SAN FRANCISCO â€“ To establish its independence, Israel hadto win a war against the combined might of the Arab nations in 1948.The Arab failure to destroy the nascent Jewish state became known, inOrwellian Arab vernacular, as “Nakba,” a catastrophe. For the next 20years, neither Jordan nor any of the other Arab states even spoke ofgiving Palestinian Arabs their independence, concentrating instead onboycotting and delegitimizing Israel.
Only some years after the Six-Day War of 1967, when Israel, beatingback the annilihation attempt by Egypt, Jordan and Syria, found itselfin possession of the West Bank and Gaza Strip did the Arabs suddenlydevelop a passion for Palestinian statehood.
Even though Arab national aspirations in Palestine are little morethan a century old and developed in response to Zionism, Israel, whoseJewish roots in the land go back thousands of years, repeatedly hassought a negotiated settlement so that Israel and a Palestinian statecould live side by side in peace. Generous Israeli offers were made atCamp David and Taba under President Clinton’s aegis in 2000-01, butPalestinian leader Yasser Arafat walked out on the talks. PrimeMinister Ariel Sharon pulled all Israelis out of Gaza, but instead ofdeveloping into an embryonic Palestinian state, the region became aHamas-ridden launching pad for anti-Israel terror.
Subsequent Israeli attempts to restart negotiations have met a wall ofPalestinian refusal to recognize it as a Jewish state and insistenceon a refugee “right of return” to Israel proper – both positionsclearly intended to keep up the conflict, not solve it.
Rebuffing the very idea of a Jewish state means the Palestinians arenot ready to concede that Israel was the place of origin of the Jewishpeople, the focus of its prayers and dreams for centuries and thecenter of a renewed Jewish people today in the wake of the Holocaust.Indeed, Palestinian negotiators seem to deny that Jews constitute apeople at all.
Combining this with the demand that anyone claiming to be a descendantof a Palestinian who left what is now Israel should be allowed toreturn confirms that the Palestinian strategy is indeed to snuff outthe Jewish state demographically, turning Israel into a secondPalestinian state alongside the one to be created in Gaza and the WestBank.
Hamas, classified by the United States and the European Union as aterrorist organization, condemned the killing of Osama bin Laden andhas categorically rejected any acceptance of Israel. Coming at a timewhen the Palestinian Authority is allied with Hamas, passage of a U.N.resolution backing the creation of a Palestinian state could put anabrupt end to any hope for the resumption of peace talks with Israel.It also could reverse Palestinian economic progress by triggering acutoff of the annual $400 million that the Palestinian Authority getsin American aid and possibly lead to violence in the West Bank whenthe Palestinians realize that an empty U.N. declaration makes not aniota of difference to the situation on the ground.
In their quest for unilateral statehood, the Palestinians themselvesare deeply divided in the vision of their future state. The Fatahfaction sees itself as part of a secular Arab world, whereas Hamasenvisions an Islamic Palestinian state. The U.N. vote could wellcreate a Palestinian crisis resulting in a destructive civil conflict- a conflict that could spread into Israel, Jordan and otherneighboring Middle East states.
While it is tempting to imagine that the United Nations can magicallycreate a Palestinian state, only a return to the peace table andnegotiations with Israel can do that. While it may take a littlelonger, a settlement reached that way is the only kind that can last,preparing the groundwork for an agreement whereby a new Palestinianstate and the existing Jewish state agree to an end of the conflict.Once such a deal is reached, Israel should be the first to proposeU.N. membership for the democratic and peace-loving Republic ofPalestine.