What Do Israelis Want; What Do Palestinians Want?

Israelis and Palestinians want contrary things. Pretending that their wants are reconcilable does not help; it obfuscates reality. Imposing policies not based on reality guarantees failure. Jewish Israelis want to […]

Israelis and Palestinians want contrary things. Pretending that their wants are reconcilable does not help; it obfuscates reality. Imposing policies not based on reality guarantees failure.

Jewish Israelis want to live in a secure and prosperous society in their ancient homeland. They point to their history in the Holy Land of thousands of years, documented in the Jewish Bible (the Old Testament to Christians) and Latin records from the Roman occupation, as well as evidenced by extensive archaeological evidence. Historical evidence shows that some Jews continued to reside in the Holy Land even after the Roman conquest and dispersion of much of the Jewish population to foreign lands where they resided continuously into modern times, sometimes switching from country to country as they were exiled in fits of religious exclusionism.

The international recognition of the rights of the Jewish people to their homeland in the Holy Land was made explicit by the League of Nations, but not the boundaries of the Jewish territory. For Israeli Jews their homeland is not limited to the ceasefire lines after the Arab nations’ invasion of 1948 failed to destroy Israel and the Jews. Gaza and the heartlands of ancient Israel, Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem (the so-called West Bank of the Jordan) were captured during the Arab invasion and occupied by Egypt and Jordan respectively. After the 1967 Arab invasion of Israel and the defeat of the Arabs, Gaza and Judea and Samaria and Jerusalem fell once again under the control of Israel. Israelis wish and expect to maintain control of at least part of their ancient homeland.

Palestinians deny that Jews are the indigenous people of the Holy Land, claiming that Palestinian Muslims were the indigenous people. Islam, however, did not exist until the 7th century, and Arabs lived in Arabia until their aggressive invasions of the Holy Land and all points East and West beginning in the 7th century. One attempt to evade the evidence of the calendar is the claim of Islam that all “good Jews” — e.g. Abraham (Ibrahim), Isaac (Ishak), Jacob (Yaqub), Moses (Musa), Mary (Maryum), and Jesus (Isa) — were Muslims. However, in the Qoran, Arabia is the Holy Land, and Israel and Jerusalem are hardly mentioned.

What Palestinians want is the status quo ante World War I, when the Holy Land was in the hands of the Caliph of Islam (the Ottoman Sultan) and Muslims ruled the Middle East and beyond. Islam demands that Muslims, as followers of the true faith, dominate all others. Under Islamic law, infidels may legitimately be killed, captured and ransomed, or enslaved for sex, labor, or both.

Christians and Jews are excepted from the fate of infidels as “People of the Book” (the Bible, from which Islam drew heavily), labeled dhimma, “protected.” But dhimma must accept Muslim supremacy and comply with the requirements of Islamic law, including an annual payment for the right to live, to not be killed, ritual humiliation during the payment ceremony, restrictions of what they may own (no horses or weapons) and on worship (no new religious buildings or repair of old ones, no noise during services), distinctive and disabling clothing and footwear, shows of deference to Muslims, etc.

Islam teaches that lands occupied by Muslims, members of the umma, are forever part of a sacred Islamic holding that may never be alienated from Islamic control. Consequently, non-Muslims, such as Jews, may never rule over any part of these lands. Israelis are thus viewed usurpers of what is rightfully, by God’s law, the property of Muslims. The historical territorial claims of Jews carry no weight for Muslims, because these claims are believed to be superseded by Islamic law. Consequently, Jews must either be reduced to dhimma dependent status, or excluded entirely. Excluding Jews entirely is seen as an attractive option by many Muslims. Jews are forbidden in the Palestinian Authority and in Jordan, which are Judenfrei, cleansed of Jews, as the Nazis put it. Many other Arab countries responded to the establishment of Israel by expropriating and exiling their Jewish populations, many of which had ancient standing.

Israel, in contrast, is willing to share the Holy Land with Arabs. It has many Arab citizens (21%, most Muslim, but including some Christians and Druze), legally of equal standing to Jews (73% of the population, not including self-identified or ancestral Jews unrecognized by the religious authorities, and non Jewish relatives of Jews, 5+%). Arab citizens of Israel participate in all aspects of society, including the Knesset (parliament) and Supreme court, attend all educational institutions, and are participants in all professions. But only Arab volunteers join the Israeli military; there is no obligatory service for Arab citizens.

This raises the question about this mixed category people: what do Arab citizens of Israel want? They probably do not want to be citizens of a designated Jewish state. They do not want to be required to serve in the Israeli army, although a few volunteer. (Since the Hamas pogrom, the percentage of Arab Israelis with faith in the Israeli army has increased from 20% to 40%.) But what they do not want, above all, and have been very vocal about, is being forcibly transferred from Israel to the Palestinian Authority or to another Arab state. The may not love Israel, but they love it more than Arab-governed countries. In Israel, Arab citizens have rights and opportunities which they recognise and appreciate, and which they know they would not have in an Arab country.

Palestinians have received many Israeli official offers of peace from the Israeli government, offers aiming at a “two state solution” of Israel and a Palestinian state living in peace side by side. The Palestinians have turned down every one. As Abba Eban, early foreign minister and UN representative of the Israeli government, said, “The Palestinians never miss and opportunity to miss an opportunity.” Today, as Palestinian opinion polls show, the overwhelming majority of Palestinians favor a single Palestinian state “from the river to the sea” replacing Israel entirely, and only a handful favor a “two state solution.” Furthermore, most Palestinians approve of the October 7th Hamas pogrom, and want to continue the armed struggle. Finally, in any vote for a future government, both Gazans and Palestinian Authority residents heavily favor Hamas.

There are two main reasons for the Palestinian rejection of co-existence with Israeli Jews. First, as mentioned, Palestinians believe that all of the Holy Land belongs to Muslims and everyone must be governed by Islamic law. There is no place for sovereign Jews. Second, and this is not enunciated in public, Palestinians want to erase the blot on their honor from multiple military losses to Israeli Jews. Arabs, drawing on their foundation Bedouin culture, believe their honor rests on their military prowess. And they have been humiliated, embarrassed, and disgraced by their military losses to those they have always regarded as the lowest of the low. They feel that they can only regain their honor by defeating the Jews. This is why there was and is so much glee among the Palestinians about the October 7th pogrom, and especially the atrocities that, in their eyes, degraded their Jewish victims. So accepting peace with the Jews would be a permanent loss of honor. Instead, Palestinians want revenge.

The reality, however much it may disappoint Western politicians, is that Israel wants peace, and the Palestinians want conquest. No amount of pretending will erase that reality.

First published here.


Philip Carl Salzman is Emeritus Professor of Anthropology at McGill University and Senior Fellow at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy.


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