The Palestinian Arabs did not regard themselves as a nationality when the British Mandate ended in 1947. They rejected the UN partition plan and joined with the neighboring Arab nations in attacking the reborn state of Israel. At any point up till 1967 the Palestinians could have had a state covering all the parts of Judea, Samaria, and Gaza outside the 1948 Armistice lines. They never asked Jordan and Egypt to give them a state of their own. Only after the Arab defeat in the 1967 war did a Palestinian entity form and assert a claim to that land for a newly created Palestinian nationality. The PLO was founded in 1964. Its leader, Yasir Arafat, was born in Egypt. The stalling from 1947 to 1967 was not Israel’s fault.
Fast forward to 1993 and the Oslo process. Several times Israeli leaders made extremely generous offers that would have given the Palestinians a state. Each time these were rejected with no counteroffer. Instead the Palestinian groups responded with terrorism and intifada. Exasperated with a negotiating process going nowhere due to intransigence from the Palestinian side, the Israelis pulled out of Gaza. After elections once and a nasty Palestinian civil war, Hamas took control in Gaza. It is pledged to Israel’s destruction and has launched several wars against Israel. It proudly proclaims no interest in a negotiated peace.
That attitude is the reason peace process has been stalled. No Palestinian leader has ever been strong enough to overrule the hard- line rejectionists and accept any peace offer. Their actions betray a fundamental truth: the idea of a Palestinian national entity was developed by Arab nations as a strategic conceptual weapon in their struggle against Israel. The Palestinian Arabs have been far less interested in having a Palestinian state than in using the idea of such a state as a cudgel against Israel. The whole strategy was for the Palestinian side to stall endlessly and never agree. For Hamas this also meant that resources meant to help the people were instead used for rockets and terror tunnels. Many offers of economic development have been rebuffed because keeping many Palestinians impoverished amid deteriorating infrastructure is part of the way to keep the pressure on Israel.
Now with the rising threat from Shia Iran, several Sunni Arab nations see a defacto alliance with Israel as critical to their survival. In that larger context, the Palestinian stalling stratagem appears to have outlived its usefulness. We may soon see the Arab leaders press the Palestinians to stop stalling and to negotiate in earnest.