I often try to write carefully, quoting sources accurately and making points precisely. This relates to my legal training; attorneys should be very exact in their arguments. But lately, I have come around to believing this habit may squander opportunities to focus on a "big picture" view. So, as a writing experiment of sorts, on how a narrative that does not "dive into the weeds" might look, here is a very brief history - without links, citations, nooks or crannies - of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, stretching from the years following the end of the British mandate to the present day. The idea is to present this not in a chronologically rigorous way, pausing to explain the causes and outcomes of each significant event, but to consider it from a "broad brush" standpoint: how would those who faced its societal forces, situational dynamics and leading personalities have accounted for it themselves. Although there are surely thousands of credible sources of information on this wide subject, as well as tens of thousands on specific aspects of it, by design I make no references to any of them, except one, very briefly, found in the 2016 book "The Impossibility of Palestine," by Professor Mehran Kamrava. In my view, Professor Kamrava's book endeavors toward a middle path in telling the story, one with a more downbeat assessment of the Israeli side to the conflict (which I do not share) but also capable of assessing the consequences of failure on the Palestinian side fairly.
It is probably true that a considerable number of Palestinian non-combatants in 1948-49, but one that is very hard to quantify precisely as a percentage, genuinely believed they were being forced out of what is now Israel, either because they were threatened directly with violent consequences if they did not leave (probably a relatively small number), or were deeply alarmed by what would happen to them if they stayed, in light of what they heard of Lydda, Deir Yassin and a handful of other places where Jewish forces acted aggressively and to some extent (although, to what degree, again, in the fog of moment-by-moment history, it is hard to be exact) punitively. Putting aside that explosive violence was continually used and deep loss was deeply felt by both sides, shocking stories of particular incidents appear to have spread quickly and widely, probably at least partly by design, from both sides. For the Jews, they served to induce Arab communal departures, removing a concern of a fifth column in controlled areas. For Arabs, temporary displacement may have seemed a minor inconvenience to avoid unnecessary loss in a war that many thought, in the long (or not so long) run, would eventually turn their way. Regardless, the repercussions were vast. The rest of the difficult years at the end of the British mandate for Palestine can (for purposes of extreme brevity) be glossed over. Thus, the mass displacement of Arab population centers, or "Nakba" - both as a result of spontaneous weighing of outcomes or genuine fear - was born.
During the years following Israel's emergence as a UN recognized nation-state, albeit a precarious one, threatened on multiple sides and maintaining itself only through grit, guile, ingenuity and foreign contributions, already deeply hostile attitudes hardened even further. Israel's military, knowing the new country was vulnerable against a vast array of sworn enemies in close proximity, acted aggressively to deter future attacks. Arabs, feeling the sting of defeat (the destruction of the "yishuv" - the Jewish immigrants in Palestine - proved far more difficult than anticipated) looked for opportunities of redemption. They saw themselves as victimized, yet again, at the hands of what they perceived as the colonialist stepchild of western European and American imperial power. One way the "front-line" Arab countries decided to overcome their sense of loss, and sanctify the righteousness of their cause, was to point to the abhorrent fate of Arab refugees from Palestine (rather than help them resettle and assimilate them in their own societies). In fact, this paradoxical stance became a centerpiece of their "pan-Arab" ideologies: do very little to help fellow Arabs directly impacted by the calamity, do very much to vilify the supposed perpetrators of the crime (which was, after all, a war). Once King Abdullah was removed from the scene by assassination in 1951, largely on account of his having taken a more conciliatory position toward the new Jewish state, this effort was led primarily by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, who was at the forefront of the overthrow of the Egyptian monarchy in 1952. Egypt, as the most populous and advanced country in the Arab world at the time, had played a pivotal role in the doings of the Arab League since the 1948-49 war. The league's eventual formation of of the "Palestine Liberation Organization" occurred at its very first summit, held in Cairo in 1964. Loose talk and action by Arab leaders with a view toward the eventual annihilation of the Jewish state intensified soon thereafter. Soon after the disastrous Arab defeat in the June 1967 war, a recalibration in the Arab world's collective anti-Israel strategy was necessary and the PLO was brought under more dynamic leadership - that of a 38 year old half-Egyptian, Yasir Arafat. Arafat left behind his Egyptian university training and promising career as an engineer in the Arab gulf to co-found Fatah as the champion of Palestinian Arab refugees. Taking on the role of leader of the fellahin, a term descriptive of Egyptian peasants, he donned the black and white keffiyeh that became a symbol of the 1936–1939 Arab revolt in Palestine and wore it publicly for the remainder of his life. His goal, no less than that of the fighters of a prior generation he emulated, was total liberation of the entirety of Palestine from all forms of Israeli and Jewish power and control. At the time, however, there was no land generally recognized as "Palestinian." There was Israel, the area beyond the pre-1967 "Green line" known as the West Bank (precisely because it had joined to the East Bank, by Jordan's annexation) and Gaza (under ongoing military occupation by Egypt since 1949).
