The Promised Land occupies a central place in the Bible, the life of Jesus, Judaism and Christian theology. So it is natural that faithful Christians and Jews be vitally concerned with the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. For believers, the dispute over this ancient sliver of territory is no mere a political struggle; it holds momentous theological significance.
Thus many mainline American Protestant churches and the World Council of Churches rightly focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), the United Church of Christ (UCC), the United Methodist Church (UMC) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) as well as the WCC regularly issue pronouncements about the strife, mostly identifying with the Palestinians as victims and flirting with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel.
The dynamics in the Middle East are swiftly changing. The recent peace treaties between Israel and both the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain plus the expectation of more Gulf states soon joining this new circle of peace indicate a greater acceptance of Israel. The treaties signify a realignment of interests that has distinct implications for the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. These regional shifts point to an urgent need for Palestinians and their supporters to reformulate their strategies if the Palestinians are ever to achieve statehood and independence. They also put into bold relief three general laws of the long conflict.
When the Palestinians demand everything, they get nothing.
The 1937 Peel Commission recommended partition of Mandatory Palestine into Jewish and Arab states. The Palestinian Jews accepted partition but the Arabs rejected it, so Britain dropped the plan. In 1947 the UN passed another partition plan, Resolution 181. Once again the Arabs rejected it because it allocated land for a Jewish state, and attacked Israel the day after it was established. The Jews won the war and their state, but the Arabs continued refusing anything less than all of Palestine.
After winning the 1967 war, Israel again offered to negotiate peace with the Arab states, but the answer came swiftly at the Khartoum Conference: “No peace, no recognition, no negotiation.” In 1977, the Palestinians refused to participate in the Camp David negotiations with Egypt and Israel. The result: Egypt regained all the land it lost in 1967 and the Palestinians got nothing. Ditto for the 1999-2000 Clinton-Barak-Arafat negotiations, where Arafat refused all offers of territorial compromise and the Palestinians exited empty-handed. In 2008 Mahmoud Abbas rejected Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer to settle the conflict through compromise, so Palestinians continued to be stateless. Now the Palestinians have rejected the Trump plan, which includes Palestinian statehood, however limited. By rejecting compromise in each instance, the Palestinians got nothing.
The more the Palestinians refuse, the less they are offered.
Palestinians have long claimed that time is on their side, and with patience will control all land from “the (Jordan) River to the (Mediterranean) Sea.” But history has proven exactly the opposite. The 1937 Peel Commission reserved most of Mandatory Palestine for an Arab state. The 1947 UN partition plan granted the Arabs 44% of that land. The 1948 armistice lines left 22% of the territory for an Arab State. After the 1967 War Israel agreed to withdraw from nearly all territories it captured in return for peace. In 1999 and 2008 Israel offered to cede to the Palestinians between 91 and 98% of the conquered territories, but the Palestinians consistently refused. The current Trump peace plan calls for a Palestinian state on 70% of the disputed territories. In short, the territory available to the Palestinians has consistently shrunk after every rejection.
While the Palestinians delay accepting peace, Israel becomes stronger and the Palestinians become weaker.
Over time Israel has become more secure and accepted — now even in the Arab world. Diplomatic support for Israel is increasing, while support for the Palestinians is withering. In 1948 Israel was poor and desperately dependent on foreign aid. Today Israel is a scientific and military powerhouse, with most Western countries depending on its technology. U.S. News and World Report ranked Israel the world’s 8th most powerful country based on its economy, politics, and military. Israel’s standard of living equals that of Western Europe, and the personal wealth of the average Israeli is higher than that of Western Europeans. In 2019 Israelis were the 13th happiest people in the world — happier than American and British citizens.
By contrast, Palestinians are at a dead end. Their economy is in perpetual crisis, dependent on foreign aid that is diminishing because countries are losing patience with the continuing Palestinian rejectionism. These economic woes persist despite the fact that Palestinians have received more development and humanitarian aid in the last 25 years than any other people in the world. Sadly, too little has filtered down to Palestinian citizens, leading donor countries to wonder where all this money has gone and over 90% of Palestinians to believe that their leaders are corrupt. Gazans are plagued by more than 50% unemployment, sewage overruns and have electricity less than 12 hours/day. Palestinian politics is violently fractured between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority and is largely dysfunctional. The Palestinian Legislative Council has not met in more than 10 years (yet its members continue collecting a healthy salary) and President Abbas is serving the 16th year of his 4-year term. With no realistic solution in sight, Palestinians have lost hope and many are emigrating. From mid-2018 to mid-2019 alone, between 35,000 and 40,000 residents left Gaza
These laws have clear implications: The arc of history indicates that Palestinian rejectionism has proven to be a quickening death march for Palestinian statehood. Furthering the interests of the Palestinian people means that Palestinians need to accept compromise and move toward peace with Israel as soon as possible. Every day the Palestinians delay making peace decreases their chances for independence in viable territory. This is why the current Palestinian strategy of anti-normalization with Israel is irrational and self-defeating.
These laws should be used to improve lives and build peace. Rational people base their political decisions on facts, not fantasies whose impossibility has become clearer and clearer. While the status quo enriches Palestinian leaders, it continues to impoverish all other Palestinians, whose interests lay in making peace with Israel.
Most Israelis do not want the Palestinian people to suffer. Neither do Christians, both for humanitarian and theological reasons. Supporters of the Palestinian people should counsel them to rethink their goals and policies in favor of realism and practicality. Palestinian prosperity will come only if Palestinians accept compromise with Israel, sooner not later.
Until they do, Israel will continue to thrive and the Palestinians, unfortunately, will continue to suffer.