“The Palestinians have never missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” -Abba Eban
The Palestinians, first at Camp David and then at Taba, had been presented with offers from Israel that were good enough that many moderate Arab leaders encouraged Yasser Arafat to accept. President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, Prince Bandar of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah of Jordan, and Mahmoud Abbas were among those urging Arafat to finally make peace with Israel. He dismissed the offer as “insufficient” and never made a counteroffer. He chose intifada, a war of terror, over peace.
Despite many attempts by the supporters of and apologists for the Palestinians to try and pin blame on Israel or President Clinton for the failure of the peace process, if one doesn't try and revise history it is clear that President Clinton and former U.S. Middle East envoy Dennis Ross are correct in placing the blame squarely and solely on the shoulders of Yasser Arafat. Occupation would have ended. The Palestinians would have been independent. Their response was interpreted by most Israelis as spitting in their collective faces, and rightly so. Dennis Ross has repeatedly stated that Arafat was “incapable” of making peace.
In 1967, when most Israelis were celebrating the victory in the Six Day War, my father called occupation “bad business”. He didn't see much to celebrate. My father was, in my opinion, a very wise man. The past 38 years of Israel's attempt to rule over roughly three million Palestinians has been an unmitigated disaster resulting only in bloodshed. I'm not sure there is much of anything Israel could have done to diminish the hatred and anti-Semitism in the Arab world but the continued occupation gave the Arabs an excuse to be anti-Semitic that was acceptable to the wider world community. The additional land gave Israel some additional security from conventional attack but as time passed it became less clear that the continued occupation was worth the cost.
Occupation never had to happen. The Arabs could have prevented it if they had wanted to. In the wake of the Six Day War then Prime Minister Levi Eshkol offered to return all the land Israel had just captured in exchange for diplomatic recognition from the Arab world and peace. The Arab League, meeting in Khartoum, unanimously rejected the offer.
The Oslo Accords gave both sides hope. Yasser Arafat single handedly dashed those hopes. Despite articles to the contrary by those engaging in moral equivocation and those promoting the Palestinian cause, I see no evidence to make me believe otherwise. In 2000 the Palestinians had two chances to end occupation and have an independent state. Those opportunities were, as usual, missed.
The withdrawal from Gaza and northern Samaria brings a new opportunity for the Palestinian Authority under Mahmoud Abbas to demonstrate that they can, in fact, govern a nation and end their terror war. Doing so would undoubtedly lead to either further disengagement or a genuine revival of the peace process. Sadly I see no willingness on the part of the current Palestinian leadership to do so. True to form, they will not miss this opportunity to miss an opportunity.