A major obstacle to a negotiated peace between Israel and the Palestinians is a series of bad decisions by the UN and nations that have long donated money to sustain the Palestinians in their efforts to establish their own state or destroy Israel. The first, and most damaging mistake was made in 1948 when the UN granted Palestinian refugees a unique status as the only refugees who could legally maintain their refugee status for generations.
The second UN error was a more common one; ignoring the misuse of foreign aid by Palestinians to support a failed terrorist campaign against Israel that is still underway and sustained by foreign aid.
These two UN errors are the cause of Western efforts to obtain a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians continually failing because of Palestinian refusal to give up demands that Israel cannot accept and continue to exist. This wasn’t just the fault of the UN, it was compounded by a major error in judgement by the Arab states (Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon) during the first Arab-Israeli War of 1948-49. These Arab countries sought to exterminate the new Israeli state and failed. But during that brief war the Arabs urged Palestinians to flee the area so that their Arab allies could defeat the Israelis without harming Palestinians. That was the first of six (1948, 1956, 1967, 1973, 1982, and 2006) Arab-Israeli wars that failed to destroy Israel. The last one had a lot of help from Iran and at that point many Arab states began to seriously reconsider their relationship with Israel. By 2020 a growing number of those Arab states were recognizing Israel diplomatically and including Israel as an ally in the growing Arab-Iran conflict. By then Arab states acknowledged the obvious; that most Israelis were visibly and ethnically Arab. Most Israeli Arabs are Jewish but 20 percent of Israeli citizens are Moslems or Christians, the descendants of Palestinians that did not flee Israel during the first war.
In 1948 the Arabs living in Israel were not called Palestinians but simply Arabs and many of them had recently moved from Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan to find work in the booming economy created in what became Israel. Many of the Jewish emigrants were from Europe, survivors of the Nazi effort to exterminate all Jews in Europe. These migrants were better educated and entrepreneurial than Jews from Arab nations and all were welcome. A Jewish majority state called Israel was not welcome.
Over the next half century more Arab states found it preferable to at least tolerate the existence of Israel, which had become the most economically and militarily powerful state in the region. In the 1960s the Arab refugees began to call themselves “Palestinians” in reference to a mythical state of Palestine that never existed. Neither did the state of Israel because the independent Jewish state disappeared nearly 2600 years ago when the Jewish majority area occupying what is now Israel became a province of larger empires, the last being Roman in 6 AD. What is modern Israel ceased to be a majority Jewish area after the second Jewish rebellion against Rome in 136 AD, which resulted in most Jews fleeing or being enslaved by the Romans. Some remained, but as a minority. Islam showed up 500 years later, recognizing Jews and Christians as “people of the book” meaning Islam claimed to be the successor the Judaism and Christianity. This has caused problems ever since. The Turkish Ottoman Empire was run by Moslems but had a more tolerant attitude towards non-Moslems. The Turks took control of what used to be Israel in the 1500s and welcomed Jews expelled from Christian countries. While most settled in what is now Turkey, others returned to what is now Israel. The concept of enough Jews returning to the former Jewish state, began in the 19th century. The Ottoman’s tolerated this because the Jews were more entrepreneurial, and so paid more taxes than the Moslem Arabs already there. There was some violent resistance to the returning Jews, but the Ottomans backed Jewish immigration until the Ottoman Empire fell in 1918.
In the 1920s and 30s Britain and France organized local governments in most of the Middle East before World War II began. What is now Israel was still under British control during World War II because of the disputes between Jews and Arabs over which part of the area should be part of an Arab state and which a new Jewish state. This led to Arab demands that there be no Jewish state, even in Jewish majority areas. That was resolved by the 1948 war. After the 1967 war Israel took control of more Arab majority areas, especially the West Bank and Gaza.
At the time Iran was one of the few Moslem majority states in the region to recognize Israel, 1950, with Turkey doing so shortly thereafter. Jordan and Israel made peace after the 1967 war and Egypt did so in 1979. It would be 40 years before other Arab states did the same. Before that Israel had established informal relationships with many Arab states, especially Morocco and the UAE. One reason for this move towards Arab recognition of Israel was the failure of the Palestinians to make peace despite ample opportunities to do so. There were major efforts in the 1990s to work out a peace deal and Israel offered a two-state deal in 2000 that many Palestinians were willing to accept. Palestinian radical groups declared such a deal unacceptable and Palestinian leaders who backed the offered deal were threatened by the radicals if they did not join the opposition. This was nothing new and for over a thousand years radicals were able to block peace deals with non-Moslems. The Ottomans and Iranians did not tolerate the threats from the radicals, but the radicals never disappeared and were particularly troublesome in Arab majority nations.
