President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have begun their White House talks this week, discussing their different goals and strategies for peacemaking in the Middle East.
Each of their perspectives has been reflected in the press, with Obama adhering to the tried-and-false methods of leaning on Israel to make concessions and give away land to create a Palestinian state as soon as possible, and Netanyahu and his Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman concluding that the old methods have failed to bear fruit, and it’s time for a fresh approach. The Israelis have committed themselves to a slower process, creating facts on the ground such as a stronger, more independent economy for the Arabs, leading ultimately to a state more disposed to peace with Israel than what we currently have.
Netanyahu and Lieberman, in their departure from the old methods, have told the West that it must abandon the tired slogans that have been bandied about for decades. These slogans include “occupation,” “Palestinians,” “settlements,” “security wall,” “land for peace,” and “two-state solution.” None of these slogans reflects the history of the region or the reality of life here today, and the longer those who truly wish peace in the region employ them, the more elusive peace will be. I would like to take this opportunity to debunk, once and for all, the myths that are represented by these slogans.
“Occupation” is a word popularly employed by the Arab world to describe Israel’s presence in the territories conquered in the Six Day War of 1967. It implies (to people unfamiliar with the history of the region) that the Arabs who call themselves “Palestinians” enjoyed their own sovereign state in these territories (Judea, Samaria, and Gaza) before that war, and that Israel aggressively attacked them in order to acquire more land. This is a lie. If Israel were ever to return these lands, it would entail placing calls to King Abdullah and Hosni Mubarak, since it was Jordan and Egypt who were the conquerors of this land in 1948, and who were the governments to whom Arabs living in those lands from 1948 to 1967 answered. So far, no one has insisted that those lands be returned to Egypt and Jordan, and peace was made with both of those countries through other concessions by Israel (the Sinai and 10 million cubic meters of water annually, respectively). If Israel is indeed “occupying” this land, it is clearly with the blessing of the land’s previous governments.
Before the last 30 years, there was no talk of a native Arab people called “Palestinians.” The name has been invented by Arabs who wish to create a state on this land and who would like to propagate the myth that their ancestors have lived here as far back as Biblical times. Some Arabs have even attempted to assert that the “Palestinian people” are descended from the ancient Canaanites (though even Arab academics scoff at that great fabrication). The Arabs who live here were subjects of neighboring Arab states, and most of their ancestors arrived within the last 100 years to find work with the arrival of Jews from Europe in the early waves of immigration. Both Arabs and Jews living here before 1948 are rightfully called “Palestinians.”
It is true that the Jews now have a homeland, and the Arab people who call themselves “Palestinians” do not. The world seems to think that this is a problem incumbent on Israel to solve. Why? Did the Israelis create the problem by declaring war on their Arab neighbors (multiple times)? No. Did Israelis take land that was owned by these Arabs? Assuredly not. (Jews around the world donated money for the legal purchase of land from absentee Ottoman landowners before the First World War, and much of that land was lost with the Partition Plan and the subsequent War of Independence.) Did Jews have less right to flee persecution and pogroms in Europe and seek new opportunity in this land than the Arabs who left their homes to seek economic opportunity? No. Are Jews responsible for the Balfour Declaration which promised them a homeland by the British mandatory government? No. Must something be done to settle the matter and end the violence in this region? YES. And it is this word, “yes,” that the Arabs must learn to say. “Yes” to renouncing terrorism, “yes” to peace, “yes” to using the money the world is giving them to building themselves up rather than trying to tear Israel down, “yes” to education and modernization and skilled job training and an economy and relations with the West as well as with other Arab nations and pride in what they can accomplish rather than in what they can destroy.
Visit again tomorrow for Slogans: Part II.