The hope that the Arabs would accept Israel as a neighbor died aborning. From the outset, a Jewish presence of any kind in the region was anathema to them. Indeed, their ingrained anti-Semitism was merely expanded into an attack on the idea of Israel and then on the state itself. Much forgotten is the bitter irony that the Arabs now blame Israel for the Palestinians becoming refugees, even though they were rendered homeless in the first place by the Arab decision not to accept partition and to make war, not peace. And after that reckless act, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan did nothing to resettle the refugees in their own lands.
The relentless nature of the public attacks on Israel in all the Arab countries calls to mind the words of W.B. Yeats: "We had fed the heart on fantasies, the heart's grown brutal from the fare." It is difficult for Westerners unmarked by the searing memories of Jewish history to realize how much the survival of Israel remains a core issue for Jews who cannot dismiss the overheated Arab rhetoric that seeks to justify terrorism against innocent civilians by describing Israel's existence as illegitimate. Even the hallways of the United Nations, which itself has adopted an almost reflective anti-Israel stance, provide a regular forum for vicious anti-Israel attacks while conferring a false sense of credibility, reason, and legitimacy on the Arab spokespeople.
The Palestinians are supposed to abolish terror altogether, stop the culture of hate, and accept Israel as a Jewish state. It is a tragedy that the Israelis lack a moderate partner who could have earned their trust for its intention to bring about peace and to settle the conflict and end the bloodshed. Instead, what Israel gets from the Palestinian leadership is rhetoric in support of moving millions of Palestinians claiming refugee status to Israel, which would destroy its identity as a Jewish nation. The Arab states are unwilling to declare the end of the conflict, which so far means that there will be no Palestinian willingness to make the "painful" compromises that are essential if peace is to be made.
In fact, the danger now is that the conflict will intensify through some union between Hamas in Gaza and Fatah on the West Bank that would extend extremist control to the West Bank and give the Islamist movement even more legitimacy among Palestinians. The relatively moderate Palestinian leaders President Mahmoud Abbas, aka Abu Mazen, and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad could well be replaced by other more extreme leaders, ending the chances of a reasonable arrangement. Israelis know it would be suicidal to think they could protect themselves if Hamas or an equally nasty regime were to establish itself on the West Bank. They know from the record that commitments on paper would not be honored in practice. They saw their fellow countrymen running for cover from the hundreds of rockets fired indiscriminately from Gaza. It doesn't take much imagination to picture what would happen if the same terrorists controlled the West Bank.
The answer to Israeli anxieties and Palestinians' sense of oppression has been apparent for many years: Israel pulls out of much of the West Bank to enable the establishment of a pacific unarmed Palestinian state in quick time. This so-called two-state solution is too important to fail, though it seems too complex to succeed.
Why it hasn't happened is the subject of next week's editorial.
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- Read Robert Nolan: The Scars of the U.S. War in Iraq