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

The Delusion of Separation from the Palestinians

Filed under: Israel, Palestinians

The Israeli center-left is slowly sobering-up from the dream of a Palestinian partner. Although many of its leaders and thinkers have already recognized the fact that there is no partner for real peace, they continue to blame Israel for the dead-end the diplomatic process has reached. And the others still refuse to “get in touch with reality,” as Labor Party Chairman Isaac Herzog recently put it.

In their intransigence to give up on the illusionary Palestinian partner the dreamers ignore or twist the Palestinian messages. For example, in his criticism of a previous article of mine (Haaretz, January 12, 2015),1 Matti Steinberg (Haaretz, January 19)2 shows that you can distort the messages of Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas even while citing the text of his speech in Bethlehem.3 True, Abbas did not explicitly mention the “right of return.” He did say, though, that the Palestinians will insist on the fulfillment of all the Palestinian rights, which implicitly includes, in his mind the “right of return,” and that any agreement must be based on the Arab Peace Initiative.

President Mahmoud Abbas

At the heart of that initiative, of course, is a call for a just and agreed solution to the problem of the Palestinian refugees based on United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194, from which the Palestinians derive the “right of return,” and the notion that there must be no naturalization of Palestinian refugees in Arab states that do not want it. Recognition of the “right of return,” then, means it has to be implemented inside Israel. That, in turn, is one of the reasons Abbas categorically refuses to recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people.

The dreamers prefer to ignore the way in which the Palestinians themselves understand Abbas’ words. These members of the Israeli center-left make no mention of his refusal to condemn the terror attacks. They do not refer to his hosting the families of the most recent attackers whose bodies have not yet been returned, in his Ramallah office,4 or to the fact that he calls their sons shahids. They shut their ears to his praise for the current wave of terror attacks. To live in a dream is wonderful, but not to wake up even when you are being targeted by a terror campaign is a very special feat of denial.

Sobering Up

Because the option of recognizing reality in its full complexity and that there are no magic solutions is a form of heresy, even those who are sobering-up trade in their dream for an old-new delusion – separation. This delusion, despite the danger it entails, does not sell badly. The Palestinians have no interest in a separation5 because their struggle is being waged against Zionism, not just the occupation of the 1967 territories. Their objective is the 1948 territories, which is why, even after the separation from Gaza, the terror from Gaza continued.

If, in line with the idea of separation, the building of the fence is completed and a few Jerusalem neighborhoods are transferred to the Palestinians’ rule, will their goals change? And if some of the settlements are moved to blocs that Israel can accept, while the IDF keeps operating in all of the territories, will these steps bring an end to the terror? The terror will only intensify, both because it will get a tailwind and because it will be easier to mount attacks. Israel will also surrender, of its own accord, the contractual basis for its activity and its demands – while, at the same time, continuing to appear as an occupier in the eyes of the world.

What is the logic of making the substantial concessions entailed by a separation while hoping for a regional contribution just when the upheaval in the region is strengthening the extremists? Will the separation mean that Palestinians will no longer be employed in Israel? And what about the Israeli Arabs, many of whom see themselves as Israeli citizens but also members of the Palestinian people?

Reality has to be read correctly. Most Jews hope for a real peace based on the principle of dividing the homeland into two national states with mutual recognition and appropriate security arrangements. Yet most of the Palestinians, who reject the existence of the Jewish people and of a Jewish historical bond to the Land of Israel, see the struggle as existential. Their aim is the achievement of their national objectives, which amount to the defeat of Zionism. According to their blueprint, the first stage will see the creation of an independent Palestinian state on the 1967 lines with Jerusalem as its capital; this state will keep working for Palestinian sovereignty in Haifa and Jaffa. That is what Abbas said, or certainly how he was understood, in his conversation with the editor of the Ma’an News Agency. That is the message that emerges from his words and his views, and even more so from the attitudes of Hamas and the other extremist organizations. While, in Israel, we sing about peace, in Nablus they hope for the return of the Army of Muhammad, which will annihilate the Jews just as it crushed the Jews of Khaybar.

The difficult problem we face, then, is how to resolve the tension between our need to defend ourselves and our efforts to create the conditions for a real peace in the future; between our commitment to our values and our need to distinguish between those involved in the terror attacks and those not involved, so that both they and we can lead reasonably normal lives.

If we are to succeed at the task, we need to impart our insights to the world. We not only have to put pressure on the terrorists and their immediate environment, but also on their leadership, which supports terror and propagates the basic Palestinian attitudes that preclude any possibility of settlement. Indeed, the Palestinian Authority’s first obligation in the Oslo Accords was to put an end to the terror. If the center-left is now sobering up, why does it not join a unity government that would be based on widely shared insights and goals and could make a great contribution to security, ramp up pressure on the Palestinians, and enhance Israel’s status?

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This article appeared in Ha’aretz, February 20, 2016, and was translated to English.

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