Alon Ben-Meir: From the river to the sea
One would think that after 73 years of conflict punctured by wars, terrorism, bloodshed, and destruction, the Palestinians would have learned that Israel is a reality they cannot under any circumstances extinguish. Not only does Israel have the absolute right to exist, but Israel is also a formidable military power that no single enemy or combination of enemies in the Middle East can defeat, now or at any time in the future. The reason is simple—if the Israelis must fight for their very existence against any enemy, including the Palestinians, they will use every military means at their disposal to inflict utter and complete destruction from which their enemy may never recover.
I say the above with such a decisive and harsh tone because although the Palestinians have every right to establish an independent state of their own, it’s time for them to wake up to the unshakable reality that Israel exists and will continue to exist no matter what anyone says or does. But as long as a significant segment of Palestinians, especially the extremists among them, continue to proclaim “from the river to the sea,” they will never realize their dream of statehood.
I believe in and strongly support of the right of the Palestinians to establish an independent state and live in peace side-by-side Israel. But for this to happen, the Palestinians must persuade the Israelis that they have no sinister design behind their goal of establishing a state in the West Bank and Gaza, i.e., seeking to wipe Israel off the map at a later stage.
The irony here is that even though they know that their chance of eradicating Israel is nonexistent, the mere fact that they continue to engage in a such a narrative simply plays into Israel’s hand, especially the powerful hard core right-of-center constituency, and provides them with the perfect excuse to vehemently oppose the creation of a Palestinian state on the grounds that they cannot be trusted.
The Palestinians further reinforce the Israelis’ concerns and skepticism because of their leaders’ double talk. When they address their right to statehood to a Western audience in English, they limit themselves to the West Bank and Gaza, but when they speak in Arabic, they use the common dictum, a state “from the river to the sea.” What makes matters even worse for the Palestinians is that in schools, students are taught that the Israeli Jews are the perpetual enemy, and there is no mention of Israel’s right to exist. From the Israeli perspective, instead of reconciling with Israel’s reality the Palestinians are preparing the next generation to fight on until the bitter end.
Although millions of Israelis still sympathize with the Palestinian cause and want to end the conflict on the basis of a two-state solution, they are often treated with disdain by other Israelis because they are assumed to be ignorant of the Palestinians’ real intentions. And of course, leave it to the Palestinians to engage in a narrative that inflicts the most injury on themselves and obscures their legitimate demands to end the occupation and establish a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza.
Meanwhile, look at what has transpired over the past 73 years. Israel has become one of the most advanced nations in just about every field of endeavor with formidable military prowess, while millions of Palestinians continue to languish in refugee camp. Why? Every Palestinian of conscience and knowledge must ask this question. Why have their so-called leaders led them astray one generation after another clinging to an illusion, and betrayed every Palestinian that wants to live with dignity, grow and prosper in peace and security?
I am the last one to suggest that Israel did not play a role in perpetuating the Palestinian plight; it certainly took advantage of the Palestinians’ weak leadership while successfully pursuing a policy of ‘divide and conquer,’ pitting one Palestinian segment against another. Meanwhile, Israel is expanding its foothold and taking hard measures against the Palestinians in the occupied territories to keep them at bay.
Moreover, Israel uses national security as a blanket insurance policy under which it could justify the occupation, the settlements, and its continued resistance to the creation of a Palestinian state. To that end, Israel developed the most comprehensive security apparatus and no longer feels pressure. For a growing number of Israelis, the status quo has become the new normal with which they can live comfortably.
One other sad implication of the Palestinians’ unruly resistance to Israel’s right to exist is that the Arab states who championed the Palestinian cause for decades are losing patience and no longer make normalization of relations with Israel conditional upon the establishment of a Palestinian state. In addition to Egypt and Jordan, the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco have recently normalized relations with Israel because their strategic interests outweigh their concerns over the Palestinian cause.
It is a wake-up call for all Palestinians, from the most moderate to the staunchest extremist. They must disabuse Israel of the belief that the Palestinians cannot be trusted and instead put Israel on the defensive by ending the dead-end narrative of “from the river to the sea,” and mean it. To be sure, the longer they hammer this illusion, the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza will become an illusion too.
Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.