Where Do the Palestinians Go From Here?

Israel made peace last week with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, the most dramatic development in the Arab-Israeli conflict since Jordan and Israel ended their war in 1988. Remarkable in and of itself, the agreement was perhaps even more notable for what it omitted. Nowhere in the short text of the so-called Abraham Accords declaration was the word “Palestine,” a sad but in some ways fitting coda to the era of Palestinian primacy in the Middle East. 

The shifts that ultimately led both the Emirates and Bahrain toward Israel have been long in coming, and the gallons of ink spilled on the occasion of the rapprochement credited the realignment to Iran. To be sure, the Islamic Republic has loomed large in the region for some time, and Tehran’s escalating aggression against its neighbors and domination of powerful proxy armies in both the Gulf and the Levant has only pushed Iran’s common enemies in the Sunni and Jewish worlds together. But Iran alone did not force this radical rethink of nearly a century of Arab policy. The Palestinians themselves bear much of the responsibility. 

It has become cliché to echo the late Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban (though he was referring to the Arabs in general) on the Palestinians’ solid track record of “never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” The misquote well conveys the gist of the problem: In 1947, the Palestinians turned their back on the historic United Nations partition that might have created two states side by side, distinct Jewish and Palestinian homelands (as indeed, the Arabs had rejected previous such recommendations made to the government of the United Kingdom, the mandatory power in what was then Palestine). 

In the period between the Arab League’s failed war to prevent the creation of Israel and Israel’s conquest of East Jerusalem and the West Bank in 1967, Palestinian refugees outside “Palestine” proper and those living on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip under Jordanian and Egyptian sovereignty, respectively, never reconsidered their opposition to a two-state solution. Neither the Hashemite Kingdom nor Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser considered offering the Palestinian territories they nominally “occupied” to create a Palestinian homeland. The whole loaf was always the focus, and for too many years, terrorism was the preferred tool to achieve it.

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