While diplomatically inconvenient for the Western powers, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' attempt to get the U.N. to unilaterally declare a Palestinian state has elicited widespread sympathy. After all, what choice did he have? According to the accepted narrative, Middle East peace is made impossible by a hard-line Likud-led Israel that refuses to accept a Palestinian state and continues to build settlements.
It is remarkable how this gross inversion of the truth has become conventional wisdom. In fact, Benjamin Netanyahu brought his Likud-led coalition to open recognition of a Palestinian state, thereby creating Israel's first national consensus for a two-state solution. He is the only prime minister to agree to a settlement freeze -- 10 months.
To which Abbas responded by boycotting the talks for nine months, showing up in the 10th, then walking out when the freeze expired. Last week he reiterated that he will continue to boycott peace talks unless Israel gives up -- in advance -- claim to any territory beyond the 1967 lines. Meaning, for example, that the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem is Palestinian territory. This is not just absurd. It violates every prior peace agreement. They all stipulate that such demands are to be the subject of negotiations, not a precondition.
Abbas unwaveringly insists on the so-called "right of return," which would demographically destroy Israel by swamping it with millions of Arabs, thereby turning the world's only Jewish state into the world's 23rd Arab state. And he has repeatedly declared, as recently as last week in New York: "We shall not recognize a Jewish state."
Nor is this new. It is perfectly consistent with the long history of Palestinian rejectionism. Consider:
Camp David, 2000. Prime Minister Ehud Barak offers Yasser Arafat a Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza -- and, astonishingly, the previously inconceivable division of Jerusalem. Arafat refuses -- and makes no counteroffer, thereby demonstrating his unseriousness about making any deal. Instead, he launches a savage terror war that kills a thousand Israelis.
Taba, 2001. An even sweeter deal -- the Clinton Parameters -- is offered. Arafat walks away again.
Israel, 2008. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert makes the ultimate capitulation to Palestinian demands -- 100 percent of the West Bank (with land swaps), Palestinian statehood, the division of Jerusalem. And incredibly, he offers to turn over the city's holy places, including the Western Wall -- Judaism's most sacred site, its Kaaba -- to an international body on which sit Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
Did Abbas accept? Of course not. If he had, the conflict would be over and Palestine would already be a member of the United Nations.
So why did the Palestinians say no? Because saying yes would have required them to sign a final peace agreement that accepted a Jewish state on what they consider the Muslim patrimony.
The key word here is "final." The Palestinians are quite prepared to sign interim agreements, like Oslo. Framework agreements, like Annapolis. Cease-fires, like the 1949 armistice. Anything but a final deal. Anything but a final peace. Anything but a treaty that ends the conflict once and for all -- while leaving a Jewish state still standing.
The United States has pursued a Middle East settlement on the basis of the formula of land for peace. Land for peace produced the Israel-Egypt peace of 1979 and the Israel-Jordan peace of 1994. Israel has offered the Palestinians land for peace three times since. And been refused every time. Why? For exactly the same reason Abbas went to the United Nations last week: to get land without peace. Sovereignty with no reciprocal recognition of a Jewish state. Statehood without negotiations. An independent Palestine in a continued state of war with Israel.
This is the reason that, regardless of who is governing Israel, there has never been peace. Territorial disputes are solvable; existential conflicts are not.
Land for peace, yes. Land without peace is nothing but an invitation to suicide.