By necessity, the PLO was a "big tent" idea, designed to unify and intensify all strands of Arab Palestinian nationalism (as an aside, I deem it worthwhile to remove controversy over national identity by noting that both Jews and Arabs considered themselves "Palestinian"). The PLO thus included various factions with widely differing views on how to reclaim the land they saw as having been "stolen by the Zionists" - not just the mainstream (in a loose sense of the word) Fatah led by Arafat, but also George Habash's PFLP, plus various secular (i.e., Communist) and religious (i.e., Islamic) offshoots. This discordant bunch, under Arafat's titular but largely ceremonial leadership, was by its nature both inherently ungovernable and incrementally, over time, more unruly. The PFLP and its offshoots (e.g., PFLP-GA), and no doubt some Fatah extremists as well, all probably acting in relatively loose but unspoken coordination, eventually started undertaking and becoming increasingly proficient at hijackings and civilian attacks. The idea was to use these horrific crimes, such as the murder of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics in 1972, to raise world outcry over the fate of the Palestinian people. This did, indeed, increase global awareness of Israel's decisive victory, but also caused deep horror and alarm over "Arab terrorists" in places around the world that, while mostly peaceful, suddenly felt subject to unpredictable attack. While the publicity thereby created led to very mixed results in terms of world reaction, the PLO also created its own set of problems by getting stuck in massive logistical, attitudinal and strategic problems wherever it headquartered - first in Jordan (until King Hussein kicked it out), then Lebanon (until Begin kicked it out), etc. Meanwhile, to ensure that Israel maintained a strong deterrence capability, whenever the PLO hit targets based in Israel or involving Israeli citizens or assets, the IDF and Israel's intelligence agencies retaliated powerfully against such attacks, doing everything they could to discredit the PLO and isolate its leadership. But, because many of these attacks led to the loss of European lives, and disruptions in European societies, several western European countries were induced to essentially buy protection from the PLO by recognizing its standing and giving in to at least some of its demands which, along with the funding and support provided by Soviet bloc and Arab states, kept it going. Even so, without real popular support and after sporadic infighting and ongoing setbacks in their "revolutionary" activities, by the early 1990's, the PLO was little more than a shell. It had been pushed out of Jordan, then Lebanon, and had become a small faction of armed fighters and bureaucrats camped out in Tunisia. Arafat and his inner circle must have known their position was becoming increasingly marginalized. Many Arabs outside the conflict zone were disgusted by the effect of their actions on perceptions of the Muslim world, the Soviet bloc was on the verge of collapse. In essence, the "liberation ideology" of the PLO looked just about dead. But it didn't stay that way.
