What has anyone ever done for the Palestinian Arabs?

Part I: What have the Israelis ever done for the Palestinians? Opinion.

David Stone ,

Palestinians
Palestinians
Flash 90
The truth is that Israel is and always has been the most pro-Palestinian country in the world.

How so? Three indicators, taken together, reflect a genuinely strong pro-Palestinian position. These are:

-a consistent commitment for Palestinians to have a workable state of their own,

-a profound concern for Palestinian health and welfare, and

-the taking of significant risks to achieve a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

First, self-determination: realising this universal principle for both Israelis and Palestinian Arabs need not be a zero-sum game. Only Israel has taken concrete steps on this path towards, in today’s jargon, Two States for Two Peoples (2S2P).

The Zionist push for self-determination for the Arabs of Palestine began in 1919 with the Faisal-Weizmann Agreement. Both Jews and Arabs were outraged by the secret Sykes-Picot Agreement that had been struck between Britain and France in 1916 to divide up between them the spoils of the disintegrating Ottoman Empire. Although the Balfour Declaration the following year boosted Zionist hopes of Jewish statehood, Chaim Weizmann, the first president of Israel, understood that the Arabs were equally deserving of sovereignty and strained every sinew to generate a mutually supportive united Jewish-Arab front in the face of Great Power perfidy. King Faisal initially agreed but then recanted.

That didn’t deter Weizmann, who accepted (reluctantly) the lopping off of 78 per cent of the Jewish National Home (Mandatory Palestine) to create an Arab state, Transjordan, in 1922. A further partition of the remainder of Palestine, as proposed by the Peel Commission in 1937, would have reduced the Jewish state to an even tinier rump but the Zionist leadership acquiesced in the interests of 2S2P. Ten years later, they accepted the UN partition plan that deprived the Jewish people of Zion (Jerusalem) and their historical heartlands of Judea and Samaria (annexed by Jordan and renamed the 'West Bank'). So it continued to the present day – attempt after attempt to apply the magic 2S2P formula was frustrated by Arab rejectionism.

Second, what about Israel’s humanitarian efforts on behalf of the Palestinian Arabs? It is impossible to do justice to the enormous energy and resources that Israel has expended to this end.

At the conclusion of the War of Independence of 1947-49, Israel passed a Basic Law guaranteeing full and equal rights for all Arabs who remained in the country. Israel then offered to accept 100,000 Arab refugees unconditionally to kickstart peace negotiations despite having to absorb huge numbers of Jewish refugees who fled or were expelled from Arab countries. (Though that offer was rejected, Israel nevertheless subsequently permitted thousands of Palestinians to return via the family reunification programme).

After the defensive Six Day War of 1967, Israel engineered massive improvements in Palestinian health, education, housing and employment in the 'West Bank' and Gaza, right up until 1994, when the vast majority of the residents of those territories became the responsibility of the newly created Palestinian Authority.

In the recurrent wars triggered by the Hamas rulers of Gaza from 2008 onwards, the Israel Defence Force made unprecedented efforts, validated by external military experts, to avoid Palestinian civilian casualties while defending Israelis against rocket attacks and more. Israel has also provided near-daily humanitarian aid to Gazans even during periods of intense fighting.

Third, Israel’s risk-taking to accommodate Palestinian aspirations has been mind-boggling. A sample of territorial concessions: in 1978 at Camp David, Menachem (“not an inch”) Begin agreed to withdraw not only from all of Sinai but also from the 'West Bank' to permit a five-year period of Palestinian autonomy that would undoubtedly have led to statehood. Following the 1993-95 Oslo Accords with the PLO, Israel withdrew from large swathes of the West Bank while simultaneously agreeing to the arming the Palestinian Authority security forces.

In 2005, the hawkish Ariel Sharon ordered a full Israeli withdrawal from Gaza to try to stimulate progress towards peace. Despite the forced evacuation of all Jews from Gaza, the initiative failed to gain traction. Undeterred, Israeli PM Olmert stunned his people with his 2008 offer to Mahmoud Abbas of close to 100 per cent (including land swaps) of the 'West Bank'.

In summary, Israel has tried over decades to give the Palestinian Arabs their own state. Palestinian Arabs living in Israel enjoy full civil rights, unlike those living in neighbouring Arab states. Further, Israel has gone to unparalleled lengths to improve the lives of Palestinians living outside Israel (ed. in the disputed territories aka 'West Bank') even while being attacked by them. Lastly, Israel has taken major risks in voluntarily ceding land to the Palestinians to bolster peace efforts, unfortunately to no avail. In all these endeavours, Israel has done more than any other country on earth.

David Stone is Emeritus Professor of Paediatric Epidemiology at the University of Glasgow, UK. His previous positions included Senior Lecturer in Epidemiology at Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Israel (1981-85), and Senior Medical Adviser to the Scottish Government’s Chief Medical Officer (2005-8). He is the Academic Director of StandWithUs UK, a pro-Israel NGO that advocates for peace based on education.

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