This is a big question and not an easy one to answer.
I long for an independent state as much as any Palestinian. But a two-state solution is like the quest for the Holy Grail, the golden fleece or King Solomon’s mines. It is highly unlikely, if not impossible.
To understand this, a brief history review might be helpful:
- The 1993 Oslo Accords offered Palestinians self-government. They established the Palestinian Authority (PA) as the governing body, under the leadership of PLO chief Yassir Arafat and represented primarily by Fatah, its largest faction. In addition, Israel agreed to a phased withdrawal of its settlements from the West Bank and Gaza.
- The United States and other foreign governments financed, trained, armed and equipped the PA, whose mandate was to secure and maintain peace in the territories. Arafat accomplished this by systematically imprisoning, torturing, and/or killing nearly every member of Hamas. The rest went underground. And by the end of 1996, Hamas was all but dead.
- But peace negotiations broke down, and Israel and the PA were at each other’s throats. So Arafat resurrected Hamas to spearhead the Second, or Al-Aqsa, Intifada. He was the Puppet Master, fighting Israel safely from backstage. He got others to light the fuse, then accused them of blocking the road to Middle East peace. It seemed like a win-win plan.
- It wasn’t. Hamas was in its element on the Palestinian streets, and it had a score to settle with the PA. In those days, Hamas was still a small organization—a handful of underground cells, executing suicide attacks and launching missiles. But that would change radically.
- In January 2006, when the time came to elect members to the Palestinian Legislative Council, Hamas decided to run. It won—74 seats to Fatah’s 45—and expected to rule. But how? Hamas was on the list of terrorist organizations throughout the world. And those nations refused to recognize its political legitimacy.
- Historically, Hamas had always refused to negotiate with Israel or compromise with the international community. Its single-item agenda was the obliteration of Israel. Not surprisingly, the PA refused to let Hamas run the government. The inevitable clash of ideologies came the following summer in a bloody two-day coup.
- When the dust settled, Hamas was in total control of Gaza. That’s because the PA, a more visible target than the ghostlike Hamas, had become weakened, its infrastructure nearly destroyed, by its clashes with Israel during the second intifada. Hamas took advantage of the collapse of peace negotiations to secretly smuggle in huge caches of weapons through tunnels from Egypt and build an army bigger, better armed, more highly motivated and better organized than the PA. The PA didn’t see it coming. Neither did Israel, even though I had warned the Shin Bet a year earlier that Hamas was planning a coup. Based on information gleaned from my father and his conversations with Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniya, I had prepared a report. The Shin Bet took it seriously and passed it up the political chain of command all the way to Prime Minister Olmert’s office—where it was summarily ignored.
An independent Palestinian state is not a viable solution to peace in Israel or in the Middle East if for no other reason than that the Palestinian people are irreconcilably divided.
The Palestinians who live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem are under PA control. To make certain that Hamas does not get control of the West Bank, the PA and Israel are now working together to crush the movement there—arresting and imprisoning Hamas members, raiding their strongholds and confiscating their weapons.
Palestinians living in Gaza, on the other hand, are controlled by Hamas, which is doing to Fatah in Gaza what the PA is doing to Hamas in the West Bank.
Further complicating the politics and logistics of the West Bank are more than 200 Israeli settlements and outposts and the half million armed Israelis who occupy these posh fortresses. In 2005, Israel evicted 10,000 settlers from Gaza, nearly triggering a civil war. Israel certainly does not want to face a problem fifty times greater in the West Bank. Quite to the contrary, it seems determined to build 900 new housing units for Israelis in Palestinian East Jerusalem. In addition, right after Israel withdrew from Gaza, Hamas began to launch missile strikes. Gaza is a little 139-square-mile piece of southern real estate bordering the Mediterranean Sea, Egypt and Israel’s Negev Desert. How much more damage could be done to Israeli cities from the West Bank, an area about the size of Delaware, within easy range of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other congested population centers!
These two Palestinian territories today are as unalike as East and West Germany during the Cold War, without the advantage of having once been an independent state. They have hostile governments (Hamas has not forgotten that the PA once imprisoned and tortured its members). Opposing armies with personal grudges to settle. Irreconcilable belief systems (Islam vs. secular). Divergent agendas (compromise vs. conquest).
So let’s say that Israel tomorrow decides to give the Palestinians their own state. Which state will it be? The state of Gaza or the West Bank? Who should Israel, America and the international community negotiate with? The corrupt PA government or the fanatical Hamas government? If with the PA, what about the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza? If with Hamas, what about the 2 million Palestinians in the West Bank? And what would happen to Israeli security with open borders and the strong likelihood that Hamas would use the situation to bring in more weapons and missiles?
There can be no real, lasting solution until there is a real and lasting peace. And that will never happen as long as Islam is part of the equation.
To Hamas, Islamic Jihad and more than 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide, the land called Israel today is an Islamic waqf, “an inalienable religious endowment.” It is a trust. Its owner is Allah himself. It cannot be bargained away or be allowed to be conquered by infidels. A waqf is nonnegotiable. And compromise is not part of the Muslim lexicon.
Declaring an independent Palestinian State may bring a temporary truce, but there can never be peace as long as there is Islam.
A diplomatic solution like statehood is too broad a brushstroke to bring peace. So are military and economic solutions. Because the problem is not political, cultural, or economic. And it’s not a logistical problem. Israel’s wall will not protect it from Palestinian suicide bombers any more than China’s wall protected it from the Mongols.
Let’s go even further. Let’s say that a miracle happens and the PA and Hamas become unified, and other insurmountable obstacles are surmounted. Will this bring peace to the Middle East?
Not as far as 1.6 billion Muslims are concerned. Not only is the land of Israel itself an Islamic trust, but it is also home to Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third most holy site after Mecca and Medina, as well as many other holy sites, including the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron where tradition holds that Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekeh, Jacob and Leah and Joseph are buried. The global Muslim community will never rest until it regains control over these sites.
The so-called “Palestinian Problem” is first of all a theological problem but ultimately an individual problem.
It is a theological problem because the god of the Qur’an demands nothing short of an Islamic world and the death or subjugation of every infidel (non-Muslim). It is a theological problem because the god of the Qur’an claims sole ownership of Israel and considers its Jewish inhabitants to be “pigs” and “monkeys.”
The biggest obstacle to the peace process was when Palestinians allowed their cause to be Islamized. And until Islam is removed from the equation, the problem will remain an unassailable Gordian Knot. Non-Muslim Palestinians need to stop fighting Israel and put their efforts into an aggressive campaign to expose the lies of Islam, thereby neutralizing the Islamic factions.
It is also an individual problem—not only in the Middle East but throughout the world—because every Palestinian, every Jew, every atheist, every Christian must decide for himself whether he will love and forgive or hate and avenge. The former will result in peace and life; the latter can result only in violence and death.
I realize that this too is not an easy solution. Just look in the Bible or a history book to see what love and forgiveness cost Jesus Christ. Anyone can hate and kill. But love and forgiveness are the stuff of heroes.
Of what value is a violent, vengeful, arrogant Palestine or a violent, vengeful, arrogant Israel? If one ultimately conquers the other, the net result is a graveyard.