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The Middle East Problem

When I did my graduate studies at the Middle
East Institute at Columbia University's School of International Affairs, I took many courses
on the question of the Middle East conflict. Semester after semester, we studied the Middle
East conflict as if it was the most complex conflict in the world — when in fact, it
is probably the easiest conflict in the world to explain. It may be the hardest to solve,
but it is the easiest to explain. In a nutshell, it is this: One side wants
the other side dead. Israel wants to exist as a Jewish state and
to live in peace. Israel also recognizes the right of Palestinians to have their own state
and to live in peace. The problem, however, is that most Palestinians and many other Muslims
and Arabs, do not recognize the right of the Jewish state of Israel to exist. This has been true since 1947, when the United
Nations voted to divide the land called Palestine into a Jewish state and an Arab state. The Jews accepted the United Nations partition
but no Arab or any other Muslim country accepted it. When British rule ended on May 15, 1948, the
armies of all the neighboring Arab states — Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Transjordan, and
Egypt — attacked the one-day old state of Israel in order to destroy it.

But, to the world's surprise, the little Jewish
state survived. Then it happened again. In 1967, the dictator
of Egypt, Gamal Abdel Nasser, announced his plan, in his words, "to destroy Israel." He
placed Egyptian troops on Israel's border, and armies of surrounding Arab countries were
also mobilized to attack. However, Israel preemptively attacked Egypt and Syria. Israel did not attack Jordan, and begged Jordan's
king not to join the war. But he did. And only because of that did Israel take control
of Jordanian land, specifically the "West Bank" of the Jordan River. Shortly after the war, the Arab states went
to Khartoum, Sudan and announced their famous three "No's: "No recognition, no peace, and
no negotiations," What was Israel supposed to do? Well, one thing Israel did, a little more
than a decade later, in 1978, was to give the entire Sinai Peninsula — an area of land
bigger than Israel itself, and with oil — back to Egypt because Egypt, under new leadership,
signed a peace agreement with Israel.

So, Israel gave land for the promise of peace
with Egypt, and it has always been willing to do the same thing with the Palestinians.
All the Palestinians have ever had to do is recognize Israel as a Jewish state and promise
to live in peace with it. But when Israel has proposed trading land
for peace — as it did in 2000 when it agreed to give the Palestinians a sovereign state in more than 95% of the West Bank and all of Gaza — the Palestinian leadership rejected
the offer, and instead responded by sending waves of suicide terrorists into Israel. Meanwhile, Palestinian radio, television,
and school curricula remain filled with glorification of terrorists, demonization of Jews, and the
daily repeated message that Israel should cease to exist. So it's not hard to explain the Middle-East
dispute. One side wants the other dead.

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