Israel/Palestine has been hotly contested by two national movements. Both have legitimate claims, but have been unable to find historical accommodation. Are both equally at fault for the impasse, and what are the current prospects if any for a peaceful resolution of this century-old conflict?
Many have noted that the Israel/Palestine dispute is one of too little geography and too much history. In reaction perhaps to the burden of history, of late there has been a strong tendency to dissociate the conflict from its historical roots. To do so gives a very misleading picture: a basic historical perspective is necessary. I argue strongly that Israel was not created in sin. While the national rights of the indigenous Palestinian population were considerable, it must be remembered that all efforts for accommodation by moderate forces within the Zionist movement, including the bi- nationalist tendency led by Martin Buber and others, met with nothing but rejection from the Palestinian community.
The Palestinian and larger Arab world rejected partition in 1947-48 – just as it had in 1937 on more favourable geographic terms – and tried to destroy the newly created State of Israel. As Benny Morris, the most prominent of the Israeli school of “new historians,” has convincingly shown in his book on the 1947-48 period, the Palestinian refugee situation, while complex, was created largely as a by-product of the Arab-initiated war itself – not by Israeli design. It also needs to be said that Israel has not been an expansionist state. Rather, Israel has had to fight numerous defensive wars. The 1967 war was one such war. It resulted in Israel’s occupying the West Bank because King Hussein of Jordan rejected Israel’s pleas to stay out of that war. Following the 1967 war, the Israeli government of the day was prepared to withdraw from the vast majority of the newly occupied territories in exchange for a peace agreement, but met with the resounding three nos – no to negotiations, no to peace, no to Israel – from the Arab League. Such rejectionism characterized the PLO and much of the Arab world (the notable exception being Egypt) until the late 1980s, when at long last peace became a possibility.