Israel Hayom (June 1) — The Europeans have decided that the Arab-Israeli conflict in the Holy Land, over a hundred years long, must finally end. High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini recently came to Israel to convey the EU’s impatience with the impasse in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. France intends to bring the matter to the U.N. Security Council to set an 18-month deadline on the resolution of the conflict.
The European intentions are laudable, but seem to be removed from the Middle Eastern reality. While partition of the Land of Israel between the Jews and the Arabs living in this small part of the world is desirable, the Palestinian national movement has proven to be the wrong partner to implement partition and is largely responsible for the failure of the two-state solution.
The Palestinian national movement seems unable to reach a historic compromise with the Zionist movement as it still seeks control over the Temple Mount, a “right of return” for Palestinian refugees, and the complete absence of any Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria. The Palestinian media and education system perpetuate the conflict by inciting against Jews and their link to the Land of Israel. Indeed, the gap in positions between Israelis and Palestinians is extremely large and cannot be bridged overnight. It is totally unrealistic to expect an agreement on final status issues in the near future.
The bitter truth is that the two societies still have the energy to fight for what is important to them. Ethno-religious conflicts usually end when at least one of the sides displays great weariness. The gullible Europeans are having difficulty realizing that peace is not the most important value for the Israelis or the Palestinians.
In addition, the Palestinians failed to capitalize on the opportunity to build a state. The most remarkable failure and most devastating to the state-building attempt was the loss of a monopoly over the use of force. This led to chaos and the loss of Gaza to Hamas in 2007. As long as Hamas plays a central role in Palestinian affairs, no real Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation is possible. What happened in the Palestinian territories reflects a phenomenon widespread in the Arab world, the collapse of statist structures. Arab political culture seems unable to sustain statist structures or overcome tribal and sectarian identities.
The Palestinian Authority (PA) is not that different than Arab political entities such as Libya, Iraq, Syria, or Yemen, which are unable to effectively govern their territories. The PA and its leadership are basically sitting on Israeli bayonets that make sure the PA-ruled territory is clear of radical violent elements that want to topple the illegitimate rule of PA President Mahmoud Abbas and to perpetrate terrorist attacks against Israel. This is the essence of the security cooperation between Israel and the PA. Economically, the PA is also dependent upon interactions with Israel and Israel’s cooperation with donor states.
Above all, the Palestinians refuse to accept Israel as a Jewish state, a core issue in the history of the Arab-Israeli conflict. While Israel, under the leadership of then-Prime Minister Menachem Begin, recognized the “legitimate rights of the Palestinian people” in 1978, the Palestinians still have not reciprocated. Moreover, the growing appeal of Islamism within Palestinian society, a phenomenon reflecting regional trends, makes the recognition of a Jewish state increasingly difficult. Denying the legitimate right of the Jewish people to the Land of Israel only reinforces the large Israeli consensus that the Palestinians are not a serious partner for peacemaking.
The turmoil in the Arab world has also hardened Israeli positions in negotiations with the Palestinians. Political circumstances may change suddenly in the Middle East, making defensible borders imperative. Israeli presence along the Jordan River is a vital security requirement for Israel. It is a pity that the Palestinians have not yet internalized this change and are failing to calibrate their aspirations to the reality on the ground. Unfortunately, realism is hardly part of the maximalist Palestinian political culture.
Therefore, the protracted Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains intractable. The two-state solution that everybody pays lip service to is simply not a realistic outcome under the current circumstances.
Last year, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reluctantly accepted a working paper submitted by the U.S. in an effort to salvage the negotiations with the Palestinians. But Abbas refused to accept the American document, effectively ending the American diplomatic efforts. As expected, Netanyahu’s latest concession — negotiating the borders of the settlement blocs — did not satisfy Palestinian desires. Over the years, the Palestinians have rejected generous offers by Prime Ministers Ehud Barak (2000) and Ehud Olmert (2008). Obviously, Netanyahu cannot do better.
A resolution to the conflict is not in the cards. The best that can be achieved is interim agreements, tacit or formal, that do not entail grave security risks for Israel. Even the Obama administration learned the hard way that conflict resolution should be substituted with conflict management. That is the only strategy that has a chance to minimize suffering on both sides and achieve a modicum of stability in a stormy Middle East.
The European peace offensive, another exercise in futile diplomacy, will in all probability produce another bout of diplomatic activism in pursuit of another forum for an Israeli-Palestinian exchange of views that will similarly fail. Such failures hardly discourage professional diplomats who make an honorable living by trying to bring peace. The Quartet will probably also try again to make peace. We should wish all of them luck.
Efraim Inbar, a professor of political studies at Bar-Ilan University, is the director of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and a fellow at the Middle East Forum.