In August 1968, shortly before seizing control of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), Yasir Arafat urged "the transfer of all resistance bases" into the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, conquered by Israel during the June 1967 war, so as to launch a sustained terrorist campaign that would undermine Israel's way of life by "preventing immigration and encouraging emigration...destroying tourism...weakening the Israeli economy and diverting the greater part of it to security requirements...[and] creating and maintaining an atmosphere of strain and anxiety that will force the Zionists to realize that it is impossible for them to live in Israel."
Forty years later, with salvos of Gaza-fired missiles raining down on Israeli towns and villages on a daily basis, Arafat's words seem prophetic. Yet his plan for victory would have remained a chimera had it not been for the Rabin government, which in 1993 invited the PLO, a group formally committed to Israel's destruction by virtue of its covenant, to establish a firm political and military presence on its doorstep.
More than this, Israel was prepared to arm thousands of (hopefully reformed) terrorists, who would be incorporated into newly established police and security forces charged with asserting the PLO's authority throughout the territories. In the words of the prominent Palestinian leader Faisal Husseini, Israel was willingly introducing into its midst a "Trojan Horse" designed to promote the PLO's strategic goal of "Palestine from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea" -- that is, a Palestine in place of Israel.
In line with this thinking, from the moment of his arrival in Gaza in July 1994 to lay the ground for Palestinian statehood at peace with its Israeli neighbor, Arafat engaged in an intricate exercise in duplicity, speaking the language of peace to Israeli and Western audiences while building up an extensive terrorist infrastructure and backing anti-Israel terror attacks. By the time of his death in November 2004, Arafat had transformed the territories transferred to PLO control -- the Gaza Strip and the West Bank's populated areas -- into an effective terrorist state and had launched a vicious terror war (euphemized as the al-Aqsa intifada after the Jerusalem mosque) that plunged Israel into one of the greatest traumas in its history.
No Difference in Goals of Hamas and Fatah
One might have hoped that, 11 years and thousands of deaths after the launch of the Oslo process, the international community would pay closer attention to what the Palestinian leadership was actually saying (in Arabic) and doing. Yet such was the extent of the peace delusion that the European Union's policy chief, Javier Solana, could state upon Arafat's death that "the best tribute to President Arafat's memory will be to intensify our efforts to establish a peaceful and viable state of Palestine." When this widespread illusion of a new and more peaceful Palestinian political era failed to materialize, a handy scapegoat was found in the form of the Hamas Islamist group, which in January 2006 won a landslide victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections and replaced the PLO at the helm of the Palestinian Authority (PA), established in May 1994 as the effective government of the Palestinian population in the West Bank and Gaza.
Neither Hamas or the PLO accept the Jewish state's right to exist and both are committed to its eventual destruction.
In reality, of course, there is no fundamental difference between the ultimate goals of Hamas and the PLO vis-à-vis Israel: Neither accepts the Jewish state's right to exist and both are committed to its eventual destruction. The only difference between the two groups lies in their preferred strategies for the attainment of this goal. Whereas Hamas concentrates exclusively on "armed struggle," as its murderous terror campaign is conveniently euphemized, the PLO has adopted since the early 1990s a more subtle strategy, combining intricate political and diplomatic maneuvering with sustained terror attacks (mainly under the auspices of Tanzim, the military arm of Fatah, the PLO's largest constituent group and Arafat's alma mater). In the candid words of Farouq Qaddoumi, the PLO's perpetual foreign minister: "We were never different from Hamas. Hamas is a national movement. Strategically, there is no difference between us."
Such attitudes are by no means confined to "hard-line" elements within the PLO but are a commonplace among supposed moderates, notably Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen), Arafat's successor and perhaps the foremost symbol of supposed Palestinian moderation. For all their drastically different personalities and political style, Arafat and Abu Mazen are warp and woof of the same fabric: dogmatic PLO veterans who have never eschewed their commitment to Israel's destruction and who have viewed the "peace process" as the continuation of their lifetime war by other means.
