Beyond Images Challenging myths and presenting facts about Israel 
Palestinian statehood: 50 years of rejected opportunities
London - published on 14 January 2003
Beyond Images Ref: 45

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“Israel denies the Palestinians a state of their own”.


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 Palestinian state

  • 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 of Egypt.

  • 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 self-rule rejected

  • 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 and refugees).

  • 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 peace agreement.

  • 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 powers.

  • 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 agreement.

  • 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.


Palestinian spokesmen and sympathisers constantly blame Israel for denying the Palestinians a state. But the facts do not bear this out.

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.