The Palestinians have always insisted that any peace deal depended on Israel recognizing "right of return without discrimination." That means that the descendants of the 600,000 Palestinians who fled the newly formed Israel in the late 1940s, could return to Israel and get all their abandoned family property back. Israel would also have to pay compensation. While some of the seven million Palestinian descendants would not return, enough could to change the demographic composition of Israel, turning it into a country with an Arab majority. This, for both the Palestinians and Israel, is the equivalent of "destroying Israel."
Currently fewer than ten percent of the original refugees are still alive and about sixty percent of the descendants are registered with the UN as Palestinian refugees, usually in order to qualify for benefits, which automatically includes the right-to-return. Those who have not registered are those who have established themselves in another country, usually not a Moslem majority one because the right-of-return gives the Moslem majority states an excuse not to grant Palestinians citizenship.
Destroying Israel is something many, now most Palestinian factions want to accomplish, and Israel refuses to go along. Getting around this obstacle has proved very difficult, as the Palestinian public endured decades of Palestinian (and Arab) media messages insisting that the right of return was an essential part of any peace deal. Westerners long believed that money (a bribe) might make this problem go away. That was never practical because the real problem is the Arab decision in the late 1940s to not offer citizenship to any Palestinian refugees. The other Arab states insisted that Palestinian refugees must remain stateless, preferably living in refugee camps while receiving food and other aid from largely Western donors.
In 1948 an equal number of Jews were expelled from Arab countries. All these Jewish refugees found new homes, most of them in Israel. Because of the right of return and Moslem nations refusing to grant Palestinians citizenship, just giving the Palestinian refugees a few hundred billion dollars would not be sufficient. They need citizenship somewhere, either in the country where they are currently refugees, or in the West. Undoing this old UN error became a formidable obstacle to a negotiated peace.
Another seemingly intractable problem blocking any serious negotiations is the refusal of many radical Palestinian organizations to even consider recognizing Israel’s right to exist. This hardline attitude came from Islamic conservatives who wanted all Moslem majority states to be ruled by Sharia (Islamic law) and preferably by Islamic clergy, not laymen. One of the earliest groups advocating this was the Moslem Brotherhood, which emerged in Egypt during the 1920s. Soon there were chapters in most Moslem majority areas. The Palestinian chapter, Hamas, appeared in 1987 in Gaza as part of religious revival in Arab countries that had been sidetracked by socialism after World War II. Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007 and declared that Israel did not exist and was an illegal entity. The more secular Fatah, which controlled the West Bank, was forced to go along because in Palestinian politics the radicals always get their way, or else. It took nearly a decade for the West, and most Arab states to recognize this reality. There was another major problem that was long ignored; that the Palestinians were diverting an increasing amount of foreign aid to encourage and reward terrorist acts against Israel. For a long time, Arab states tolerated this and Western donors pretended it didn’t exist. The growing availability of evidence showing up on the Internet documented the scam, which depended on praising the diversion of aid money in Palestinian Arab language media while denying it existed in the non-Arab, especially English language versions of their media that appeared on the Internet.
For over a decade it had been an open secret in the Arab world that no true Palestinian wants anything to do with peace talks. For example, in 2010 the Palestinian ambassador to Lebanon described the goals of the current peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel as a stage in the process by which Israel would be portrayed as an illegitimate state and that a growing number of Western nations would accept this. The Palestinians compared this process to the one that isolated South Africa. The official Palestinian objective is not to make peace with Israel, but to destroy Israel and drive all Jews from the Middle East. This sort of thing is reported regularly in the Arab language press, much less so in the non-Arabic translations of Arab media.
