Prediction is very difficult, especially about the future.
-- Niels Bohr, Danish physicist (1885 - 1962)
I try to avoid making predictions, but sometimes I can't resist. I admit my record has been mixed. In April 1990 I predicted there would be a war with Iraq. In September 1993 I predicted the Oslo Accords would eventually lead to war. On the other hand, in late 2002 I didn't think Bush would go ahead with the invasion of Iraq. Can't win 'em all.
So I'm either brave or foolhardy today in making the following prediction:
There will be no Palestinian Arab state.
Do I mean "never", you ask? Never is a long time. My intuition does say never, but for the purposes of this official prediction, I'll stick with "for the foreseeable future," say, the next ten or twenty years. I'm saying this regardless of my position on whether or not such a state would be good for Israel (I think it wouldn't); it's my objective assessment.
Am I nuts? After all, the circumstances for its establishment have apparently never been better.
For the past two years both Israel and the U.S., for the first time since Israel's creation, have supported the near-term establishment of a Palestinian state; Bush's original target date was 2005. The international diplomatic "quartet" endorsed a road map to bring it about. Meanwhile, our favorite obstacle to peace has gone to the netherworld, allegedly clearing the way for a new generation of pragmatic Palestinian leadership (right?). Finally, Sharon's busy promoting a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and part of Samaria, leaving a vacuum which could presumably be filled by a new Palestinian government.
And here I am, saying there will be no Palestinian state?
Let me explain.
Has anyone else noticed that the Palestinian leadership has virtually stopped talking about a Palestinian state? Googling "Arafat Palestinian state" yields few declarations of support from Arafat since the year 2000. Recall that from 1998 through 2000 the speculation was that Arafat would unilaterally declare an independent state despite Israeli opposition, or else would establish one in negotiations with Israel. Recently, though, mentions of aspirations for statehood have been infrequent and perfunctory. This year, even November 15, anniversary of the impotent 1988 declaration of statehood, usually marked as Palestinian independence day, passed without notice.
Increasingly, Palestinians and their supporters are rejecting territorial partition, talking instead about a "one-state solution". Such a "solution", of course, is a solution only in the same sense as the "Final Solution". Instead of a Jewish state, Israel would become an Arab state with a Jewish minority, or at best a bare majority. It would be the end of Zionism, no matter how you define it.
Meanwhile, though once anathema to all mainstream Israeli leaders, a Palestinian state is now supported by all of Israel's Labor party, by the centrist Shinui party, and by nearly half of the Likud, including Sharon and his senior deputies. A majority of Israelis are apparently in favor. The intelligentsia claim it is the only alternative to Israel losing its Jewish character as part of a "one-state solution" or else becoming an undemocratic "apartheid regime".
What's going on here? Why the sudden turnabout? Six years ago, the Palestinians were threatening to declare statehood and Israel threatened a hostile response; today, Israel and the US are pushing for Palestinian statehood and the Palestinians are lukewarm at best, if not outright opposed!
I have a shockingly simple explanation: The Palestinians believe that their conflict with Israel is a zero-sum game. What's good for Israel is bad for them, by definition. This has always been their attitude, and likely always will be.
By implication, if Israel is willing to agree to a particular plan, it must be against Palestinian interests. At least, the fact that Israel offers a certain set of concessions indicates that it must be possible to extract even more through other means, whether diplomatic pressure or violence. Furthermore, accepting the Israeli offer, rather than continuing the struggle, would indicate a voluntary decision to forfeit the possibility of wringing further concessions, a conscious betrayal of their dreams. The focus is always on what they are giving up rather than on what they are achieving.
Thus, every time a Palestinian Arab state has been on offer alongside the Jewish state, whether offered by Israel or by an international power, the Palestinians have rejected it. They rejected the 1937-38 partition plan of the Peel Commission and the 1947 partition approved by the U.N., since both would have given the Jews a state too. From 1948-67, rather than agitate for a Palestinian state, the Arabs concentrated on continuing their assault on Israel.
Only after 1967, when Israel had captured all of the original disputed territory, did the Palestinians start calling for statehood, seeing it as a new tactic to fight Israel. Knowing the same, Israel persistently opposed the idea, intending instead to return the territories to Jordan and Egypt. Later, Israel endorsed limited autonomy under Israeli sovereignty; the Palestinians continued to agitate for statehood.
The only apparent deviation from this pattern was the 1993 Oslo Accord, in which the PLO agreed with Israel on a plan of national self-government. But the Palestinians accepted this program only because 1) Arafat made the decision, and he had both clout and credibility; 2) It was not a permanent peace but a temporary truce establishing a temporary authority; and 3) He insisted (in Arabic) that it was the implementation of the PLO's 1974 Plan of Phases, and its eventual aim was the eradication of Israel.
Hence even Arafat could not have accepted Barak's Camp David proposals, no matter how generous Barak had been. Accepting statehood while recognizing Israel, admitting Jewish rights to the Temple Mount, and forfeiting the right of return for "refugees", would have been seen as a betrayal of the Palestinian people and an admission that their aspirations were out of reach, possibly forever. (Certainly, no putative future Palestinian leader can now ever accept the deal Saint Arafat rejected.)
Today, with Israel and the U.S. advocating a Palestinian state, the Palestinians naturally conclude they can do better than accepting it. Israeli leaders explain that a Palestinian state must be established now to solve the demographic problem and ensure Israel's survival; this alone is a reason for the Palestinians not to play along. Israel is effectively telling them that if they hold out longer, they'll get more, since demographics are on their side.
Assume Israel "disengages" from Gaza. The Palestinians can declare a state there, establish a civil society and live normal lives. But they will fear they have implicitly given up the fight for the rest of the territory, including Jerusalem and the refugees, not to mention the rest of Israel. They will feel they could have achieved more had they been patient.
Or they can continue the haphazard "Palestinian Authority", with chaos and internal violence, offering a haven for terrorists - while continuing to pressure Israel through both diplomacy and force. Israel will be forced to continue its anti-terrrorist military raids, which they will portray as legitimate grievances deserving of counterattacks. Remember Fatah's perennial slogan: "Revolution until victory!"
However much Bush and Sharon may want to, they cannot create a Palestinian state. Only the Palestinians can do that. If Israel is opposed, no Palestinian state can survive; if Israel is in favor, the Palestinians will oppose, almost by definition.
If I were a conspiracy theorist, I could suggest that Sharon has endorsed a Palestinian state in order to prevent it from coming into existence. I don't believe that; I think Sharon is sincere. Regardless, my conclusion is clear.
There will be no Palestinian state. Not for the foreseeable future.