The Jerusalem Post (Blog)
December 8, 2010 - 1:00am

Irrespective of whether we agree with it or like it, this is what is going to happen. A Palestinian state is going to emerge on the West Bank, Gaza, and in East Jerusalem, and most of the countries of the world are going to recognize it. It will be accepted into the United Nations, and Israel is not going to be able to do a thing to prevent it.

If the Palestinians decide to hang portraits on their walls of the people who most helped them establish their first ever independent state, even if unwittingly, then it will be pictures of Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir, with a smaller one of Binyamin Netanyahu below.

In 1979 Israel and Egypt signed an historic peace agreement. If Menachem Begin had had any foresight, he would have demanded from Anwar Sadat that the peace treaty with Israel include the return of all the land captured from Egypt in 1967. And that would have included the Gaza Strip. But Begin had dreams that Israel would be able to hold on to the Gaza Strip. By the time Arik Sharon realized, when he became prime minister, how wrong Begin had been, Egyptian rule over Gaza was no longer an option.

In the elections in Israel in 1984, no one won. So the two largest parties, Likud and the Labor Alignment agreed to form a national unity government and split the role of prime minister between them. Labor’s Shimon Peres would serve for two years and Likud’s Shamir would serve for two years, and each leader would become foreign minister while the other was prime minister.

Labor went first and Peres become prime minister from 1984 to 1986, and then Shamir took over.

In 1987, then-Foreign Minister Peres secretly met in London with King Hussein of Jordan, and they agreed that Israel would return most of the West Bank to Jordan (there were to be small border adjustments) in exchange for a peace agreement between the two countries. The agreement was to lead to a comprehensive peaceful resolution of the broader Arab-Israel conflict under the auspices of the United Nations. Israel was to retain control of Jerusalem with some authority granted to Jordan in the administration of the Moslem holy sites.

But Shamir said no, so the plan was scrapped. Jordan subsequently renounced all its claims to the West Bank and declared it to be Palestinian territory.

Netanyahu has now added his own contribution. Irrespective of whether another three months of building moratorium on the West Bank is justified or even warranted, it provides the proverbial ladder that the Palestinians need to descend from the tree they have climbed. Barack Obama understood that, but we, who know the Palestinians so well, didn’t. So Netanyahu refused and the Americans have now announced that they have given up. We can go back to the fruitless indirect negotiations.

Earlier this week Argentina, a friendly country, announced that it was formally recognizing the Palestinian state, just as Brazil had done earlier. More countries will follow. It’s unstoppable.

If you don’t like the bad news then let me tell you that I don’t like it either. But it is foolish to bury our heads in the sand and deny what is happening.

Israel has made mistakes like this before, though on a smaller scale. In 2000, under Labor’s Ehud Barak, the country finally understood that we needed to withdraw from Lebanon. Israel could have negotiated some type of agreement with the Lebanese (we had negotiated agreements with them before) but it was left too late. When no one remained to negotiate with, we withdrew unilaterally and got nothing in return.

In 2005, under Likud’s Ariel Sharon, the country finally understood that we needed to withdraw from the Gaza Strip. Here too Israel could have negotiated some type of agreement with the Palestinian Authority and in the process also helped strengthen the PA in its rivalry with Hamas. But we didn’t. We continued to dream that we would be able to hold on to the Strip and rule over a hostile disenfranchised population of more than one million people. So we left it too late until Hamas had already gained too much strength, and once again we withdrew unilaterally and got nothing in return.

Now it’s the turn of the West Bank and the Arab sections of East Jerusalem. Are we going to miss the opportunity to negotiate a decent peace agreement with the Palestinians and are we going to withdraw again unilaterally? Or worse yet, are we going to fight among ourselves while our neighbors look on with glee?

Sure; the last thing we need is another Arab state on our doorstep, and we can fantasize as much as we like that it won't happen. But it will. Menachem Begin and Yitzhak Shamir made sure of that.


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