Why the Palestinian Plight Continues

Palestinian leaders care more about denying Israelis their happiness than achieving happiness for their people

Mahmoud Abbas
Mahmoud Abbas / Getty Images
May 24, 2019

In 2006, Benjamin Netanyahu, then Israel's opposition leader, captured the essence of the Arab-Israeli conflict in a single quote. "The truth is that if Israel were to put down its arms, there would be no more Israel," he said. "If the Arabs were to put down their arms, there would be no more war." Netanyahu, now Israel's prime minister, articulated a hard truth: much of the Middle East does not recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state in the region, and would gladly watch it disappear from existence.

Netanyahu's quote also applies to the narrower Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, each year, the Palestinian Authority, or PA, allocates hundreds of millions of dollars of its budget to pay terrorists and their families for carrying out attacks against Israelis. PA President Mahmoud Abbas has previously suggested that ensuring payments to terrorists is the PA's top priority. Furthermore, under Palestinian law, selling or attempting to sell land to Jews is a crime, punishable by hard labor, imprisonment, and even execution. Most importantly, Palestinian leadership refuses to accept Jews' right to self-determination. On numerous occasions, Abbas has said that the Palestinians will never recognize Israel as a Jewish state, thus rejecting the basic premise of a two-state solution: two states for two peoples, one Arab and one Jewish. As I explained last month, "The Palestinians have repeatedly refused to compromise on any agreement that would acknowledge the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state, even if that agreement would also create an independent Palestinian state alongside it." Israel has, multiple times, offered the Palestinians the best deal realistically possible, only to be rebuffed. The bottom line is this: the Palestinians have shown that thwarting Israel is more important than realizing their own goals. Until the Palestinians care more about their own happiness than denying Israelis theirs, there will never be peace.

In other words, Palestinian leaders do not seem to care about their own people, or at least they care far more about resistance against Israel, no matter the cost. Why else would the Palestinian Authority immediately reject an invitation to an American-led peace conference in Bahrain next month focused on sparking economic growth in the Palestinian territories? The White House announced Sunday that it was inviting government officials and business leaders from the Middle East and Europe to the economic workshop, which is scheduled for June 25 and 26, to launch the rollout of the Trump administration's much anticipated plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The conference will focus on the economic portion of the plan, which is geared toward sparking investment in the Palestinian territories to improve Palestinians' quality of life. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates will send representatives to attend the conference, but the PA said it would boycott the workshop.

If Palestinian leaders were serious about achieving peace, or at least about helping their own people live better lives, they would attend. The Palestinians have nothing to lose by going and potentially much to gain. After all, the point of the conference is to help the Palestinian people, not to hurt them. That being said, it is understandable that the Palestinian leadership is frustrated because it was not consulted about the workshop. Moreover, I am deeply skeptical that the Trump administration's peace plan, which is serious and well intentioned, will make any progress. But, the Palestinians should still be there in Bahrain next month, taking the opportunity to try to foster economic growth.

In defending their decision not to attend, the Palestinians are saying that the only way to improve Palestinian lives is to end Israel's "occupation" and resolve core political issues. "Palestine's full economic potential can only be achieved by ending the Israeli occupation, respecting international law and [United Nations] resolutions," Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator, said in a statement. Erekat echoed those sentiments in an op-ed for the New York Times. "There will be no economic prosperity in Palestine without the end of the occupation," he wrote this week. "The main obstacle to Palestinian economic growth is clear: the occupation."

The problem with Erekat's argument is that the PA has effective independence to govern in the West Bank. He cannot blame the Israelis for the lack of economic prosperity in the West Bank when Palestinians run their own affairs, especially as corruption prevails in Palestinian governance. Moreover, the Palestinians have had several opportunities to end the occupation, if only they accepted Israeli peace offers. Not to mention they could have avoided the current situation and had their own state if they did not wage war against Israel from the moment the Jewish state was established.

In his op-ed, Erekat proposes that the international community, including the European Union, "take immediate action" by "recognizing the state of Palestine and holding Israel accountable for its violations of international law." Does he really think this will resolve the conflict and improve the Palestinian situation? Does anyone seriously believe that the West Bank would become an oasis of economic prosperity if, tomorrow, the United Nations recognized a Palestinian state? No, of course not. An independent Palestinian state in the West Bank—and we are not even going to include the apocalyptic disaster that is Gaza—would become even more of a breeding ground for terrorists than it already is, especially if Israeli soldiers left the area.

By refusing to attend the Trump administration's economic workshop, the Palestinians further show that they are more interested in standing against Israel (and the United States) than in helping their own people. The biggest problem for the Palestinians is that they care more about hurting Israel than helping a future Palestine. Until that changes, the Palestinian plight will continue.