In the waning days of his administration, President Bill Clinton pulled out all the stops to "resolve" this dispute -- once and for all. U.S. envoy Dennis Ross, who ably served under both Republican and Democratic presidents, said that negotiations ended with PLO leader Yasser Arafat getting the best deal ever offered: an independent Palestinian state that included all of Gaza and almost all of the West Bank, an unlimited "right of return" to the new state for Palestinian refugees, a capital in Arab East Jerusalem and a recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. This deal would mean, of course, that conflict would be over.
Arafat walked away.
An exasperated Ross explained: "Arafat is a revolutionary by nature, basically socialized in the 1950s and '60s, a product of that era, someone who has defined himself by the cause, someone who has defined himself by struggle, someone who has defined himself by conflict. ... For him to end the conflict meant he had to give up his claims, he had to give up his grievance. ... Arafat has never done anything irrevocable in his life. And I think the concept that governs him is, live by the moment, never foreclose an option, never close the door. We asked him to close the door. ... And the fact is, I believe that he couldn't make the transition from revolutionary to statesman."
Arafat died almost four years later, leaving behind a reported net worth between $300 million and $3 billion. Maybe Arafat feared if the conflict ended, he wouldn't find an equally lucrative line of work. Or maybe Arafat knew that after a lifetime of brainwashing the Palestinians about their "plight," the vileness of the Israelis and the righteousness of their cause, he couldn't sell (SET ITAL) any (END ITAL) deal that leaves Israel standing as a Jewish state.
Perhaps we can trace this I-can-solve-the-Middle-East-problem-even-though-you-tried-and-couldn't to former President Jimmy Carter, who offensively referred to Israel's treatment of the "occupied territories" as "apartheid." Apartheid restrictions in South Africa kept the majority -- black Africans -- both legally and militarily oppressed. Israelis erected barriers to keep homicide bombers out. Kind of different.
Inside Israel, Arab Israelis -- about 21 percent of the citizenry -- enjoy the same rights as any other Israeli, including the right to vote and the right to run for election to the Knesset, where 17 of its 120 members are Arab. Hebrew and Arabic are the official languages. There is an Israeli Arab on the Supreme Court. Last year's Miss Israel was an Ethiopian Jew.
Yet the Palestinians are certainly winning the PR battle. A 2003 European poll of 15 countries named Israel the biggest "threat to peace in the world" -- ahead of Iran and North Korea! Welcome to the Middle East, Secretary Kerry. Meanwhile, Mr. Secretary, Iran is off the headlines and steaming ahead with their plans for a nuke.