New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren hit on a clever way to reiterate a familiar theme for the newspaper’s readers in today’s story that sought to explore what she called a “generational divide” among Palestinians. The centerpiece of the article is an interview with Tareq Abbas, the youngest son of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas in which the former explains why he supports a one-state solution to the conflict with Israel rather than the two-state formula that his father purports to seek. Along with other younger Palestinians quoted in the piece, Tareq Abbas says that he is tired of waiting for his father’s peace strategies to succeed and now simply wants “civil rights” that would presumably be his if the area between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean became a single democratic entity.
The conceit of this argument is that since Israel will never allow Palestinians independence, they should instead simply wait for demographics and international pressure to force the Jews to give up their state. This notion of a generational divide also supports the claims of those who believe Israel must act now to divest itself of the West Bank, lest it eventually be forced to choose between being a Jewish state or a democratic one.
But the problem with the premise of this story is that it is false. Mahmoud Abbas and his predecessor Yasir Arafat rejected Israeli offers of statehood three times. He’s currently in the process of refusing another one that would probably, like the three previous peace bids, give the Palestinians the independent state they say they crave in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza (which is currently ruled by Hamas as an independent Palestinian state in all but name, but never mind), and a share of Jerusalem. The generational divide here isn’t so much about how many more Arab states there should be but rather the nature of the rhetoric employed in order to make the case against the existence of one solitary Jewish state.
The last 20 years since the Oslo Accords have shown that while the vast majority of Israelis are ready to trade land for peace, even those Palestinians anointed by the West as peacemakers are unwilling or unable to take yes for an answer. The difference between the generations cited in Rudoren’s article is not about goals but rather how to obtain it. The elder Abbas still feels obligated to go through the motions of negotiating with the United States and Israel for a two-state solution that he—and perhaps everyone else on the planet other than Secretary of State John Kerry—knows he will never accept. Doing so would require him to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders would be drawn, and that is something that the political culture of the Palestinians will not let him do.
If the elder Abbas really were a champion of two states for two peoples, he would have said yes in 2008 when Ehud Olmert offered him a state and he wouldn’t be threatening to quit the current negotiations by refusing to say that Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people. Doing so would, as Palestinians have frequently admitted, undermine their “narrative” and the goal of forcing the Israelis to allow a “right of return” for the 1948 refugees and their descendants, thus transforming the Jewish state into a bi-national one in which Arabs would be in the majority. Palestinian nationalism came into existence as a rejection of Zionism and what is needed is a new vision that will contemplate a future for their people alongside Israel rather than locked in perpetual conflict with it.
Younger Palestinians have no such compunctions about pretending to want to live in peace alongside Israel. What they want is to extinguish Jewish sovereignty in any part of the country. This has nothing to do with a desire for equal rights or democracy, which, despite the assertions of his son, the elder Abbas (currently serving in the ninth year of the four-year presidential term to which he was elected) denies his people, as do his Hamas rivals in Gaza.
If the Palestinians wanted an independent state alongside Israel, they could have had it more than a decade ago and can still claim it by Abbas saying two little words—“Jewish state”—that signify he means what he says about peace. The fact that he won’t means that the contrast between him and younger Palestinians who say they want one state to replace Israel is a difference without a distinction.