During the spring of 1948, as the war between Jews and Arabs in Palestine was becoming even bloodier, the American ambassador to the United Nations, Warren Austin, is reported to have asked: “Why can’t the Jews and the Moslems learn to practice Christian charity?” Like Warren Austin, the columnists and commentators who have been writing and speaking about the recent unrest that has spread from Gaza to all of Israel have been preaching at Jews and Arabs, asking them to behave reasonably. Many are calling for the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza; others are backing the “Jordanian option,” that is, the redividing of the West Bank between Israel and Jordan. All have talked about the need for flexibility and a change of heart on both sides.
Moderate, reasonable people, including many Israeli writers and intellectuals, have been advising a peace of mutual recognition for more than twenty years, since June 1967 when Israel conquered the West Bank and Gaza. Why is that old advice being repeated now? Many commentators seem to think that the recent outbreaks, and the harsh methods that the Israelis have used to contain them, have caused such a strong reaction in Israel that after two decades of stasis, it will begin to detach itself from Gaza and the West Bank. The Palestinians, it is claimed, are ready to compromise their ideology, which requires the return to them of all of Palestine, on the day that Israel offers to negotiate with them.
That the recent riots and protests are likely to have such an effect is a foolish illusion. There was, however, something new about them. The Arabs of pre-1967 Israel never joined in mass demonstrations against the government, and until this December there had not been an Arab general strike, not even for a day, since Israel was founded in 1948. But Israelis have long memories. Before the state was created, during the 1920s and 1930s and into the 1940s, there were long periods of guerrilla warfare in Palestine, and the Arabs called many general strikes. The price that the Arabs demanded for ending the war between the communities was agreement by the Jews to stop Jewish immigration. The Jews found war preferable, especially since they had the military force to contain the other side. The Arabs in Israel were able to mount a brief general strike in December but they are far less threatening than their predecessors, who assailed a far weaker Jewish community before 1948—and the Jews now control the apparatus of the state.
There is another new element in the present outbreaks. Until the mid-1980s the most dramatic terrorist attacks were made by PLO teams from outside Israel’s borders, while the Arabs under Israel’s control have been relatively quiescent. In recent years there have been few PLO incursions but the number of violent incidents within the borders of the undivided Israel has grown dramatically. The protests of mid-December, started by angry young people …