With Their Repeated Rejections, Palestinians Risk Total Irrelevance

Mahmoud Abbas
Mahmoud Abbas / Getty Images

Saudi Arabia's crown prince, Mohammad bin Salman, shocked Jewish leaders at a closed-door meeting in New York last year. "In the last several decades, the Palestinian leadership has missed one opportunity after the other and rejected all the peace proposals it was given," said bin Salman, according to press reports. "It is about time the Palestinians take the proposals and agree to come to the negotiations table or shut up and stop complaining." The future king even said that the Palestinian issue was not a top priority for the Saudis, adding that Saudi Arabia "has much more urgent and important issues to deal with" in the Middle East.

Less than two years earlier, in the same city, then-President Barack Obama devoted just one sentence of his last speech before the United Nations General Assembly to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One sentence was still more than the year before, when, for the first time since becoming president, Obama did not even mention the conflict during his annual speech at the United Nations. Compare that with Obama's first three speeches before the General Assembly—in 2009, 2010, and 2011—in which he focused 10 percent, 23 percent, and 18 percent of his lengthy remarks, respectively, on the peace process. The drop-off is striking.

The cases of bin Salman and Obama represent the growing indifference of two pro-Palestinian groups—the Arab leadership and the Western, liberal elite—to the Palestinians being stateless and underdeveloped. The two cases also serve as microcosms of a larger trend: the world growing increasingly apathetic about the Palestinian plight, with traditionally sympathetic voices less interested in trying to help—save for the radicals of the Western progressive movement, who have an irrational hatred of Israel, and perhaps some Arab populations. One reason for this trend is the surge in chaos across the Middle East unrelated to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A belligerent Iran on the march, the Islamic State wreaking havoc, the war in Syria showing the depths of humanity's cruelty—how much attention can political leaders give to the Palestinians with such priorities in the Middle East? But the other reason, which is hard for pro-Palestinians voices to acknowledge, is the stubbornness, the rejectionism, the Jew-hatred, and anti-Semitism of the Palestinians themselves.

The Palestinian leadership's continued refusal to engage the Israelis in a serious way, coupled with its inability to create a productive society, has had a corrosive effect on their people's pursuit of statehood, driving many international supporters not toward anger or even impatience, but toward apathy. Indeed, the Palestinians are making themselves increasingly irrelevant by rejecting every peace initiative, wearing down those who have spent years, even decades, trying to reach a two-state solution.

Just look at the American-led, Palestinian-focused conference, known as the "Peace to Prosperity" workshop, in Bahrain this week. The event came a few days after the White House unveiled the economic aspects of its peace plan to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The plan would provide $50 billion to the Palestinians (who would receive more than half) and neighboring Arab countries for health care, education, business incentives, infrastructure, and more. Indeed, the White House lists dozens upon dozens of projects already identified for investment. And these economic projects are not even attached to any diplomatic or political agenda regarding Israel—they are simply meant to trigger investment in the Palestinian territories to improve the Palestinian economy and residents' quality of life.

Considering the economic struggles in the Palestinian territories, it seems reasonable that the Palestinian leadership would at least consider the proposal to help its people. But, evidently, the Palestinian leadership is not reasonable, and it does not care about the Palestinian people. Beyond a small number of businessmen, no Palestinians attended the workshop. In fact, the Palestinian Authority immediately rejected an invitation to the conference, while a number of Arab states attended. Moreover, the PA has refused to consider any peace proposal by the Trump administration. One should not be surprised—the Palestinians rejected a formal two-state solution at least three times (most recently in 2008), offers of autonomy, and other attempts to improve their quality of life. The example this week just makes Palestinian rejectionism even clearer and impossible to ignore.

If the Palestinians wanted peace and a state, they would have them. If the Palestinians wanted economic prosperity, they would have it. Instead, the Palestinians have waged war against Israel, refusing to recognize its legitimacy as a Jewish state. The Palestinians would rather destroy Israel than create Palestine—that is why there is no peace, and no two-state solution.

Strikingly, the conference in Bahrain came and went quietly. Sure, there was plenty of other news to cover, but generally the rollout of an Israeli-Palestinian peace plan garners significant attention from the media and from foreign leaders. This time, however, there wasn't much buzz. More important, Arab officials at the workshop did not criticize Israeli policy toward the Palestinians. The Israeli government was not invited, but Israeli businesspeople and journalists were there, and they found themselves in a hospitable environment. Arab states are growing tired of the Palestinians, who offer headaches and criticism for not being supportive enough, and growing closer to Israel, which offers innovative technology and military power against Iran. The Arab states seem to be leaving the Palestinians behind, in self-imposed isolation.

By refusing to improve their society or compromise on any peace initiative with Israel, the Palestinians are risking total irrelevance. The Arabs, the media, many Western elites—traditional allies of, or voices sympathetic to, the Palestinians are more indifferent about the Palestinian plight than ever before. Observing rejection after rejection is draining, eventually numbing one to the whole situation. The true victims are the Palestinian children, whose parents and leaders—not the Israelis—have created for them a future of hate, despair, and hopelessness. And much of the world has become too apathetic to care. The Palestinians have no one to blame but themselves.