Thursday, February 20, 2020

  • Thursday, February 20, 2020
  • Elder of Ziyon


It has been pointed out many times that Palestinians have rejected every peace plan offered to them since 1937.

Saying "no" is not simple rejectionism. It is an active choice. The leaders who say "no" to various compromises and peace offers are giving the world two messages: they don't accept the proposal, and they prefer the status quo as being a preferable option.

The decisions aren't made in a vacuum. When Palestinians say "no" whether to Clinton or Olmert or Obama or Trump, they are saying "yes" to the situation they are currently in. They are saying that, until circumstances change such as a new peace offer or international pressure on Israel, the status quo is better than any other option at this point in time.

Palestinians will tell anyone who listens how terrible life is under "occupation" and under "siege." They will complain about checkpoints and humiliation and "ethnic cleansing." Yet every time they had a chance to put an end to all of those things, they made a decision that their current reality was preferable to the alternatives given them.

There are lots of factors that come into such a decision, of course. Palestinian leaders are wagering that their refusal to compromise will one day pay off with a better permanent solution. This is a bet they have made, and lost, for over 80 years. However, there is no escaping that each time they make that bet they are choosing the current situation over any realistic alternative. Every time they say no, it is with the full understanding that this decision keeps them in a stateless limbo, albeit one where most of them who live in the territories live under autonomy, with a government, membership in various international bodies, unwavering support from the UN and an Olympic team.

Every "no" is a specific and deliberate choice to keep things as they are.

You can say the same about Israel as well. Israel rejected the Arab Peace Initiative in 2002, also accepting that the status quo - which at the time included a wave of terrorism - was better than the alternative pushed by the Saudis.

When you realize that the current situation as a result of active choices rather than passive rejection, it is apparent that the status quo cannot be so bad. If it was truly bad, any sane leader would choose an alternative that is better for his or her people. Yet both Israel and the Palestinians have chosen the imperfect way things are today.

People trying to find a comprehensive peace plan acceptable to both sides are wasting their time. We have enough evidence that any plan will not work. At least one side will reject any suggested plan.  The point is that we have enough evidence that what exists now is the active preference for both sides compared to any possible alternatives.

When things are framed this way, it becomes apparent that rejectionism has consequences, just like any other decision. Palestinians like to pretend that their saying "no" somehow freezes the region, that the next time they can reset the clock. But Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria grow, Israel devises new defensive methods, the Arab world evolves. Time does not stand still when Palestinians say "no" - and each "no" has real world consequences.

Once the conflict is viewed through this lens, then the focus must be changed from finding a comprehensive peace plan to finding an optimal solution for today. The demands of each side are absolutely incompatible. The optimal solution is to start with the status quo, which both sides have shown they can live with and prefer, and then trying to optimize it in ways that both sides can accept.

For example, Israel has to balance security and Palestinian freedom of movement. It plays this game solo, trying to find ways that Israelis can feel secure without hurting innocent Palestinians. It doesn't know if its decisions will be effective - think about home demolitions - so it resorts to trial and error.

But the very fact that Israel makes these decisions by itself is a result of the mindset that unless Palestinians and Israelis are negotiating a grand peace plan, they should keep their communications at an absolute minimum. This is a mindset encouraged by those who keep pushing a comprehensive peace instead of a de facto, livable detente.

Under the paradigm of optimizing the status quo, though, Palestinians can discuss with Israel how various security measures can be loosened while providing Israel with compensating measures. Just the fact that they are talking instead of playing childish games of avoidance and blame would by itself prompt the Israeli side to loosen various restrictions. There should be full cooperation on all issues - imports/exports, movement, water - instead of unilateral moves that cause resentment from the other side by the very virtue of them being unilateral.

The current spat where Israel refuses to export Palestinian goods while Palestinians refuse to import Israeli cattle, with each side threatening to escalate their positions, is an example of childishness that could have been avoided if both sides just owned their decisions and worked to help their own people instead of punish the other.

The choice by Palestinians to avoid even talking with Israel today is a choice to hurt their own people unnecessarily, seemingly for reasons of "honor."

Palestinians would say that this idea of accepting and optimizing the status quo is not an acceptable framework. They would say that treating Israelis as partners in co-existence would "institutionalize the occupation." But their rejectionism has done the exact same thing. Their decision to say "no" does not freeze life for the parties until the next peace plan - it causes other decisions to be made by the dominant power in which the weaker power has no say. There is no contradiction between using the status quo as a starting point to optimize the situation and for Palestinians to continue to battle for their maximal demands. But until there is a comprehensive peace - which seems more unlikely every year - optimizing the current situation would benefit everyone.

Of course, if Palestinian leaders reject even this, that action shows that their current situation is already close to optimal from their perspective. They are making a calculation that their rejections are more important to them than the welfare of their people, short or long term.

One way or another, the world must realize that Palestinian leaders have responsibility for their decisions - and saying "no" is just as much a decision as saying "yes," with consequences that are just as real.

This reframing of rejectionism as being an active choice can improve the lives of millions of people.




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