No matter how often one reads about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and thinks that one had heard it all, someone comes along and shocks us with their ignorance, all in the guise of objective analysis.
So it is with an article published in The Washington Post on July 26 by a Norwegian professor, Jorgen Jensehaugen, titled “The Fatal Flaw in Trump’s Plan for Middle East Peace.”
Jensehaugen’s thesis is that the Trump plan, like those of previous administrations, will fail because of a fatal flaw: “Not involving Palestinians in the discussion.” He then traces the long history of calamities between the Israelis and the Palestinians, and attributes them to this flaw.
History tells a very different story.
Between 1947 and 1988, it is true that Palestinians were not involved in negotiations with Israel. But this was primarily because they — and the regional Arab leadership that claimed to speak for them — fundamentally rejected the legitimacy and existence of the Jewish state, had a charter that called for Israel’s destruction, and would have nothing to do with representatives of the “illegitimate” State of Israel.
Indeed, if at any point in that 40-year period they had indicated that they had moved away from their extremist views and expressed a desire to live side-by-side with the Jewish state, they would have been included in talks. Therefore, it was not that they were excluded, but that their nihilistic views left no room for inclusion and conversation.
All that began to change in the late 1980s, culminating in the historic meeting at the White House with Israeli prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, and former president Bill Clinton, in which the Palestinians indicated a willingness to accept the existence of Israel.
Palestinians now became the centerpiece of all conversations with Israel on a resolution of the conflict.
Most particularly, Jensehaugen simply ignores this changed reality and the fact that two major opportunities to resolve the conflict between 2000 and 2008 took place when Palestinians were fully represented and capable of making their case and working out an agreement.
The first opportunity was at Camp David in 2000, when a proposal supported by Israel was on the table that would have created a Palestinian state on more than 90 percent of the claimed Palestinian territories. This effort failed, and not because Palestinians were not involved in the negotiations. Instead, it failed because the Palestinians would not agree to a peace arrangement with Israel that would legitimize two states for two peoples.
In 2008 at Annapolis, when Israel offered the Palestinians even more territory, the Palestinians rejected the deal. Once again, they refused to change their lives for the better, not because decisions were being made without them, but because they refused to choose peace.
Ever since, the Palestinians have rejected talks with Israel. When, during the Obama administration, there were efforts to revive peace talks, the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas refused to enter negotiations, finding one excuse after another.
Again, one can take different perspectives on why this came to pass, or have opinions of the current US administration’s approach to peacemaking, but in no way can it be said that the reason talks were frozen was because the Palestinians were being excluded.
Ultimately, Palestinians have to be part of any discussion about the future of the region. But what should be obvious is that the conflict’s persistence is not centered around the issue of whether or not Palestinians are involved in talks, as Jensehaugen posits, but whether the Palestinians have truly made the qualitative leap to accept the legitimacy of the Jewish state and negotiate an agreement that will provide for a two-state solution, and security and independence for both peoples.
In sum, Jensehaugen gets it wrong on all counts.