At the end of 1980s, the first intifada, focused on non-violent civil disobedience, took hold in the West Bank. Through its images and stories, the plight of everyday Palestinians living in a militarily controlled environment became authentic and empathetic to a wider segment of the world's population. This was much unlike the second intifada a decade later, characterized by brutal attacks on Israeli civilians, including suicide bombings, which traumatized Israel far worse and led to the security barrier. So even though the first intifada was homegrown and looked nothing like a PLO operation - taking the PLO entirely by surprise, because it had nothing to do with it - Arafat and his cadre saw their chance to parlay that into the PLO's return to the world stage - this time primarily in diplomatic, rather than military, garb. Pressured by the U.S., and with a deep longing to bring an end to the violent turmoil surrounding Israel, Israeli Prime Minister Rabin was persuaded that the time was right to embark on a "peace process" that led, as an initial step, to the Oslo accords of 1993 and 1995. Thus, the PLO was allowed to return to the West Bank town of Ramallah, where it set up shop and proceeded to destroy the indigenous leadership whose efforts had led (finally) to the circumstances of its return. It thereby fulfilled its long sought goal of worldwide recognition as the "official representative of the Palestinian people" and to co-opt the destiny of the cause of Palestinian "liberation" once and for all.
The Oslo Accords created a promising new trajectory for the PLO, but had some serious doubters. Early warnings came from intellectuals such as Edward Said, who saw that it could be a recipe for "apartheid," with Palestinian control limited to a few urban areas and Israel running everything else. Nevertheless, the PLO, now morphed into the Palestinian Authority (or "PA", although the PLO continued to exist), entered into the accords and became (as described in Professor Kamrava's book) the elites of a "comprador" society - one consisting primarily of agents for foreign (such as NGO) or supranational (such as UN) organizations engaged in trade, economic and cultural development activities. Perhaps not surprisingly, with funding largely from external sources, and with little impetus to become a truly representative body of the local population, the PA has not matured into a reliable organization capable of governing, eventually, a fully formed nation-state. A series of near misses in peace negotiations eventually led to the re-emergence of old PLO tactics in the second intifada, which may have permanently soured Israeli leadership on any notion that a calm and peaceful co-existence would ever be possible. Fearful perhaps of the ultimate responsibility of truly self-reliant rule, and content with their status as an eternal quasi-state fighting to be born, the PA's leaders have allowed (or participated in) corruption, which largely determines the handling of contracts, favors and privileges. Some would contend that the PA's primary fault has been its collaboration with Israeli security forces, but given that it was created with the goal of leading toward a lasting peace with Israel, its problems can be more accurately viewed as resulting from its own lack of transparency and accountability (a fair and open election for the PA's presidency has not taken place, for example, for the past 15 years). Thus, notwithstanding several rounds of mediated negotiations, opportunities for moving incrementally toward peace beyond the Oslo accords - the preferred approach of the American diplomats who oversaw the entente - have been squandered. Martyrs are still glorified ("pay-to-slay"), and the unsettling reality appears to be that no one on the Arab Palestinian side is capable anymore of attempting, much less actually succeeding in, the task of building a prosperous, self-sustaining Palestinian nation - one that deserves its place among the nations of people who have achieved the reverential goal of "self-determination". Instead, in the PA's place, as the voice of the Palestinian people on the world stage, there has emerged a mishmash of figures of "Palestinian origin" who claim to speak on behalf of Palestinian "civil society," all in furtherance of a strategy designed to isolate and delegitimize Israel through a campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions ("BDS"). This campaign is deliberately "inspired" by the one that forced the Afrikaner government of South Africa to abandon its pre-1993 policy of apartheid, but the argument here is not that racial groups are at odds, with one side failing to accommodate the ambitions of the other - but rather that there are two "nations" that cannot co-exist, and one must end so that another can be born.
