Nothing sums up the history of the Middle East conflict better than Aldous Huxley's observation that, "The charm of history and its enigmatic lesson consist in the fact that, from age to age, nothing changes and yet everything is completely different." What hasn't changed is that from its very beginning, Israel has been willing to live within secure borders side by side with an Arab state that reciprocated in its recognition of Israel. What's different is the rationale of Arab regimes still hostile to a Jewish state for why that's not possible.
The victims of the Middle East conflict are not just the Israelis who have been fighting a 50-year war of survival against hostile Arab states; the victims are also Arab Muslims and Christians living in the territory under the British mandate at the end of World War II and today, now commonly referred to as "the Palestinian people," who have been oppressed, manipulated and betrayed by radical Arab countries, including their own "Palestinian" leaders, particularly Yasser Arafat, who happens to be Egyptian.
In 1947, Jews living in the region agreed to a U.N. proposal to establish an Arab state alongside and interspersed with a Jewish state. Arabs, however, would not tolerate a Jewish state, nor would they allow the Arabs in the region to have their own state because it would violate the Arab Covenant of 1919: "The Arab lands are a complete and indivisible whole, and the divisions of whatever nature to which they have been subjected are not approved nor recognized by the Arab nation."
In 1948, five Arab nations invaded the newly declared state of Israel. Jordan took over the West Bank, and Egypt took over the Gaza Strip, and for the next 19 years they controlled this territory yet never lifted a finger to give the "Palestinian people" their state. Arab regimes also refused to allow Arab refugees from Israel to become citizens of their respective states and herded them into "refugee camps," really Palestinian ghettos, where they were stripped of their dignity, deprived of every opportunity to prosper and made to believe that world Jewry was to blame.
Historian Joan Peters shows in "From Time Immemorial" how the "Palestinian people" were used as pawns by the Arab world. She quotes Jordan's late King Hussein: "Arab leaders ... have used the Palestine people for selfish political purposes. This is ridiculous ... even criminal." She quotes Syria's former Prime Minister Khaled Al-Axm: "Since 1948, it is we who demanded the return of the refugees ... while it is we who made them leave.
... We brought disaster upon ... Arab refugees. ... We have rendered them dispossessed. ... We have accustomed them to begging. ... We have participated in lowering their moral and social level. ... Then we exploited them in executing crimes of murder, arson and throwing bombs upon ... men, women and children -- all this in the service of political purposes."
During the 1967 war, Israel took control of the West Bank, Gaza and all of Jerusalem. Thereafter, according to Peters, the Arab world abandoned its insistence on one Arabia, whole and undivided, and began to blame the Palestinian "refugee problem" on Israel. Only then did it concoct the convenient myth of a separate "Palestinian people" with "legitimate aspirations" who are "emotionally tied" to a plot of land historically identifiable as the "homeland" of a people that supposedly existed there "from time immemorial."
Zuheir Muhsin, a member of the PLO's Executive Council, admitted to the Palestinian myth: "The existence of a separate Palestinian identity serves only tactical purposes. The founding of a Palestinian state is a new tool in the continuing battle against Israel." This fact was confirmed in 1970, when King Hussein killed thousands of Palestinians to prevent Arafat from establishing a Palestinian state in Jordan.
Peace will come to the Middle East only when the oppression and manipulation of the Palestinian people by Arab and Palestinian leaders ceases. All the states of the region must become imbued with the democratic values of individual liberty, equality of opportunity and religious tolerance. People must be given their fundamental rights of life, liberty, private property, equality under the law, religious freedom, free speech, freedom to organize politically and the right to emigrate at will.
The United States can assist in the political and economic transformation of the region once both sides compromise and peace is established by extending financial assistance to rebuild the West Bank and Gaza, by creating a regional free-trade zone and by preventing the International Monetary Fund and World Bank from imposing austerity, high taxes and floating currencies on an infant Palestinian state.
For a region that has been mired in violence and despair for so long, it may sound simplistic to say that free markets, free trade and free people are all that's required, but Adam Smith was right: "Little else is requisite to carry a state to the highest degree of opulence from the lowest barbarism but peace, easy taxes and a tolerable administration of justice."
President George W. Bush is correct to discuss a "Marshall Plan" for Afghanistan, and I would add for Palestine, as well, but more about that in a later column.