Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is right, er, I mean correct. He recently reiterated his willingness to negotiate with the Palestinians—without preconditions—and identified the core problem. “Until the Palestinians recognize our right to exist as a national state, no matter what the borders, and until they declare that the conflict is over, there will not be peace,” Netanyahu said. “Unless these things happen, even if we reach an agreement, it will serve to keep the conflict going by other means.”
These comments demonstrate that his late father was not the only Netanyahu who knew his history. While Israel has made its own mistakes and presented its own obstacles in the way of peace, these shortcoming do not compare to the ongoing, systematic refusal reflected in much Palestinian discourse and throughout much of the Arab world to accept Israel’s basic right to exist.
This Palestinian refusal to recognize the Jewish state derailed the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan, which proposed dividing the contested area into a Jewish and Arab entity, with Jerusalem internationalized. In his important but often overlooked book “Palestine Betrayed,” Professor Efraim Karsh notes that many moderate Palestinian Arabs who had good working relationships and friendships with Palestinian Jews (both sides were Palestinians then), were betrayed in 1947 and 1948 by their extremist leaders. Anti-Semitic fanatics like Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, rejected any compromise and violently bullied many moderates, leading to war.
This broader Arab refusal to recognize the Jewish state led to the three nos of Khartoum, following the 1967 Israeli victory. The message was clear: no to negotiation, no to recognition, no to compromise.
This enduring refusal to recognize the Jewish State caused much of the Arab and Islamic world repudiate Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, who dared to negotiate, recognize and compromise with the Jewish state in the late 1970s. The hostility culminated in his assassination—and also stopped the United Nations, the world body supposedly committed to peace, from endorsing the Camp David agreement between Israel and Egypt.
This Palestinian hostility to Israel and Israelis ultimately undermined the Oslo Peace Process of the 1990s. In “Israel: A History,” Anita Shapira shows how the Hamas and Islamic Jihad terror of the mid-1990s was the most important factor in killing Oslo. President Bill Clinton has blamed Yasir Arafat, the master terrorist whom the world expected to be the Nelson Mandela of the Middle East but simply ended up as its Arafat. Newsweek in 2001 reported that Clinto, told guests at a dinner party hosted by the diplomat Richard Holbrooke and his wife, the writer Kati Marton, that three days before Clinton left the White House, Arafat made yet another visit. “You are a great man,” Arafat said, turning on his insincere, oleaginous charm. “The hell I am,” Clinton replied. “I'm a colossal failure, and you made me one.” Moreover, throughout this period, even during times of optimism, Palestinians encouraged the delegitimization of Israel, which grew throughout the 1990s.
This continuing hatred turned the Gaza disengagement of 2005 into the Gaza debacle. Even with the restrictions Israel imposed, the Palestinians could have turned Gaza—which has a beautiful seacoast and a prosperous agricultural infrastructure when Israel controlled it—into a model state that would have built confidence and encouraged more Israeli concessions. Instead, even before the Hamas coup d’etat that brought a sexist, homophobic totalitarian terrorist Islamist regime to the helm, the Palestinians had trashed the greenhouses American Jewish philanthropists donated to the Gazans, and had turned Gaza into a launching pad for thousands of rockets aimed at Jews living well within the improvised Green Line of 1949.
And this demonization of Israel explains the recent Pew Research Center survey that found that, Palestinians have the highest percentage of supporters among Muslims of suicide bombing as a tactic—40 percent—with approximately half opposing. There is a destructive and self-destructive toxicity to Palestinian political culture that harms the peace process, even as apologists overlook it.
Yes, there are rejectionists on the Israeli side too, but they simply do not dominate Israeli discourse as the Palestinian rejectionists do, especially since most Israelis in the 1990s began acknowledging Palestinian nationalism and national needs, after a long period of denial.
And yes, some Israeli settlements pose a challenge—but Israel has removed settlers from some communities for the sake of peace before. Netanyahu has endorsed a two-state solution, acknowledging that the status quo will not remain. But anyone who believes in peace has to ask: who can expect Israelis to trust again, when withdrawals have repeatedly resulted in more violence, continuing hostility, and broad dismissal of Israel’s sacrifices for peace?
Critics of Israel like to emphasize that most Palestinians are suffering while most Israelis are living well. Then why don’t the Palestinians make bolder moves for peace, and why is the onus repeatedly placed on Israel? Always claiming you are the victim when you have had other options is not convincing. It is time for Palestinians and their supporters to take responsibility for their continuing statelessness, even if that would mean acknowledging that Netanyahu has a point.