Israel is a progressive’s dream: “Universal education, universal health care, equal rights, minority rights protections, strong activist courts, and gays and lesbians openly serving in the military.” As progressives, we should be outraged by the way the Arabs, including the Palestinians, treat women, gays and other minorities. We should be outraged that the Palestinians demand that no Jews should be allowed to live in the West Bank, even as over one million Palestinians live within pre-1967 Israel. We should be outraged by the beheadings and honor killings. Israel is not perfect, but Israel holds itself to its own standards, to progressive standards.
Israel is accused by some of apartheid. Yet Arab Israelis “can be found on the Supreme Court, in the Knesset (parliament), in ambassadorial positions, as senior officers in the police and army, as mayors, as deputy-speakers of the Knesset and even as government ministers and deputy ministers. Prominent Arab Israelis can be found in almost every sphere of Israeli life, including in the medical fields, media and playing on Israel’s national soccer team.” Whatever an apartheid state is, it’s not Israel.
That’s all well and good, but what about the “occupation”? What about ending the conflict between Israel and its neighbors? Progressives are on the side of peace. So is Israel. There would be no “occupation” if Jordan had not attacked Israel in 1967, and there would be no “occupation” if Palestinian leadership had accepted either of Israel’s offers in the last decade to withdraw from nearly all of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank).
If Palestinian leadership is so upset about the “occupation,” if Palestinian leadership is sincere about its concern for its people, why did it twice in the past decade reject the opportunity to establish a state on the West Bank?
Israel’s entire history is an unending willingness to trade land for the hope of peace despite Arab intransigence and Arab unwillingness to partner with Israel for peace.
When the United Nations recognized Israel’s independence, all of the West Bank and Jerusalem were outside Israel’s borders. Despite the historic, legal, and moral claims of the Jewish people to Jerusalem and to Judea and Samaria, Israel was willing to forgo the land in exchange for independence and peace.
But the Arab world could not countenance a Jewish state in its midst. Several Arab armies attacked Israel. When the fighting stopped in 1949, Israel controlled half of Jerusalem (the half without the holy places) and none of the West Bank. Jordan proceeded to raze dozens of synagogues in the half of Jerusalem it controlled, with no international protests.
In 1964, the Palestine Liberation Organization was formed — three years before Israel controlled any of the West Bank. It’s not hard to imagine what the “Palestine” was that the “organization” wanted to “liberate.” There were no settlements and there was no “occupation” in 1964.
In 1967, Israel launched preemptive strikes against Egypt and Syria after they committed acts of war against Israel (Syria attacked kibbutzim from the Golan Heights while Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping, ordered UN peacekeepers to leave the Sinai, and massed troops on Israel’s border, threatening to “drive the Jews into the sea”). But Israel did not attack Jordan. Israel controls Jerusalem and the West Bank today only because Jordan attacked Israel during the Six Day War.
Despite achieving the 2,000-year-old dream of Jewish sovereignty over its historic homeland, albeit in response to Arab aggression, Israel immediately indicated its willingness to trade land for peace, only to be rebuffed by the three no’s of Khartoum: no peace with Israel, no negotiations with Israel, no recognition of Israel.
So it went until 1973, when on the holiest day of the Jewish year, Yom Kippur, Egypt and Syria attacked Israel. Yet when Egyptian President Sadat indicated a genuine desire to make peace with Israel, Israel traded the entire Sinai peninsula to Egypt in exchange for a promise of peace from a man who, if not a Nazi, was at least a Nazi sympathizer during World War II, and from a country that had waged unceasing war against Israel since its rebirth.
Relinquishing the Sinai meant forcibly uprooting settlements (so much for the myth that settlements are the obstacle to peace) and giving up its energy independence, but Israel was willing to make those tangible sacrifices for the intangible promise of peace.
In 2000, Israel offered Palestinian leadership 94-98% of the West Bank in exchange for peace, but Yasir Arafat — who could have gone down in history as another Sadat — rejected the offer. Had he accepted, there would today be an Arab Palestinian state.
