As the president sends his envoys back to Israel and the Palestinian territories, the usual flood of voices has offered advice – do this, do that, say this, say that. Whatever.
Let’s try something different.
When people talk about the “two-state solution,” their parameters are generally clear – the West Bank and Gaza more or less, give or take, some land swaps, and some arrangement for Eastern Jerusalem. The fact that the Palestinian Authority doesn’t control the Gaza Strip appears not to faze the two-staters at all. So, for now, let’s go with that. Rather than asking the Palestinians if they are willing to constrict their aspirations to land others have decided might make a good Palestinian State, why not ask the Palestinians where the State of Israel will be when the negotiation is concluded and a Palestinian state emerges?
Will East Jerusalem be in Israel?
Will Hebron be in Israel?
Will Jacob’s Tomb or Rachel’s Tomb be in Israel?
Will West Jerusalem be in Israel?
Will the Galilee or Jaffa be in Israel?
Will Tel Aviv be in Israel?
Without some understanding of where the Palestinians see Israel, how can anyone hope to understand where the Palestinians see Palestine? Are they looking at acreage or principle?
Yes, it is a trick question. To date, neither Yasser Arafat at or after Oslo nor Mahmoud Abbas of the P.A. has provided a realistic assessment of land to which Israel is entitled for the purpose of exercising Jewish sovereignty – nor can either be expected to. Folded into the question of acreage is the principle of the so-called “right of return,” Palestinian insistence that the original refugees of 1948-49 and their descendants should have the right to go to those places in pre-1967 Israel from which they claim to have been displaced.
Although President Clinton at Camp David in 2000 and American presidents following him have talked about the Palestinian refugees, it has been in the nature of compensation, not what they claim as their homes. Pretending Arafat’s and Abbas’s promises to their people don’t matter, or pretending for them that they will take “compensation” instead, is insulting. Who is President Clinton to give up their rights? Who are those Americans who didn’t live and die in refugee camps waiting for promises to be fulfilled to say, “Never mind. Israel gets what you claim, and you get something else, or ‘compensation'”?
Beating that horse again is…well, beating a dead horse.
It is not that the Palestinians aren’t clear. For years, textbooks in Palestinian schools use the map of Palestine “From the River to the Sea” to teach their children that they have a claim to all of it. President Trump’s envoys should ask for copies of the books – UNRWA sponsors some, the E.U. sponsors some, so it shouldn’t be difficult to find them.
But so what if they make maximalist claims? It’s their claim, right? Their “narrative,” as they say. Why should the Palestinian Authority offer anything to Israel?
Because Israel has a claim as well, enshrined in U.N. Security Council Resolution 242. Following the unwillingness of the Arab states to accept any boundaries at all for the Jewish State established in 1948, and following the Arabstates’ determination to erase Israel in 1948 and 1967, the Security Council voted that Israel was entitled to:
… [t]ermination of all claims or states of belligerency and respect for and acknowledgement of the sovereignty, territorial integrity and political independence of every state in the areas and their right to live in peace within secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.
Where the boundaries are is less important than that they are “secure and recognized” and accompanied by the “termination of all claims or states of belligerency.” Israel has already made it clear that it is willing to withdraw from territory occupied in 1967 – Sinai constituted 92% of the total.
As heir to the West Bank following its illegal annexation and occupation by Jordan until 1967, the Palestinian Authority is heir to the debt incurred by the Arab states.
The Trump envoys would do well to probe the Palestinians on the question of their aspirations, and also on the question of their understanding of what land between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea is available to Israel for Jewish sovereignty. Is it based on acreage or on principle? The answer may dismay them, but it will be the beginning of wisdom.