Last week, the Palestinian Authority sought an urgent Arab League meeting to discuss its financial crisis: PA employees received only half their salaries in July, because donor states had delivered only one-third of their promised $970 million in aid. The delinquents were mainly Arab states, not Western ones, and UN development economist Raja Khalidi offered an instructive explanation for this fact in an interview with Haaretz this week:
“Even two generations after 1948, no Western donor, especially European and American, can be oblivious to their historic responsibility [for the Palestinians’ plight], and to the immediate security and political interests that the continuation of this conflict implies. Hence anything needed to keep a lid on things is to be expected, and indeed comes without asking the cost. As for Arab donors, they do not feel at all the historic responsibility for this situation.”
For those with any historical knowledge, this statement is mind-boggling – because Arab states certainly should feel historic responsibility. Had they not rejected the 1947 UN Partition Plan, a Palestinian state would have arisen in 1948. Had five Arab armies not invaded the nascent Israel that year, there would have been no Palestinian refugees. Had Jordan and Egypt so chosen, they could have created a Palestinian state anytime from 1948 to 1967, when they controlled the West Bank and Gaza, respectively. Had three Arab states not declared war on Israel in 1967, Israel wouldn’t have captured these territories. And had the Arabs accepted any of Israel’s numerous peace offers since then, a Palestinian state could have arisen long ago.
Western states, in contrast, have no historical responsibility whatsoever: They supported a Palestinian state back in 1947 and have tried hard to midwife one ever since.
Unless, of course, you believe the problem isn’t the lack of a Palestinian state, but the very existence of a Jewish one. For that, the West does bear some responsibility. Britain’s 1917 Balfour Declaration made it the first major power to support establishing a Jewish “national home”; the Western-dominated League of Nations approved this goal in 1922; Britain’s control of Mandatory Palestine (1917-48) advanced Jewish preparations for statehood, despite London’s later efforts to thwart Israel’s birth (including closing the gates to Jewish refugees from Hitler’s Europe and arming the Arab states that invaded Israel in 1948); Western and Western-backed states provided the UN majority that approved Israel’s creation in 1947; and Western arms sales have since been vital to Israel’s defense.
Unfortunately, much of the Arab world still does view Israel’s existence as the fundamental problem. That’s precisely why two-thirds of Palestinians still say their ultimate goal is Israel’s eradication, and why Palestinian and other Arab leaders adamantly demand a Palestinian “right of return,” aka Israel’s eradication by demography. That’s also the main reason why the conflict remains unresolved.
But Khalidi’s insight has another important ramification: Because the Arabs, Palestinians included, still deny all responsibility for creating the Palestinian problem, they feel no obligation to compromise in order to solve it. After all, why should innocent victims have to accommodate their oppressor’s demands?
And that’s precisely why the “forget history, let’s just move forward” approach favored by the West and Israel’s left keeps failing. In this conflict, the historical facts are vital. Only if the Arabs acknowledge their responsibility for the problem will they be willing to compromise to resolve it.