||Challenging myths and presenting facts about
statehood: 50 years of rejected opportunities
|London - published on 14 January
Beyond Images Ref: 45
“Israel denies the Palestinians a state of their
The Arab world and the Palestinians have rejected several opportunities,
during a period of more than 50 years, to create an independent
state for the Palestinians. It is not Israel that has denied
the Palestinians a state, but the decisions of the Palestinians’
leaders, and their Arab allies.
The 1947 UN partition plan for two states coexisting
side by side
In 1947, after more than 50 years during
which Jews steady returned to their ancient homeland, and
Palestinian Arab nationalism steadily grew stronger, the UN
proposed to “partition” Palestine into two independent
states - Israel and Palestine (Great Britain was then responsible
for Palestine under a so-called Mandate).
- Israeli leaders accepted the UN partition plan, but the Palestinians
and Arab nations rejected it. They claimed that the plan reduced
the amount of land to which they were entitled. They also opposed
it because it acknowledged that a Jewish state was a permanent
reality in the region.
- If the Arabs had accepted the UN partition plan, the Palestinians
could have achieved a viable independent state 55 years ago, with
East Jerusalem as its capital, on territory larger than the West
Bank and Gaza Strip.
1949-1967 - no attempts to create a
From the end of Israel’s War of Independence
in 1949, until 1967, the West Bank and East Jerusalem were
under the control of Jordan, and Gaza was under the control
No attempt was made by Jordan, Egypt or
any other Arab entity to set up a Palestinian state in those
territories, during those 18 years.
Nonetheless, thousands of Israelis lost
their lives between 1949 and 1967 as a result of Palestinian
terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians, and in wars.
What was the violence caused by? Israel
had no presence in the West Bank or Gaza, less still any settlements
(the Hebron Jewish community had been massacred in 1929).
Palestinian terrorism over this period confirms for Israelis
that the root of the problem is not Israel’s occupation
of the West Bank and Gaza, but its right to exist in peace
in the region.
1979 to 1980 - Israeli offer of Palestinian transitional
In June 1967, as a result of the Six Day
War, Israel assumed control of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip,
East Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.
- In 1979 Israel entered into the Camp David agreements with Egypt.
Israel agreed to return the whole of the Sinai peninsula to Egypt,
in exchange for a peace treaty with Egypt. Israel also proposed
an “autonomy plan” for the Palestinians living under
Israeli administration in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
- Under the autonomy plan, the Palestinians were offered a 5 year
period of self-rule. This 5 year period would be “transitional”
and followed by direct negotiations, without conditions, between
all relevant parties, on the final status of the West Bank and
Gaza, as well as on all related issues (including statehood, borders
- During this period the Palestinian leadership (the PLO - Palestine
Liberation Organisation - under Yasser Arafat) refused to recognise
Israel’s right to exist, and therefore excluded itself from
the Camp David diplomatic process.
- Meanwhile, the Arab states and the Palestinian leadership “on
the ground” rebuffed Israel’s autonomy plan. They
claimed that Israel had already decided to hold on to all of the
West Bank and Gaza permanently, and that the autonomy plan was
a “trap” (this argument has been been shown by later
events to have been groundless).
- The autonomy plan would have given the Palestinians the opportunity
to develop the institutions of statehood, and, equally importantly,
a sense of statehood. The Palestinians rejected that opportunity.
1993 to 2001 - Palestinian statehood as an outcome of
the Oslo process
In 1993 Israel and the PLO entered into
the Oslo accords, under which each party recognised the national
aspirations of the other, and agreed to negotiate a comprehensive
- Over the next seven years, under the terms of successive “interim”
peace agreements, the Palestinians built institutions of statehood:
an elected Parliament, security forces, and extensive self-rule
- Israel withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 1994, and from most Palestinian
towns between 1994 and 1997, giving the Palestinian population
control over its day-to-day life. (The pace of these territorial
withdrawals was dictated by the frequency of terror attacks against
Israel from territories which had been transferred to the control
of the Palestinian Authority).
- By 2000, most Israelis, on the left and right, considered Palestinian
statehood to be an inevitability. During US-mediated negotiations
which began at Camp David in 2000 and culminated in the Egyptian
resort town of Taba in January 2001, Israel proposed the establishment
of an independent Palestinian state in virtually all the West
Bank and Gaza.
- Under American pressure, Israel also offered that the capital
of that Palestinian state should be East Jerusalem.
- The Palestinian leadership rejected this offer. The reason given
at the time was that Israel asked the Palestinians to declare
an “end to the conflict” as part of a final peace
- This was not acceptable to the Palestinians because they continue
to claim that Palestinian refugees have a “right of return”
to pre-1967 Israel. This right would not be satisfied by the creation
of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza, and therefore
the Palestinians could not agree to treat the creation of their
state as the “end to the conflict”.
- It is a matter of diplomatic record that the Palestinians’s
claim to the right of return was the essential reason that the
negotiations failed, not Israel’s refusal to agree to a
viable Palestinian state.
- It was not Israel which denied the Palestinians a state in 2000-1,
but the Palestinians’ own leadership and ideology.
BEYOND IMAGES CONCLUSION
Palestinian spokesmen and sympathisers constantly blame Israel
for denying the Palestinians a state. But the facts do not bear
Former Israeli foreign minister Abba Eban once said that “the
Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity”.
Their rejection of Israel and political extremism have shaped
their decisions, over more than 50 years, which have been a
disaster for the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.