Prime Minister Sharon's plan, backed by President Bush, to withdraw from all of Gaza and part of the West Bank, certainly falls short of what the Palestinians seek. Even so, the Palestinian Authority (PA) must capitalize on Mr. Sharon's plan.
Israel's late foreign minister Abba Eban once remarked that the Palestinians "never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity" to seize on historic opportunities for ending their conflict with Israel. In 1947 they rejected, with the support of the Arab States, the United Nations' Partition plan that would have established a Palestinian state. Subsequently, up till 1967, the Palestinians categorically rejected every Israeli peace offer. Following the Six Day War of 1967, Golda Meir, then Israel's Prime Minister, offered to return virtually all the territories Israel had just captured in exchange for peace. The Palestinians and Arab States answered with the famous three no's–no recognition, no negotiation, and no peace. In 1979, the Palestinians declined a joint Egyptian and Israeli invitation to join the peace negotiations at Camp David, which if they accepted, could have led to self-rule and then to an independent state. In the Summer of 2000, the PA turned down the historic offer by former Prime Minster Barak and President Clinton at Camp David. If Mr. Arafat had accepted, we would have seen the beginnings of a thriving Palestinian state spanning all of Gaza and 97 percent of the West Bank. Not only did the PA turn down the offer, it unleashed the second Intifadah that has left the infrastructure and cities of the Palestinians in ruin.
This overarching pattern of rejecting off-hand any offer that could lead to a permanent peace confirms the belief of many Israelis that the Palestinian leadership has never accepted the principle of two states living side-by-side. The vehemence of the rejection of Sharon's plan and the rationale behind it speak volumes about the PA's real intentions, especially in regards to its demand of the "right of return."
It is understandable that the PA would oppose Sharon's plan for Israel to maintain six blocks of settlements in the West Bank. But on this issue, Mr. Bush stated "the final status agreement will be achieved on the basis of mutually agreed changes." And Mr. Sharon underscored this when he suggested that his plan had the "potential to create the right conditions to resume negotiations." It is ironic that the Palestinians who have, all along, demanded Israeli withdrawal from the territories, now object to the complete dismantlement of settlements and military installations in Gaza and several settlements in the West Bank instead of embracing this offer and then pressing for more concessions during negotiations. This response only reconfirms those suspicions that, for Arafat and Qurie, withdrawal from the territories was never the only issue of contention with Israel. The current Palestinian position recalls the Summer of 2000 at Camp David, where when offered all of Gaza and nearly 97 percent of the West Bank, Arafat caused the talks to break down by insisting on the "right of return." The current Sharon plan has not, as Mr. Qurie observed, killed the peace process. There was no peace process to kill: but just as at Camp David, the demand for the right of return torpedoed the negotiation, and it will similarly doom any future negotiation.
The PA has been engaged in serious public deception by claiming it seeks only 23 percent of mandated Palestine-made up of the West Bank and Gaza-but in the same breath demanding the right of return. This tactic has fooled no one, except the Palestinian people, who have been led on to cling to the illusion of return to their homes in Israel proper. The PA needs to understand that, regardless of the validity of the Palestinian right of return, when survival itself is the issue, the question of what is right or wrong is barely relevant. The demographic reality on the ground is simple: with only 5.5 million Jews living in Israel, if it is to absorb nearly 4 million Palestinian refugees in addition to the 1.5 million Palestinians who are already Israeli citizens, the Palestinians will become a majority almost immediately, even without any influx of Palestinians from the West Bank and Gaza. Such a reality will obliterate Israel as a Jewish state created expressly to provide a last refuge and sanctuary for the Jews. Some Palestinian leaders are "threatening" to abandon their claims to the West Bank and Gaza and to demand instead equal citizenship in Israel and thus create a bi-national state, thereby achieving the same result–a Palestinian majority. The notion that the Israelis will accept this is just another example of wishful thinking.
President Bush stated the obvious when he said: "It seems clear that an agreed, just, fair, and realistic framework for a solution to the Palestinian refugee issue . . . will be found through the establishment of a Palestinian state and the settling of the refugees there rather than in Israel." The PA must free itself and the Palestinian people from their delusions over the right of return. For 56 years, belief in this misguided dream has subjected the Palestinians to subhuman conditions in refugee camps, to their rallying behind a hopeless cause that has deepened their desolation and despair.
For how much longer must the Palestinian people suffer? If the PA does not heed the call to reality, the people need to rise against it. A third Intifadah must "wage war" against current corrupt leaders who have betrayed the people until they are replaced by individuals willing to commit themselves to finally ending this self-destructive struggle.