.-Israel Relations

A further goal of the “peace process” was to undermine Israeli-U.S. relations.10

Those who forged the PLO’s ties with the United States were Israelis, and one who was painfully disillusioned was the former editor of Al Hamishmar and later editor of New Outlook, Chaim Shor. He wrote grim words about how the Palestinians misled him11—particularly Nabil Shaath, for whom he opened the door to the United States.

The Palestinians hoodwinked me personally and hoodwinked the whole Israeli left. They lied to us, they misled us, they maneuvered us, they manipulated us. I personally will never forgive them for it. And when Yossi Beilin says he has already reached a joint formulation with them on the right of return, then his charm collapses for me, because if he still does not understand what is happening here, then he is not really a man of the left. Because a real man of the left is a person who must see reality as it is, not as he would want to see it.

The Palestinians are not ripe for peace at this time, and my task as someone on the left is to see the truth. The left is not deception. I have met endlessly with Palestinians. In all the conversations, they said we would find the common denominator on the right-of-return issue, and it never happened. They didn’t mean it. All their words were part of the phased plan.

I was among those who opened the door to America for the PLO. We organized a conference of Israelis and Palestinians in Washington in ’87, and the U.S. State Department didn’t want to give them visas. We took care of that, and they got in and, with our help, conquered America. That was what they wanted, that was the goal, to conquer the goodwill of the American Jewish left. I personally invited them to home meetings with American Jews. They succeeded at that with our help. Without us, they would never have succeeded at it. Not only was that a mistake, but two or three years later, I saw that Nabil Shaath appeared before the public in Gaza and explained that it was a tactic. First, we will achieve this, and eventually conquer the whole Land of Israel. The same Nabil Shaath, who was my best friend in America and came to hug me and kiss me after I gave a speech in favor of peace…I realized that all his speeches were worth nothing. He didn’t mean it.

An exact quote.

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  5. وداعا أوري أفنيري.. صديق الفلسطينيين ( ↩︎

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  7. نص إعلان عرفات قيام دولة فلسطين | وثائق وأحداث | الجزيرة نت ( ↩︎

  8. In an interview to Al-Quds al-Arabi, PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said the decision to forgo the armed struggle stemmed from the Palestinians’ current circumstances.↩︎

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  10. Riyad al-Maliki in an interview to Al-Quds al-Arabi.↩︎

  11. NRG מעריב ( ↩︎