The West suffers under a major misconception concerning the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: that "goodwill gestures" and territorial concessions on the part of Israel boost the prospects of peace in the Middle East. The facts, however, suggest that precisely the opposite is true.
Last week, Israel's Channel 10 television station reported that the U.S. administration was pushing Israel to transfer parts of Area C -- areas under full Israeli security and civilian control in the West Bank -- to the control of Mahmoud Abbas's Palestinian Authority (PA). According to the report, the U.S. believes that the transfer of the territory to the PA would be a "goodwill step" towards the Palestinians, paving the way for the revival of the stalled peace process with Israel.
This assumption, of course, has already proven wrong. The experiences of the past few decades have shown clearly that Israeli concessions have always sent the wrong message to the Palestinians.
In fact, Palestinians read Israeli goodwill steps as signs of weakness and retreat. This misinterpretation on the part of the Palestinians then leads to more violence against Israel. It would be hard for anyone not to conclude that if pressure works, keep on pressuring.
The past 24 years are littered with examples of how the Palestinians react to Israeli concessions.
The Oslo Accords that were signed between Israel and the PLO in 1993 were seen by Palestinians as a first step by Israel towards total capitulation.
The accords, which brought the PLO from several Arab countries to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, came after five years of the first Palestinian Intifada. By allowing the PLO to assume control over large parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Israel sent a message that it was caving in to the violence and terrorism of the First Intifada.
Barely a breath after Oslo, Israel was again asked to conciliate the Palestinians: this time, hundreds of prisoners, many with Jewish (and Arab) blood on their hands, were released from Israeli prison in order to create an atmosphere "conducive" to the peace process.
Instead of viewing the prisoner release for what it was, namely a generous gesture, many Palestinians considered it a "victory" for terrorism and violence. Worse, it was not long before many of the released prisoners were rearrested for their role in further terrorism against Israel. The release of prisoners also sent a message of recidivism to Palestinians: terror does indeed pay! A short stint in an Israeli prison is sure to lead to release in some Israeli "confidence-building measure" or other.
According to statistics, at least half of released Palestinian prisoners have returned to terrorism.
Despite the grim statistics, the international community regularly demands that Israel release more convicted terrorists as a "gesture" towards Mahmoud Abbas and other Palestinians.
Palestinian terrorists who were released from prison by Israel as a "goodwill gesture" are honored at Mahmoud Abbas' presidential compound in Ramallah, on October 30, 2013. According to statistics, at least half of released Palestinian prisoners have returned to terrorism. (Photo by Oren Ziv/Getty Images)
Since 1993, Israel has complied again and again with such international pressure, only to reinforce the message to Palestinians: terrorism is indeed worth the trouble.
Let us consider, for a moment, Gaza. In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip, after destroying 21 Jewish settlements and expelling more than 8,000 Jews from their homes there.
In Palestinian eyes, however, the Israeli "disengagement" from the Gaza Strip was anything but an olive branch of peace. The withdrawal came after five years of the bloody Second Intifada, when Palestinians waged a massive campaign of suicide bombings and rocket attacks against Israelis.
Thus, for Palestinians, Israel was once again retreating in the face of unremitting bloodshed.
Here is what is being said on the Palestinian street: Today Israel runs away from the West Bank or the Gaza Strip, tomorrow Israel will run away from Ashkelon, then from Ashdod and Tel Aviv and from there to the sea, and we have achieved our goal of destroying Israel. Therefore, we need to continue attacking Israel.
Moreover, it was also precisely the Israeli pullout from Gaza that launched Hamas to its current pinnacle of popularity among Palestinians. Hamas took credit for expelling the Jews from the Gaza Strip through terrorism. A few months later, Hamas even won the Palestinian parliamentary election because Palestinians gave Hamas total credit for driving Israel out of the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli pullout told Palestinians in no uncertain terms: Why bother negotiating when terror will do the trick?
Five years earlier, the Israeli withdrawal from southern Lebanon also had the same effect: it emboldened the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror group. As with the Gaza Strip, the withdrawal from Lebanon taught the Palestinians that terrorism could drive Israelis out of their country.
In the past few years, additional Israeli goodwill gestures, such as removing security checkpoints and the easing travel restrictions in the West Bank, led to yet more violence, claiming the lives of yet more Israelis.
Abbas and his top officials have always responded to Israeli gestures with cynicism. Never have they given Israel credit for its goodwill steps. On the contrary, they scoff at these moves, and describe them as "cosmetic changes aimed at beautifying Israel's ugly face" or as public-relations stunts.
For the sake of clarity, let us say it clearly: handing over areas in the West Bank to the Palestinian Authority, and the release of convicted murderers, does not contribute to any sort of "peace process;" it only contributes to the death of more Israelis.
The Palestinian line is that Israel's steps are "insufficient" and "unhelpful." Its concessions are regarded as gestures of a terrified people and as the rightful reward for terrorism. Far from satiating the appetite of the terrorists, such steps prompt them to step up their attacks against Israelis. The next time Americans and Europeans think of asking Israel to cede yet more to the Palestinians, let them consider what Israel might be receiving in return, other than the spilling of more Jewish blood.
Bassam Tawil is a Muslim based in the Middle East.