The Near Impossibility of Compromise
Daniel Pipes 12-16
Since the Balfour Declaration of 1917, Palestinians and Israelis have pursued static and opposite goals.
In the years before the establishment of the new state, the mufti of Jerusalem, Amin al-Husseini, articulated a policy of rejectionism, or eliminating every vestige of Jewish presence in what is now the territory of Israel.1 It remains in place. Maps in Arabic that show a “Palestine” replacing Israel symbolize this continued aspiration. Rejectionism runs so deep that it drives not just Palestinian politics but much of Palestinian life. With consistency, energy, and perseverance, Palestinians have pursued rejectionism via three main approaches: demoralizing Zionists through political violence, damaging Israel’s economy through trade boycotts, and weakening Israel’s legitimacy by winning foreign support.
Differences between Palestinian factions tend to be tactical: Talk to the Israelis to win concessions from them or not? Mahmoud Abbas represents the former outlook and Khaled Mashal the latter.
On the Israeli side, nearly everyone agrees on the need to win acceptance by Palestinians (and other Arabs and Muslims); differences are again tactical. David Ben-Gurion articulated one approach, that of showing Palestinians what they can gain from Zionism. Vladimir Jabotinsky developed the opposite vision, arguing that Zionists have no choice but to break the Palestinians’ intractable will. Their rival approaches remain the touchstones of Israel’s foreign-policy debate, with Isaac Herzog heir to Ben-Gurion and Benjamin Netanyahu to Jabotinsky.
These two pursuits—rejectionism and acceptance—have remained basically unchanged for a century; today’s Palestinian Authority, Hamas, Labor, and Likud are lineal descendants of Husseini, Ben-Gurion, and Jabotinsky. Varying ideologies, objectives, tactics, strategies, and actors mean that details have varied, even as the fundamentals have remained remarkably in place. Wars and treaties came and went, leading to only minor shifts. The many rounds of fighting had surprisingly little impact on ultimate goals, while formal agreements (such as the Oslo Accords of 1993) only increased hostility to Israel’s existence and so were counterproductive.
Palestinian rejection or acceptance of Israel is binary: yes or no, without in-betweens. This renders compromise nearly impossible because resolution requires one side fully to abandon its goal. Either Palestinians give up their century-long rejection of the Jewish state or Zionists give up their 150-year quest for a sovereign homeland. Anything other than these two outcomes is an unstable settlement that merely serves as the premise for a future round of conflict.