This very short history of a very long conflict could stop here but two coda are worth noting. First, there should be little wonder that the vast majority of Israelis today are very pessimistic about the ultimate outcome of their relationship with the Palestinians. As Israeli author Matti Friedman has noted recently, in the two and a half decades since the Oslo Accords, Israel has become a fully middle eastern country, to the extent that it has largely abandoned any hopes for a lasting peace based on western concepts of diplomatic negotiation - namely, exchanges of land for peace, perhaps with some limited "right of return" for an ever dwindling number of original refugees (as Ehud Barak tabled during one of the last attempts at major peace negotiations, in 2000). The resulting notion of a "two-state solution" thus seems very doubtful. Even more unlikely is a "one-state solution," now apparently preferred by the BDS campaign's leaders, such as Omar Barghouti, who argues that Israel, with its demographically built-in Jewish majority, must give way to a power-sharing, multicultural society that is inclusive of all ethnicities, without any special deference paid to the Balfourian concept of a "Jewish homeland." This vision, however, violates a core principle forged by Jews and Israelis over decades of conflict, and Arabs as well, including before and through the 1947-49 war: only physical "separation" can truly protect them from the threat of disruption by the other. In sum, there is simply no goodwill or trust available on which to build such a multi-ethnic society, even if it might have, at some point, been brought into existence. Moreover, even if Israel overrides the visions of the messianic Zionist elements, which comprise a substantial portion of its West Bank settlement population, and returns a significant portion of the disputed/occupied territories to untrammeled Palestinian control, without guarantees of a Israeli military presence of the Jordan valley (a non-starter in any peace talks) and demilitarization (also a non-starter), most Israelis believe it would only be a matter of time before the West Bank turns into another Gaza, where local residents fire rockets, launch balloons and dig tunnels in an ongoing attempt to undermine and ultimately destroy Israel. This is simply not an acceptable outcome for those Israelis who join the broadly mainstream consensus of rightward-leaning political sentiment, that safeguarding the ultimate survival of their Jewish state must remain their paramount objective, above all else.
A second coda relates to the prevailing international law and governance paradigms - the Hague convention (belligerent occupation), the Rome Statute ("crimes against humanity," including apartheid), a portion of the Geneva Convention (status of refugees) and the UNGA (which frequently subjects Israel to its accusatory resolutions and condemnations). In the West Bank, it is certainly true that power and control, in the ultimate sense, lies with Israel - not the inhabitants of Arab towns and villages. But given the extremely messy transition from control by the British (during the mandate period) to Israel's independence in a UN-approved partition, there never was two sovereign states to begin with, whereby land belonging to one had somehow become "occupied" by the other. This is often downplayed as a technicality by those who see Palestinian Arabs as perpetual victims of Israel's shameless militarism, but it is clear that conventional models of international law cannot be squared entirely with the situation on the ground, except in a visceral - as opposed to an analytical - sense. It also throws a wrench into what sovereignty might ever eventually look like, since it has never been fully established, notwithstanding declarations of the creation of a sovereign state by the PLO and official recognition of it (at least on an "observer" status basis) by the UN. Similarly, while there is clear separation of populations in the West Bank, with disproportionate (and separately sourced) resources accessible to them, the idea that there is an ongoing commission of a "racial group" crime of apartheid, as established by international law, seems raised primarily as a ploy for world outrage, not official adjudication. The level of responsibility and control that Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have over their own communities, and their access to outside engagement and assistance, through a wide array of sympathetic Arab states and international NGOs, is much unlike the situation anticipated by the notion of apartheid as a crime under international law. In the prototypical South African case, of course, a single country exerted power over a minority population essentially to suffocate it from having any access to political power within its borders, or geopolitical support outside its borders. That is not the situation facing Palestinian Arabs. Ultimately, the nearly ubiquitous use of "apartheid," as an accusatory buzzword of anti-Israel / pro-Palestinian sentiment, appears more motivated by a desire to reinforce the legitimacy of boycott as a tool to force Israel into oblivion, as was the fate of South Africa's regime before the current ANC-dominated era. The rhetoric of the Palestinian cause remains inextricably linked to unbending hostility toward Israel, basing itself almost entirely on claims that its troubles must be laid entirely - and angrily - at Israel's door.