F ormer Israeli politician and diplomat Abba Eban once said of the Palestinians that they “never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity” when discussing peace at the Geneva peace talks. Eban’s quote was spoken more than 40 years ago and his words are still relevant today when discussing peace between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Recently while stumping for his wife in Ewing, NJ, former President Bill Clinton encountered a heckler who blamed Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for creating a foreign policy that exacerbated the current conditions of the Gaza Strip.
President Clinton seized control of the situation by criticising the Hamas government in Gaza and then he took the heckler and his audience on a walk down memory lane, “I killed myself to give the Palestinians a state,” said President Clinton.
In July 2000, President Clinton, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and Yasser Arafat, leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, sat down at Camp David to discuss Israeli-Palestinian peace. What resulted was one of the greatest offers the Palestinians had ever received from the Israelis, but in lockstep with Eban’s quote, Arafat turned it down. Once again they missed an opportunity to miss an opportunity. Clinton continued speaking to the crowd in Ewing saying, “I had a deal they turned down that would have given them all of Gaza, 96 to 97 percent of the West Bank, compensating land in Israel, you name it.”
Yasser Arafat wasn’t the only Palestinian leader to pass up on a deal of solidifying a Palestinian state. Palestinian president and successor to Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas, was offered almost all of the West Bank, almost equal land swaps, Israeli withdrawal from Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, and a tunnel from Gaza to the West Bank. I would think Abbas would have taken hold of the Latin phrase, Carpe diem, and seize the day for such a momentous occasion for his people. But alas, like his predecessor, he fulfilled the Palestinian mission to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.
The Palestinian trend of continual rejection of offer after offer is an indication that they really don’t want to establish peace with the Israeli people, at least not in the foreseeable future.The Palestinian trend of continual rejection of offer after offer is an indication that they really don’t want to establish peace with the Israeli people, at least not in the foreseeable future. The deals the Israelis made twice in the past 16 years are nothing to balk at. These were legitimate offers of not only land, but also the Israeli intentions of recognizing a Palestinian state in the West Bank.
The cycle of Palestinian rejection also shows the other side of the coin, that is, how much Israel is invested in the peace process that they would be offering such significant deals. Israel has been working toward peace with its neighbors for decades. They signed a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979 returning the Sinai Peninsula; Israel found peace with Jordan in 1994, settling land and water issues while opening the doors of opportunity for partnerships in trade and tourism. Let’s not forget, they were the ones to unilaterally offer Gaza to the Palestinians in exchange for peace.
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I’m sure President Clinton did almost kill himself trying to build peace between the Israelis and Palestinians. I don’t think he’ll ever forget how badly he was burned when Arafat left everything he worked so hard for on the table at Camp David. So what’s the answer to such a difficult problem? I wish I could tell you an exact answer, but I do know this much: The neglect of the Palestinian leadership to make real steps toward peace has been the biggest obstacle plaguing their people. May we keep praying for the peace of Jerusalem.