For years the official goal of peace talks with Israel, often involving the United States, was to work how to establish an independent Palestinian state. Israel went along with American demands, but the Palestinians never did. That's why these peace talks tend to go nowhere. Since Hamas took control of Gaza, a growing number of Palestinians in the West Bank openly opposed peace talks, a concept always maintained by Islamic radical groups like Hamas in the Gaza Strip, which contains 40 percent of Palestinians living in territory Palestinians agree is part of any Palestinian state. Hamas never participated in peace talks and demanded that Fatah do the same. Hamas and Fatah controlled media both talk of destroying Israel, not making permanent peace. Any peace deals are described as strictly tactical moves, to further the ultimate goal of wiping Israel off the map. Palestinian maps have been doing that for decades and trying to coerce the rest of the world to emulate that, without limited success.
For over two generations, it has been Palestinian policy to preach the destruction of Israel, not coexistence. Increasingly, since the 1990s, Palestinians have been indoctrinated with anti-Semitic propaganda, which encourages the young to become suicide bombers and terrorists. This is a very public campaign, and the terrorist killers are showered with praise in the Palestinian, and often Arab, media. In the Palestinian territories, there are hundreds of places (streets, squares, buildings) and events named after terrorists. Anyone who has killed an Israeli is a hero, and anyone who died trying is worthy of admiration. This goes beyond honoring "war heroes." The propaganda campaign portrays Palestinians as in a life-or-death struggle with "the Zionist entity" as Palestinians began to call Israel. Since God is on their side, the Palestinian propaganda pushes the idea that it's only a matter of time before Israel is destroyed. It's tough to negotiate a peace deal when one side has this attitude.
It was only in the last few years that other Arab states have come to admit that such negotiations are pointless, especially since the UN granted Palestinians refugees a unique status
The UN approval of “right of return” was also accepted by the many foreign NGOs (non-governmental organizations) that, along with the UN, administered the foreign aid that has sustained these permanently stateless descendants of the original Palestinian refugees.
These NGO attitudes are not unique to the Palestinian situation but are common wherever NGOs administer foreign aid in hostile areas. NGOs tend to have their own ideas of how to handle the situation and the NGO attitudes are often at odds with the locals as well as the foreign nations that provide the cash and goods needed to deal with the mess. One mess often leads to another as the three principals (NGOs, locals and donors) clash over what to do and how to do it. The main problem is there is more to be done than anyone is willing to pay for. To make matters worse, there are always disagreements, sometimes violent over how to apply the aid.
A major problem has been the reluctance of donors to support relief operations in many areas where too much of the aid was stolen or unable to reach the people most in need. NGOs have no solution, or at least not one that will either turn off the donors (and their donations) or upset the locals, resulting in more violence and chaos.
Hamas is a classic example of this and NGOs and foreign news organizations operating in Gaza are subject to very effective threats if they do not go along with the diversion of aid to support attacks against Israel. NGOs are increasingly feuding with each other about how to handle the growing money shortages these situations create. The demand for contributions to buy food and other aid supplies has been increasing faster than donor nations, who supply most of this money, are willing to provide. This is in large part because of growing problems with a lot of the aid being stolen by local bandits and corrupt officials or diverted to other uses by NGOs.
There are other problems as well. Increasingly people in the places where NGOs deliver aid complain about the NGOs being more concerned about their own safety and comfort than in making the lives of the locals better. But it's not as simple as that. There are also disagreements within the NGO community about how to handle delivering aid in areas swarming with bandits, Islamic terrorists and other bad actors. The NGOs that continue to send people to these dangerous areas complain that many NGOs that used to be there with them are now snagging a lot of aid money and moving to some well-guarded urban area and spending the aid money on studies, seminars and research into how to achieve peace and prosperity via diplomacy, negotiation and creative financing. The NGOs still out in the field consider this growing interest in this new “non-contact” with the people needing the aid a craven cop-out and diversion of desperately needed funds from buying food and emergency services for people.
The NGOs are trying to keep this dispute from becoming a public debate as they all agree that putting these issues into the news would probably reduce contributions even more. NGOs are, for the most part, charitable organizations that take money from individuals, organizations and governments and use it for charitable work in foreign countries. The Red Cross is one of the oldest, and best-known NGOs, dating back to the 19th century. In the mid-20th century, the UN became the largest NGO. Now there are thousands of NGOs trying to survive in disaster zones that will not tolerate them at all unless the NGOs become part of the problem. Gaza is a glaring example of that and the West Bank is moving in the same direction.