We can’t postpone resolving the Palestinian problem indefinitely any more


In the Middle East, religious extremists have once again derailed the fragile peace train.

On November 4 1995, Israeli Jewish extremists assassinated their Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in Tel Aviv, because he was negotiating the gradual establishment of an independent Palestinian state, on the territories of the West Bank and Gaza.

On October 7 2023, with their attack of unprecedented violence against Israel, the Arab Islamist extremists of Hamas sought to derail the train of the Abraham Accords, which would include Saudi Arabia in this process of political exchanges, economic, cultural, between Israel and the Arab countries (United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan, Morocco, in addition to Egypt and Jordan).

The leaders of Hamas undoubtedly saw with fear the Israeli orchestras performing in Dubai or Abu Dhabi, to the delight of the Emirati public. More than 150,000 Israeli citizens visited the Emirates in 2022, proof, if any were needed, that harmonious economic and cultural cohabitation between Jews and Arabs is entirely possible, and even mutually enriching.

In the Middle East, religion, instead of remaining a personal, intimate matter, too often gets involved in politics. This causes drama, because the absolute nature of religious doctrines prohibits any compromise, while politics is the art of creating compromises between men. For Jewish religious extremists, we cannot abandon the slightest piece of the Promised Land, because it was given by God to Moses, for the Jewish people. For Muslim religious extremists, any territory that belonged to Dar-el-Islam must remain there indefinitely – like Palestine, which was a province of the Ottoman Empire for four centuries, before becoming a territory under British mandate from 1922 to 1948 .

The violence, the savagery, used by the Hamas attackers has no chance of advancing the idea of ​​the need for a Palestinian state, living peacefully alongside Israel. History has shown that Israeli society never allows itself to be intimidated by violence or fanaticism. The Palestinians made a serious mistake when, at the beginning of the 21st century, they opted for the culture of the Kalashnikov, in preference to a non-violent struggle à la Gandhi.

Because, at that time, there was still a large part of the Israeli population who wanted to give them national rights. Where, in the entire Middle East, the largest demonstration of indignation took place after the massacres of Palestinian refugees from Sabra and Chatila, committed in Beirut in September 1982 by a Lebanese militia, under the indifferent eye of the Israeli army occupation? In Tel Aviv!

It is obvious that Israel cannot submit to Hamas and that we, the French, must stand in solidarity with the Israelis under attack. September 11, Bataclan, October 7, same fight: never give in to terrorism. In the short term, we must support Israeli military action to free their hostages.

But, in the medium term, it is equally obvious that the resolution of the Palestinian problem can no longer be postponed indefinitely. David Ben-Gurion’s ideal of a Jewish, democratic state, living on good terms with its Arab neighbors, cannot be achieved if the Israeli right persists in opposing the creation of a viable Palestinian state.

Because the Jewish state is threatened, within itself, by an Arab demographic bomb. There are more than a million Arabs of Israeli nationality, more than two million Palestinian Arabs in Gaza, more than three million in the West Bank. In the long term, the Jewish state faces an untenable situation if it persists in wanting to control, or even confine, such a large Arab population.

Many Israelis believe that the future Palestinian state should be in Transjordan. Is this a very realistic idea, when we know that Amman does not agree to it and that the time is no longer for massive population movements, as we experienced in Europe in 1945? Israeli security forces are not Stalin’s NKVD.

When the fragile train of peace is derailed in the Middle East, it is always the civilian populations who pay the heaviest price. It was mainly Israeli civilians that the Hamas attackers killed or took hostage during their deadly raid of October 7.

When Arafat and Rabin shook hands on the lawn of the White House on September 13, 1993, I was staying in Gaza as a special correspondent for Le Figaro. Televisions broadcast live the signing ceremony in Washington of the agreements which had been secretly negotiated in Oslo.

An immense clamour arose in the city, which was then occupied by the Israeli army. The entire population rushed into the streets, and I saw Palestinian teenagers throw themselves at the Israeli soldiers guarding public buildings, to embrace them.

That evening, I truly believed that we were approaching the end of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I was filled with hope.

It is true that the Palestinian leadership at the time (Arafat’s PLO) was not Islamist and that five years earlier it had recognised Israel’s right to exist and renounced terrorism. This is not the case for Hamas, a movement originating from the Muslim Brotherhood.

The hope of peace in Palestine is therefore today only a glimmer, very far on the horizon. But let’s not have any illusions. We cannot indefinitely hide the national aspirations of a people under the carpet. They always end up resurfacing. And often in a very violent way.

This post first appeared in the International Chronicle of Le Figaro on 10 October 2023.

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Radix is the radical centre think tank. We welcome all contributions which promote system change, challenge established notions and re-imagine our societies. The views expressed here are those of the individual contributor and not necessarily shared by Radix.

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