In the 1920s, among their final acts as victors in World War I, the British and French created the states that now define the Middle East out of the ashes of the empire of their defeated Turkish adversary. In a region that the Ottoman Turks had controlled for hundreds of years, Britain and France drew the boundaries of the new states, Syria Lebanon and Iraq. Previously, the British had promised the Jewish Zionists that they could establish a "national home" in a portion of what remained of the area, which was known as the Palestine Mandate. But in 1921 the British separated 80 percent of the Mandate, east of the Jordan, and created the Arab kingdom of "Transjordan." It was created for the Arabian monarch King Abdullah, who had been defeated in tribal warfare in the Arabian Peninsula and lacked a seat of power. Abudllah’s tribe was Hashemite, while the vast majority of Abdullah’s subjects were Palestinian Arabs.
What was left of the original Palestine Mandate -- between the west bank of the Jordan and the Mediterranean Sea -- had been settled by Arabs and Jews. Jews, in fact, had lived in the area continuously for 3,700 years, even after the Romans destroyed their state in Judea in AD 70. Arabs became the dominant local population for the first time in the 7th Century AD as a result of the Muslim invasions. The Arabs were largely nomads who had no distinctive language or culture to separate them from other Arabs. In all the time since, they had made no attempt to create an independent Palestinian state west or east of the Jordan and none was ever established.
In 1948, at the request of the Jews who were living in Palestine, the United Nations voted to partition the remaining quarter of the original Mandate to make a Jewish homeland possible. Under the partition plan, the Arabs were given the Jews’ ancient home in Judea and Samaria – now known as the West Bank. The Jews were allotted three slivers of disconnected land along the Mediterranean and the Sinai desert. They were also given access to their holy city of Jerusalem, but as an island cut off from the slivers, surrounded by Arab land and under international control. Sixty percent of the land allotted to the Jews was the Negev desert. Out of these unpromising parts, the Jews created a new state, Israel, in 1948. At this time, the idea of a Palestinian nation, or a movement to create one did not even exist.
At the moment of Israel’s birth, Palestinian Arabs lived on roughly 90 percent of the original Palestine Mandate -- in Transjordan and in the UN partition area, but also in the new state of Israel itself. There were 800,000 Arabs living in Israel alongside 1.2 million Jews. At the same time, Jews were legally barred from settling in the 35,000 square miles of Palestinian Transjordan, which eventually was renamed simply "Jordan."
If the Palestinian Arabs had been willing to accept this arrangement in which they received 90 percent of the land in the Palestine Mandate, and under which they benefited from the industry, enterprise and political democracy the Jews brought to the region, there would have been no Middle East conflict.
Instead, the Arab League -- representing five neighboring Arab states -- declared war on Israel on the day of its creation, and five Arab armies invaded the slivers with the aim of destroying the infant Jewish state. During the fighting, according to the UN mediator on the scene, an estimated 472,000 Arabs fled their homes to escape the dangers. They planned on returning after an Arab victory and the destruction of the Jewish state.
But the Jews -- many of them recent Holocaust survivors -- repelled the five Arab armies that had invaded their slivers of land. Yet even though their armies were beaten, the Arab states were determined to carry on their campaign of destruction, and to remain formally at war with the Israeli state. In 1950, Jordan annexed the entire West Bank.
The Jews resumed their work of creating a new nation in what was now a single sliver of land. In the years that followed the 1948 war, the Israelis made their desert bloom. They built the only industrialized economy in the entire Middle East. They built the only liberal democracy in the Middle East. They treated the Arabs who remained in Israel well. To this day the very large Arab minority, which lives inside the state of Israel, has more rights and privileges than any other Arab population in the entire Middle East.
The present Middle East conflict is said to be about the "occupied territories" -- the West Bank of the Jordan and the Gaza strip -- and about Israel’s refusal to "give them up." But during the first twenty years of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Israel did not control the West Bank. In 1950, when Jordan annexed the West Bank, there was no Arab outrage.
