One of our readers expressed his uneasiness over the fact that the previous issue of our journal, focusing on the subject of "Children of the Conflict," dealt mostly with the plight of Palestinian children, and much less on the negative effects of the conflict on Israeli youngsters. Other readers may feel that the present issue, devoted to "The Struggle for Land," is equally slanted in favor of the Palestinians.
While presenting a balanced view of events is the basis for all trustworthy journalism, artificially "balanced" reporting has nothing to do with serious journalism. It is certainly not the fault of this journal that there is no symmetry whatsoever between the pain and grievances experienced over the last fifty years by the Palestinian people and those experienced by the Israeli people.
One could argue that part of the Palestinian misfortunes were the outcome of their leaders' "all-or-nothing" approach, their systematic rejection of any compromise with the Jews in this country. The Palestinian leadership rejected the proposal of the United Nations General Assembly in 1947 to partition Palestine/Eretz Israel into two states, one Arab and one Jewish, connected by an economic union. Misreading the reality on the ground and underestimating the strength of the Jewish society in Israel, they courted disaster by launching a war on the newly born state.
In retrospect, however, putting the blame on one Palestinian leader or another for failing to gauge the real balance of forces in the conflict at that time, resolves absolutely nothing. It is of interest only to historians. It cannot contribute to diminishing the sufferings of the Palestinian people, most of whom became hapless refugees due to the Arab-Israeli war of 1948-49. As a result of this war, part of what according to the UN partition plan was supposed to become the Palestinian Arab state was incorporated into the State of Israel, part (the West Bank and East Jerusalem) was annexed by Jordan, and the Gaza Strip came under Egyptian military administration.
Moreover, the Israeli authorities expropriated vast tracts of Arab land within the new borders after the expulsion and flight of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians during the war. Subsequently, various pseudo-legal stratagems against the remaining Arab residents facilitated the transfer of Arab land into Jewish hands in order to expand and build new Jewish farms, towns and villages.
Following the June 1967 Arab-Israeli war, the policy of expropriating Arab land was resumed in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT). Jewish settlers were allowed and/or encouraged to establish themselves on the expropriated lands in various parts of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as well as in East Jerusalem. All this was in violation of the Geneva Convention on territories o:cupied following wars, and of other international laws and regulations.
Thus for years, while the embittered Palestinians continued to reject all or any compromise with the hated "Zionist entity," the Israeli authorities, though repeatedly stressing their readiness for peace talks, used the stubborn Palestinian refusal to negotiate in order to gradually expand their control over the disputed land.
Is there a way out of this imbroglio - a reasonable way out acceptable to both parties to the conflict?
Complex situations created by historical upheavals have, as a rule, no simple solutions, for it is usually impossible to repair the injustice done to one party without causing grave injustice to the other. Readmitting into Israel Palestinian refugee families (who by now number over two million souls) and restoring land ownership to the status quo ante (before 1948) would no doubt appear to many, if not most, Palestinians as a natural act of justice.
But what would be the effect on Israel? The demographic change would transform Israel from a Jewish country into a binational state, with all the explosive tensions inherent in such a transformation. What would become of the hundreds of thousands of Israelis who, for two generations, have been raising their children and grandchildren on land previously owned and/ or cultivated by Palestinian peasants?
The changeover would be experienced by those Israelis as a terrible injustice. In short, "total justice" as demanded by many Palestinians would be seen by many Israelis as "total injustice."
Nevertheless, Israel is serious about desiring a peaceful compromise, there is much that it can and should do in order to repair wherever possible the injustices inflicted on the Palestinians. Even more important, it is now necessary for Israel to draw a clear line which would put an end, once and for all, to unilateral confiscation of Palestinian land. No peace, and certainly no reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis, is possible without the government of Israel halting additional Jewish development in the OPT at the expense of what is left of Palestinian land.
Many, perhaps a majority of Palestinians, have been ready under the PLO leadership to consider an honorable compromise, but on one condition: not only no more bloodshed, but also no more land-grabbing, regardless of the pretext invoked to "justify" it. Otherwise, all professions of Israeli "goodwill" and its aspirations to "peace and rapprochement" will be regarded by the Palestinians as meaningless and hypocritical slogans whose purpose is to lull them into political submission.
Behind the Oslo Declaration of Principles of September 1993, lay a philosophy of mutuality, which set out to change the rules of the game and apply a novel and honest approach to the demands and aspirations of both parties.
The PLO under Yasser Arafat expressed its readiness to forego its previous dreams of eliminating "the Zionist entity" and destroying the state of Israel. De facto, if not de jure, Arafat recognized Israel's right to exist in peace and security. For its part, the Rabin-Peres government accepted the right of the Palestinians to self-rule and reconciled itself, de facto if not de jure, to the emergence at a future stage of a Palestinian State in the West Bank and Gaza, alongside the State of Israel. The great conceptual change was in the mutual acceptance of a territorial compromise, more or less based on the pre-June 1967 borders.
It is this conceptual change which the Netanyahu government is now repudiating. Hence the stalemate in the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and the danger of a deterioration that could lead to violent confrontations and, eventually, to another Arab-Israeli war.