The conflict is intense. The propaganda runs wild. All the reports are biased. As an American college student, I face the difficult task of sorting through this mess of opposing images and propaganda to find some element of truth. Recently, it has become increasingly clear that Israel wants and is prepared to make huge sacrifices for peace. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the Palestinians.
Former Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban once said, “The Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” The history of the Arab/Israeli conflict has been marked by missed opportunities.
The Palestinians are on the verge of missing another historic moment in which peace may be possible. Instead of coming to the table as statesmen with a serious agenda of peace, the Palestinian leadership has instead relied on a “victim” image in an attempt to rally international support and skirt the major issues that must be resolved in order for there to be peace in Israel and all of the Middle East.
The missed opportunities began with the United Nations Partition Plan of 1948, which called for two separate independent states in British mandatory Palestine. Instead of working with Israel to ensure peaceful coexistence, six Arab countries invaded the new state with the goal of “driving Israel into the sea.”
This hatred of Israel did not stop in 1948. It seems as though this was just a starting point for a hatred that would grow so intense that one questions whether or not future generations of Palestinians would be able to abide by a peace agreement or, whether this hatred is simply a base for missing future opportunities.
If Palestinians were serious about negotiating peace, would their schools teach their children lessons of hate and methods of war?
Palestinian children are taught that there is no higher value than dying in jihad, or holy war, as a “martyr.”
Furthermore, the same Palestinian organization that sits at the negotiating table, directs its people to become suicide bombers on public buses filled with Israeli citizens. Can there be long-term peace in the region? The first step is preparing future generations of Palestinians for peace and not “martyrdom.”
The latest missed opportunity occurred just months ago at Camp David, when PLO Chairman Yassir Arafat maintained his “all or nothing” stance on several key issues. The only solution to the current conflict is some sort of a peace agreement.
Yet, it is impossible to negotiate for peace without compromise. Israel has continually demonstrated its willingness to make sweeping and painful compromises, even on the holy city of Jerusalem.
The Palestinians have not. Right now, as negotiations are underway in Taba, Egypt, the Palestinians have yet another golden opportunity but they must not let that opportunity slip away.
Chairman Arafat, now is your opportunity. You can go down in history as a statesman who negotiated peace with your enemy, or you can be remembered as a victim not as a victim of Israeli aggression, but as a victim of your own shortcomings and fears.
The writer is chairman of the Israel-Michigan Public Affairs Committee and vice-chairman of the Hillel Governing Board.