In 1967, Egypt, Syria and Jordan went to war against Israel for a second time and were again defeated. It was in repelling these aggressors that Israel came to control the West Bank and the Gaza strip, as well as the oil-rich Sinai desert. Israel had every right to annex these territories captured from the aggressors but chose not do so. On the other hand, neither did it withdraw its armies or relinquish its control -- because the Arab aggressors once again refused to make peace. Instead, they declared themselves still at war with Israel, a threat no Israeli government could afford to ignore. By this time, Israel was a country of 2 or 3 million surrounded by declared enemies whose combined populations numbered over 100 million. Geographically Israel was so small that at one point it was less than ten miles across. No responsible Israeli government could relinquish a territorial buffer while its hostile neighbors were still formally at war.
In 1973, six years after the second Arab war against the Jews, the Arab armies again attacked Israel. This invasion was led by Syria and Egypt, abetted by Iraq, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and five other countries who gave military support to the aggressors, including an Iraqi division of 18,000 men. Israel again defeated the Arab forces. Afterwards, Egypt -- and Egypt alone --- agreed to make a formal peace.
The peace was signed by Egyptian president Anwar Sadat, who was subsequently assassinated by Islamic radicals, paying for his statesmanship with his life.
Under the Camp David accords that Sadat signed, Israel returned the entire Sinai with all its oil riches. This act demonstrated once and for all that the solution to the Middle East conflict was ready at hand. It only required the willingness of the Arabs to agree. The Middle East conflict is not about Israel’s occupation of the territories; it is about the refusal of the Arabs to make peace with Israel, which is an inevitable by-product of their desire to destroy it.
At this point, the Arabs’ long war against Israel shifted in emphasis. No longer would the burden be borne by countries such as Egypt, Syria and Jordan. Now it was the Palestinians, specifically their “national liberation group,” the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
The PLO was created in 1964, at a time when the West Bank was not under Israeli control but was part of Jordan. The PLO, however, was not established so that the Palestinians could achieve self-determination, but, in the words of its own leaders, to "push the Jews into the sea."
For thirty years, the PLO charter remained unchanged in its call for Israel’s destruction. Then in the mid-1990s, under enormous international pressure following the 1993 Oslo accords, PLO leader Yasser Arafat removed the clause in the organization’s charter calling for the annihilation of Israel while assuring his followers that its removal was a necessary compromise that did not alter the movement’s goals. He did this explicitly and also by citing a historical precedent in which the Prophet Muhammad had insincerely agreed to a peace with his enemies in order to gain time to mass the forces with which he intended to destroy them.
Even during the "Oslo" peace process -- when the Palestine Liberation Organization pretended to recognize the existence of Israel and the Jews therefore allowed the creation of a "Palestine Authority" -- the PLO made no secret of the fact that its goal was Israel’s destruction.
The Oslo peace process begun in 1993 was based on the pledge of both parties to renounce violence as a means of settling their dispute. But the Palestinians never renounced violence and in the year 2000, they officially launched a new Intifada against Israel, effectively terminating the peace process.
In fact, during the peace process -- between 1993 and 1999 -- there were over 4,000 terrorist incidents committed by Palestinians against Israelis, and more than 1,000 Israelis killed as a result of Palestinian attacks – more than had been killed in the previous 25 years. By contrast, during the same 1993-1999 period, Israelis were so desperate for peace that they reciprocated these acts of murder by giving the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza a self-governing authority, a 40,000-man armed "police force," and 95 percent of the territory their negotiators demanded. This Israeli generosity was rewarded by a rejection of peace, suicide bombings of crowded discos and shopping malls, an outpouring of ethnic hatred and a renewed declaration of war.
In fact, the Palestinians broke the Oslo Accords precisely because the government of Ehud Barak had offered to meet 95 percent of their demands, including turning over parts of Jerusalem to their control -- a possibility once considered unthinkable. These concessions confronted Arafat with the one outcome he did not want: Peace with Israel. Peace without the destruction of the "Zionist Entity."
The seemingly interminable conflict between Israel and Palestinians that exists today can be traced to this callous decision by the Palestian Authority to reject a golden opportunity for peace and for a state of its own.
Adapted from "Why Israel Is the Victim and the Arabs Are the Indefensible Aggressors in the Middle East," by David Horowitz (January 9, 2002).