In 2000, Israel unilaterally withdrew from all of Lebanon in exchange for nothing, and that’s exactly what it got: nothing. Nothing except terrorism and rockets from Lebanon, ultimately resulting in the Lebanon War of 2006 and the evacuation of nearly one million Israelis from the north.
In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from all of Gaza in exchange for nothing, and that’s exactly what it got: nothing. Nothing except terrorism and rockets from Gaza. There is no “occupation” of Gaza; the only Israeli in Gaza is Gilad Shalit, the soldier held captive in violation of international law. Yet just last week, dozens of rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel.
Israel withdrew from Lebanon and Gaza and was rewarded not with peace, but with violence. Israel learned from those experiences that ending the “occupation” is not enough. It’s not enough to unilaterally withdraw. Israel needs a partner for peace.
But Israel did not give up hope. In 2008, Israel offered Palestinian President Abbas a state consisting of nearly all of the West Bank. But the Arabs said no, just as they said no to a state of their own in the West Bank in 2000. How is Israel supposed to end the “occupation” if the Palestinians won’t accept Israel’s offers to withdraw? How can Israel address Palestinian concerns about a final peace agreement if Abbas refuses to re-enter peace talks?
If Palestinian leadership was serious about peace, they would accept Israel’s offer to talk peace with no preconditions. But more than that, they would start preparing their people for a two-state solution, which means stopping the incitement and publicly recognizing Israel’s permanent right to exist as a Jewish state. And they would recognize the moral and historic right of the Jewish people to live in Judea and Samaria — the key point is that by agreeing to cede the West Bank to a Palestinian state, Israel is making a major concession by relinquishing territory it not only won in a defensive war, but by relinquishing territory that represents the fulfillment of a 2,000 year-old dream.
The concept of an Arab “Palestinian” people did not even exist 100 years ago. Israel’s security and moral concerns require a two-state solution, and one would think that if Palestinian leadership’s goal was a state of their own rather than the destruction of the Jewish state, Palestinian leadership and those sympathetic to the Palestinians’ demands would do all they could to create an atmosphere conducive to peace.
Instead, as Rep. Steve Rothman (D-NJ) and Rep. Steve Austria (R-OH) note in their recent letter to President Obama, “Television programs run by the Palestinian Authority and textbooks in government schools continue to praise martyrdom and terrorists and call for armed struggle against the Israelis.”
Most Israelis believe that Israel cannot indefinitely remain Jewish and democratic while retaining the West Bank. Israel again and again has chosen peace over land, even land it has dreamt of regaining for centuries. Israel’s dream of peace in exchange for land will become reality as soon as the Arab world gives up its dream of destroying the world’s only Jewish state.
Israel continues to strive for peace not because the Arab Palestinians have a better legal, historic, or moral claim to the land — after all, there has never been an Arab nation of Palestine and the concept of a unique Arab Palestinian people was unknown before the 20th century — but because trading land for peace is in Israel’s best interests, and Israel knows it.
Peace can be achieved tomorrow if the Arab world accepts the permanent reality of a Jewish state of Israel today. The Palestinians could have had a state comprising nearly all of the West Bank if their leadership had accepted Israel’s offers in 2000 or 2008. Israel accepted several partitions of its national homeland before achieving independence in 1948, and Israel remains willing to cede parts of its national homeland because it values peace over land and an independent state over a state perpetually at war. It is time for Palestinian leadership to accept the same paradigm. It is time for Palestinian leadership to work toward a state for their children instead of working to deprive Israel’s children of their future.
Peace is still within our grasp. All it takes is for Arab Palestinian leadership to place a higher priority on achieving a state of their own than on destroying Israel. Or as Golda Meir said, “we will have peace with the Arabs when they love their children more than they hate us.”
By Steve Sheffey
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Pro-Israel and political activist