Don’t Blame Israel for the Palestinian Plight

With the most recent round of fighting instigated by the Hamas terrorist organization’s indiscriminate bombardment of Israel with rockets, one again finds commentary in newspapers, websites, blogs, and social media placing blame on Israel for its exercising its right of self-defense. What is ignored is that the Palestinians could have had a fully-functioning sovereign state had their leaders demonstrated courage, foresight, and a spirit of compromise. In other words, none of today’s events might have been occurring had their leaders chosen a different course.

One such missed opportunity was available from December 2000 into January 2001. During that time, Israel’s Prime Minister Ehud Barak had accepted generous terms that would have given the Palestinians 97% of the West Bank, 100% of the Gaza Strip, much of East Jerusalem, and established a sizable refugee settlement fund.

What happened?

Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat would not accept the terms available to him. Former President Bill Clinton, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, and former U.S. Middle East Envoy Dennis Ross—all of whom were intimately involved in the negotiations at the time—place responsibility for the missed historic opportunity on Yasser Arafat. None of them place any degree of responsibility on Israel or the Israeli Prime Minister.

In his memoir, My Life (Alfred A. Knopf, 2004), Clinton wrote:

On the twenty-seventh [of December 2000], Barak’s cabinet endorsed the parameters with reservations, but all their reservations were within the parameters, and therefore subject to negotiations anyway. It was historic: an Israeli government had said that to get peace, there would be a Palestinian state in roughly 97 percent of the West Bank, counting the swap, and all of Gaza, where Israel also had settlements. The ball was in Arafat’s court…

Arafat agreed to see Shimon Peres on the thirteenth [January 2001] after Peres had first met with Saeb Erekat. Nothing came of it. As a backstop, the Israelis tried to produce a letter with as much agreement on the parameters as possible, on the assumption that Barak would lose the election and at least both sides would be bound to a course that could lead to an agreement. Arafat wouldn’t even do that, because he didn’t want to be seen conceding anything. The parties continued their talks in Taba, Egypt. They got close, but did not succeed. Arafat never said no; he just couldn’t bring himself to say yes… Arafat’s rejection of my proposal after Barak accepted it was an error of historic proportions.

In an opinion piece published in the January 9, 2007 edition of The New York Times, Dennis Ross explained:

…the Clinton parameters would have produced an independent Palestinian state with 100 percent of Gaza, roughly 97 percent of the West Bank and an elevated train or highway to connect them. Jerusalem’s status would have been guided by the principle that what is currently Jewish will be Israeli and what is currently Arab will be Palestinian, meaning that Jewish Jerusalem — East and West — would be united, while Arab East Jerusalem would become the capital of the Palestinian state…

Mr. Arafat himself tried to defend his rejection of the Clinton proposals by later saying he was not offered even 90 percent of the West Bank or any of East Jerusalem. But that was myth, not reality.

In her memoir, Madam Secretary (Harper, 2003), Madeleine Albright wrote:

The key to the parameters was a trade-off. The Palestinians would get sovereignty over the Haram al-Sharif/Temple Mount, but they would have to accept that Palestinian refugees wouldn’t be guaranteed a right to return to Israel. In both cases the trade-off would be tempered. Israel would have sovereignty over the Western Wall. Palestinian refugees not settling in Israel would be guaranteed the right to return to Palestine, or to resettle elsewhere with compensation. The new Palestinian state would consist of 94 to 96 percent of the West Bank, plus 1 to 3 percent of Israeli territory as a swap. Its capital would be in Arab East Jerusalem…

But the core failure was the Palestinians’ obsessive focus not on how much could be gained but on the relatively little they would be required to give up. They wouldn’t yield a dime to make a dollar…

If Arafat had chosen differently, Palestine would now be a member of the United Nations, its capital in East Jerusalem. Its people would be able to travel freely between the West Bank and Gaza. Its airport and seaport would be operating. Palestinian refugees would be receiving compensation and help in resettling. Instead the Palestinians have their legalisms, their misery, and their terror.

Today, on account of Arafat’s historic failure of leadership, and later his successor Mahmoud Abbas’ own failure to accept terms similar to those available to Arafat, the historic Israeli-Palestinian dispute goes on. The region’s people are worse off for that outcome.

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About Don Sutherland 83 Articles
Husband. Dad. American. Believes in America on account of its Constitution, ideals, and people. Character, principle, truth, and empirical evidence matter greatly everywhere, including politics and public policy.