At a town hall meeting in Tampa, Florida on 28 January, President Obama explained what in his view had to happen if there is to be a two-state solution which would see Israel and the Palestinians living side by side in peace and security. He said, “Both sides are going to have to make concessions“.
My own view is that Israel’s still on-going colonization of the occupied West Bank has destroyed the prospect of a two-state solution on any basis the Palestinians could accept. But for the sake of discussion I’ll pretend that is not necessarily so.
Israel is not required to make concessions. Israel is required to accept and implement UN Security Council resolutions which call for an end to its occupation and, more generally, to cease regarding itself as being above and beyond international law.
The Palestinians made the concession necessary from their side long ago.
There were three related reasons why Yasser Arafat and his mainstream PLO leadership colleagues decided that they had got to compromise with Israel if their people were ever to obtain a minimum but just about acceptable amount of justice.
- The first was the reality of the existence of the nuclear-armed Zionist state – not a legitimate existence (as the true story of its creation proves) but a fact of life.
- The second was the knowledge that the Arab regimes were never going to fight Israel to liberate Palestine, and, would collude with Zionism-and-America to prevent the PLO becoming an effective resistance movement in terms of guerrilla activities.
- The third was the realisation that all the major powers of the world were committed to Israel’s existence inside its borders as they were on the eve of the 1967 war.
It took the pragmatic Arafat six long years, from 1973 to 1979, to sell the idea of compromise with Israel first to his Fatah leadership colleagues and then to the Palestine National Council (PNC), the highest decision-making body on the Palestinian side. And it was a mission that Arafat knew from the start could cost him his credibility with his own people and perhaps even his life. Why? Because he was asking them to accept what most thought was “unthinkable” – recognizing and thus legitimizing Israel’s existence inside its pre-1967 borders in return for only 22% of all the land the Palestinians were claiming.
In fact the full extent of the concessions Arafat persuaded his leadership colleagues to accept and be prepared to make went even further than that. Though they could not say so in public until they had something concrete to show for their policy of politics and compromise, they accepted, and Israel was informed, that the Palestinian right of return would have to be limited to the territory of the Palestinian mini-state on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem its capital or the whole of Jerusalem an open, undivided city and the capital of two states.
At the end of 1979, shortly after Arafat had persuaded the PNC to endorse his policy of politics and compromise with Israel, I had the first of many meetings with him. His comment on the PNC vote – 296 for his policy and only four against – was this: “How far we have travelled in six years. No more this silly talk of driving the Jews into the sea. (A statement Arafat and his Fatah colleagues never made). Now we are prepared to live side by side with them in a mini-state of our own. It is a miracle.”
It was the miracle of Arafat’s leadership. What he needed thereafter was an Israeli partner for peace. At a point it seemed that Israeli Prime Minister Rabin might be the partner, but he was assassinated by a Zionist zealot. The assassin was not de-ranged. He knew exactly what he was doing. Killing the peace process Arafat’s policy of politics and compromise had set in motion.
There are no more concessions the Palestinians can make for peace. President Obama’s statement that they must is absurd and obscene. Unclear is whether he was speaking out of ignorance of real history or from Zionism’s script.