The quest for the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state and the attainment of a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians has been the predominant foreign policy issue across the western world over the past four decades. Over the years, numerous initiatives, mediation attempts and various peace proposals have been tabled by diplomats and multilateral organisations such as the EU and the UN in order to forge a resolution to the conflict.
However the vast endeavours to obtain a lasting peace have ultimately proven to be inefficacious, with the failure to create a Palestinian state lamented by the international community whose striving to establish a Palestinian homeland remains unabated. Most of the analysis on the conflict focuses on Israel and overlooks the legacy of Palestinian rejectionism which in turn has led to past diplomatic initiatives and offers of statehood being declined.
The first major peace breakthrough in the region occurred in 1979 with Israel and Egypt agreeing a peace treaty. The treaty featured a provision for Palestinian administrative autonomy within Gaza and the West Bank for a five-year interim period, after which the permanent status of the territories was to be negotiated.
The Palestinian Liberation Organisation rejected this proposal which could have provided a stepping stone to full statehood and engaged in a campaign of intimidation of any Palestinians who supported the autonomy plan. Newspaper archives covering that period from publications such as the New York Times highlight the levels of coercion and control by the PLO over the Palestinian population in the disputed territories. Palestinian academic Edward Said stated that peace overtures were made to Yasser Arafat in the late 1970s by the Carter administration which Arafat turned down. According to Said, Jimmy Carter was willing to recognise the PLO and inaugurate negotiations between it and Israel.
At that time there were very few Jewish communities in the West Bank with a mere 1,900 residing in the territory in 1978. This is significant as the presence of Jewish communities is regularly cited as a major impediment to resolving the conflict. However, the refusal to enter peace negotiations by the Palestinians at a time when the Jewish population was so small diminishes the frequently alluded to argument that the conflict is a territorial dispute which could be resolved by their uprooting and that the Palestinians merely demand their own entity in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
In the early nineties, the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the PLO brought fresh impetus to resolving the conflict. The accords provided a framework for a final peace agreement, creating a self governing entity called the Palestinian Authority to administer the areas under its control with Israel withdrawing from parts of the territories. The Oslo Accords were intended as an interim agreement pending final status negotiations which took place at the Camp David Summit in July 2000 between US president Bill Clinton, Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat.
Barak offered a Palestinian state encompassing Gaza and over 90 percent of the West Bank. The offer was rejected by Arafat who did not make a counter offer and the summit ultimately ended in failure. Clinton levelled the blame for the failure of the talks on Arafat along with other attendees at the summit including Nabil Amr who was a minister in the Palestinian Authority.
Shortly after the Camp David Summit, the Palestinian Authority along with militant factions instigated an intensified campaign of violence against Israel, engaging in riots and carrying out shootings and suicide bombings. Against this backdrop, Barak continued to negotiate, culminating in an Israeli proposal at Taba in January 2001 which extended the offer made at Camp David. Arafat again refused this peace offer and the violence escalated continuing into the early years of the new millennium.
Prior to the eruption of the Intifada in 2000, the Palestinian economy was on an upwards trajectory as a snippet from a 2002 New York Times article outlines, with the economy recording a growth rate of 6% in 1999, with $20 million square meters of construction under way and $8 billion in private investment. In addition, eight joint industrial zones were under either construction or planned in Gaza/West Bank intended to create 160,000 jobs. A $300 million dollar project called Bethlehem 2000 to develop the Palestinian tourism industry was in progress and there were also plans to develop the gas field off Gaza. An airport was in operation in Gaza and a seaport was also under construction in the territory. The growth figures and levels of investment in the Palestinian economy at this juncture in addition to the development projects planned for the territories are indicative of the major opportunity to create a state which was spurned by the Palestinians.
In 2008 Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert made a peace proposal to Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmood Abbas. Olmert’s proposal was even more far-reaching than Ehud Barak’s offer in 2000, but Abbas declined the offer of statehood. In 2009 Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu enacted a ten month moratorium on settlement construction in order to fulfill a Palestinian pre-condition for negotiations. This goodwill gesture by Israel was not reciprocated by the Palestinian Authority which remained obstinate and refused to enter peace negotiations.
The Obama administration endeavoured to revive the moribund peace process drafting a peace framework and holding discussions with the Israeli and Palestinian leadership. An exposition by the left-wing Haaretz newspaper on Obama’s peace plan outlines how prime minister Netanyahu was more amenable to the proposals than Abbas who did not even respond to the framework document to the disappointment of US officials with the peace plan subsequently collapsing. In 2016 Palestinian newspaper Al Quds reported that Mahmoud Abbas turned down a peace offer made by US vice president Joe Biden. The deal encompassed a settlement freeze, a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem in exchange for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
The litany of peace overtures and proposals which have been proffered to the Palestinians and subsequently rejected are indicative of how Palestinian intransigence and rejectionism have prevented the creation of a Palestinian nation and the peaceful resolution of the Israeli – Palestinian conflict. The international community continuously castigates and demonises Israel, apportioning the blame for the conflict on the nation whilst overlooking the inexorableness of the Palestinians whose repudiation of the various opportunities for peace over the past four decades is the underlying cause of the failure to attain a conclusive agreement to resolve the conflict.