Absolutist Positions Lead to Absolutely Nothing
Dr. Richard L. Benkin (Written April 2006)


In the 1996 American movie, “Independence Day,” a warring race of aliens attacks the earth. In one scene, the US President tries to communicate with one of the aliens and talks of how the two groups can learn from one another. No compromise, replies the alien. Nonplussed, the hopeful president asks, “What do you want us to do?” “Die,” comes the alien’s response; at which point, he decides to fight the aliens with everything at his disposal. Would we expect—or even tolerate—anything less?

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has again called for Israel’s destruction. Two Palestinian terrorist groups, Islamic Jihad and Hizbullah, are Iranian clients; and like their patrons, are dedicated to destroying the Jewish State. New Palestianian rulers Hamas are willing to let their people suffer from a withdrawal of international largesse to maintian its refusal to recognize Israel’s right to exist and resolute stance to work for its destruction. Egypt and Jordan are the only Arab countries willing to accept Israel’s right to exist. And quite a few Muslim-majority nations—including Bangladesh—take the same position of non-recognition.

All of those nations and groups place Israel’s leaders in the same position as “Independence Day” President Thomas Whitmore. No one who watched the film expected that if he gave the aliens a “concession” or engaged in a “confidence building” measure, they would seek peace with his people. For the aliens took an absolutist position—no negotiation will lead them to accept the earthlings as neighbors; and as such left Whitmore with no reason to be flexible. Even more astounding, in the history of the Israeli-Arab conflict, Israel has remained flexible nonetheless, and the Arabs’ absolutist position actually harms their cause.

On November 29, 1947, the United Nations approved Resolution 181, which stated that “Independent Arab and Jewish States and [an internationalized] City of Jerusalem…shall come into existence in Palestine…not later than 1 October 1948.” The Jews accepted the partition without reservation, despite a non-contiguous and reduced territory, saying “A call must go out to the Arab nations to join forces with Jewry and the destined Jewish State and work shoulder to shoulder for our common good, for the peace and progress of sovereign equals.” The Arabs, however, rejected it outright and declared their intention to invade. “The Governments of the Arab States emphasize…that the only solution of the Palestine problem is the establishment of a unitary Palestinian State.” That is, NO Jewish State at all. Had they not taken an absolutist position, there could have been an independent Palestinian Arab State since 1948—on a territory greater that included Gaza, the West Bank—and more.

Following Israel’s successful defense of that Arab League invasion, at the 1949 Lausanne Conference, Israel offered to take in 100,000 Palestinian Arabs who fled during the war and hold further discussions about Palestinian Arabs and Jewish refugees who fled or were expelled from Arab lands at the same time. In return, Israel asked for honest and ongoing negotiations and a state of peace between it and its Arab neighbors. The Arabs refused any actions—such as negotiation—that would recognize Israel’s existence as a sovereign nation. About the same number of Jews fled Arab lands at the time as Arabs fled Israel. Moreover, it was a time of large population exchanges between India and Pakistan, Poland and Germany, and others. Had the Arabs not taken an absolutist position, there could have been a just solution to the refugee problem more than half a century ago.

Prior to 1967, the territories of Gaza, the West Bank, and eastern Jerusalem were all under Arab control. Egypt ran Gaza; Jordan the West Bank and eastern Jerusalem. These are the precise territories that many Palestinians and their allies claim is all they want for their state. Yet, during that period, they never asked Egypt and Jordan for their own state on those lands; and neither Egypt nor Jordan ever offered them. The open Arab policy of the day was to “drive the Jews into the Sea.” After the 1967 Six-Day War, Israel offered to return those territories in exchange for peace. But the Arabs all refused. Had they not taken an absolutist position, there could have been an independent Palestinian Arab state on the West Bank and Gaza with Jerusalem as its capital.

In 2000, US President Bill Clinton sought to leave a legacy of peace by frantically and committedly negotiating a comprehensive Mideast peace. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered a Palestinian Arab state on 95 percent of the West Bank, plus Gaza and eastern Jerusalem, plus an equal amount of land in pre-1967 Israel to make up for the other five percent of the West Bank. But Yassir Arafat rejected the offer and launched a terrorist war. Had he not taken an absolutist position, there could have been an independent Palestinian Arab state on the West Bank and Gaza with Jerusalem as its capital.

On the other hand, Egypt has known peace since it signed a treaty with Israel; attacked only by Islamic radicals. So has Jordan—except for the PLO “Black September” uprising and more recently, al-Queida attacks there. Jordanians also have received extensive economic and technological benefits. Other non-Arab Muslim nations that have recognized Israel have benefitted tremendously. The most advanced hospital in North Africa is the Israeli hospital in the capital of Muslim Mauritania. In 2005, one out of every eight tourists to Turkey came from Israel. Just last week, an Israeli business delegation arrived in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation.

And what benefits have the absolutists brought their Muslim brothers? Palestinian Arab unemployment is among the highest in the world; its economy—near collapse anyway—would crumble without the international dole. The state of anarchy into which Gaza has plunged since the Israelis left indicates the wretchedly low state of Palestinian political development. And they are farther than ever from an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital. Hamas continues to isolate them and cost them donors. As former Syrian Prime Minister Khaled al-'Azm said in 1973, “We have brought destruction upon a million Arab refugees…caused them to be barren and unemployed [and] accustomed them to begging for hand-outs.”

New Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has said that Israel will define its final borders by the end of the decade. He prefers this to happen with Arab participation; but if the latter refuses to negotiate, Israel will proceed without them. If the rants of the Palestinians’ absolutist leaders are any indication, they will choose to leave their people out in the cold.
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