In one way, indeed, Abbas is more extreme than many of his peers. While they revert to standard talk of Israel's illegitimacy, he devoted years of his life to giving ideological firepower to the anti-Israel and anti-Jewish indictment. In a doctoral dissertation written at a Soviet university, an expanded version of which was subsequently published in book form, Abbas endeavored to prove the existence of a close ideological and political association between Zionism and Nazism. Among other things, he argued that fewer than a million Jews had been killed in the Holocaust, and that the Zionist movement was a partner to their slaughter.
In the wake of the failed Camp David summit of July 2000 and the launch of Arafat's war of terror two months later, Abbas went to great lengths to explain why the "right of return" - the standard Arab euphemism for Israel's destruction -- was a non-negotiable prerequisite for any Palestinian-Israeli settlement. Those who were disposed to regard these words as lip service by a lackluster apparatchik deferring to the omnipotent and hopelessly intransigent Arafat were to be bitterly disillusioned. In an address to a special session of the Palestinian parliament shortly after Arafat's death, Abbas swore to "follow in the path of the late leader Yasir Arafat and...work toward fulfilling his dream...until the right of return for our people is achieved and the tragedy of the refugees is ended."
Six months later, in a televised speech on the occasion of Israel's Independence Day, Abbas described the proclamation of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948, as an unprecedented crime of history and vowed his unwavering refusal to ever "accept this injustice." "On that day, a crime was committed against a people, who were uprooted from their land and whose existence was destroyed and who were forced to flee to all areas of the world," he said. "The refugees have a full right to fulfill the right of return. We strongly object to the possibility they would become citizens of the countries they live in."
Arabs Rejected UN Resolution 194 on Refugees
Against this backdrop, it is hardly surprising that the Annapolis summit not only proved little more than a photo opportunity but also underscored the pervasiveness of Palestinian recalcitrance. For one thing, by categorically refusing to recognize Israel's Jewishness (or for that matter its very existence as a Jewish state), the Palestinian leadership -- from Abbas, to Ahmad Qurei (negotiator of the 1993 Oslo Accords), to Saeb Erekat, to the "moderate" prime minister Salam Fayad -- has effectively rejected the two-state solution, based, in the words of the UN partition resolution of November 29, 1947, on the creation of "independent Arab and Jewish States" in Palestine. For another thing, despite the lip service paid to the two-state solution in his Annapolis address, Abbas insisted that "the plight of Palestinian refugees...must be addressed holistically -- that is, in its political, human, and individual dimensions in accordance with UNGA Resolution 194."
In the Palestinian perception, peace is not a matter of adjusting borders and territory but rather a euphemism for the annihilation of the Jewish state.
Yet far from recommending the return of the Palestinian refugees as the only viable solution, Resolution 194 (passed on December 11, 1948) puts this particular option on a par with the "resettlement and economic and social rehabilitation of the refugees" in other countries; indeed, that provision made the resolution anathema to the Arab states, which opposed it vehemently and voted unanimously against it. Equating return and resettlement as possible solutions to the refugee problem; linking resolution of this issue to the achievement of a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace; placing on the Arab states some of the burden for resolving it; and above all establishing no absolute "right of return," the measure was seen, correctly, as rather less than useful for Arab purposes. This, however, did not prevent Arabs and Palestinians from transforming the resolution into the cornerstone of an utterly spurious legal claim to a "right of return," which in their internal discourse is invariably equated with the destruction of Israel through demographic subversion.
And therein, no doubt, lies the crux of the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. For to refuse to recognize Israel's right to exist, 60 years after the assertion of this right by the international community, and to insist on the full implementation of the "right of return," at a time when Israel has long agreed to the creation of a Palestinian state roughly along the pre-1967 lines, indicates that, in the Palestinian perception, peace is not a matter of adjusting borders and territory but rather a euphemism for the annihilation of the Jewish state.
The Israeli government and the international community will be dangerously deluding themselves in continuing to view Abbas' adamant refusal to fight terrorism as a reflection of political weakness (as they did with Arafat in the early Oslo years) and his avowed commitment to "the right of return" as a bargaining chip or lip service. To deny the depth of the PLO's commitment to Israel's destruction is the height of folly, and to imagine that it can be appeased through Israeli concessions is to play into its hands. Only when Palestinians reconcile themselves to the existence of the Jewish state and eschew their genocidal hopes will the inhabitants of the Holy Land, and the rest of the world, be able to look forward to a future less burdened by Arafats and their gory dreams.