By David Harris, AJC CEO
July 25, 2017
It’s high time for the international community to wake up to certain Palestinian realities that many would rather avoid.
Recent events in the region, including the brutal killing of two Israeli policemen and three members of an Israeli family, as well as the wild conspiracy stories circulated in regard to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, only underscore the point.
By the way, for the purpose of context, I write as the representative of an organization, AJC, long committed to the search for an enduring two-state agreement, coexistence between Muslims and Jews, and friendly ties with moderate Arab countries. Indeed, the AJC record in these areas is quite unique.
For too many observers of the region, however, their obsession with Israel and what it should (and should not) do blinds them to the other side of the equation—what the Palestinians should (and should not) do.
Here are five things that could end the infantilization of the Palestinians and lead, perhaps, to a more hospitable climate for restarting a long-dormant peace process.
First, how can there be serious talk of a two-state accord when the Palestinians are divided between the West Bank and Gaza?
As a reminder, when Israel withdrew all of its soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005, it gave the residents of Gaza the first chance in history to govern themselves, something no one else, not the Egyptians or any other occupiers, ever even remotely considered.
What happened? By 2007, Hamas, labeled by both the United States and the European Union a a terrorist organization, was in power, and the Palestinian Authority (PA) was physically ejected. Since then, PA President Abbas has never, not once, visited Gaza. So all this talk today about two states could, just as easily, be about three states.
Israel cannot solve the problem of this division. Only the Palestinians can, possibly with outside help from the larger Arab world and beyond. But will they?
Second, whenever we hear about Gaza, we inevitably hear about “refugee camps.” But, pray tell, why are there refugee camps in Gaza?
It’s been 12 years since Israel left the coastal strip. What is the purpose of maintaining these camps, which have only served to perpetuate the notion, generation after generation, of a displaced people hankering for their “return.” Return to where? To Israel, presumably, and that would mean the end of the Jewish state.
Breaking news: The Palestinians are not the first refugee population in the world, far from it, nor, incidentally, are they the only refugee population from the Arab-Israeli conflict. Nearly a million Jews were forcibly evicted from their homes in Arab countries, but all of them resettled elsewhere rather than opt to languish in refugee camps ad infinitum.
But the Palestinians definitely are the first to be designated by the UN as “refugees in perpetuity,” handing the title to their children and their children’s children. How long must this unique status on the planet go on? Shouldn’t there be some statute of limitation in order to begin to change the mindset and put a halt to these camps, which serve as incubators of hatred and revenge?
After all, many of us come from refugee families, but that status applied to those who actually lost their homes, not to every descendant.
Third, why doesn’t the international community show more backbone in insisting that Palestinians take responsibility for their own behavior?
For example, the Palestinians could have had a state on more than one occasion between 1947 and 2017, yet they rejected each opportunity. That’s not an opinion, but a fact.
But, of course, the price to be paid was recognition of Israel as a sovereign nation alongside the Palestinian state, a price they have been unwilling to pay.
So, while Israel has evolved in its own thinking and come to accept Palestinian nationalism, there has been no reciprocal movement on the Palestinian side to accept Jewish self-determination as its complement.
Moreover, Palestinians launch gruesome terror attacks against Israel, such as the murder of three people in Halamish last week, and then reward the killers and their families with generous monthly stipends. One estimate is that the Palestinians will spend up to $300 million in 2017 alone for this purpose. This should be kept in mind the next time someone wonders why more schools and hospitals aren’t being built in the West Bank.
Is this strategy, if that’s what it is, a pathway to the negotiating table? Is this likely to allay Israel’s legitimate security concerns and increase Israeli confidence that a genuine peace partner exists with whom to pursue a final settlement? And is the incitement that surrounds such vicious attacks, including calls for the death of Israelis, Zionists, and Jews, contributing to a climate conducive to confidence and compromise?
Fourth, the popular Palestinian belief that Jews are “outsiders,” “interlopers,” “colonialists,” and “crusaders” must be confronted. Jews are indigenous to the region. The age-old link between the Jewish people and the land is documented and irrefutable.
Yet too many countries are willing to go along with this trumped-up narrative, as evidenced, for instance, by recent votes at the UNESCO Executive Board and its World Heritage Committee.
To deny the Jewish link to Jerusalem is tantamount to denying the Muslim link to Mecca or the Catholic link to Rome. It’s totally ludicrous, yet it happens again and again – and, it must be noted, countries like Sweden and Brazil risk their own credibility by buying into this charade. Indulging the Palestinians in their fanciful history allows them to live in an alternate universe, one where Israel doesn’t exist, or, if it does, is only a “temporary and illegitimate” phenomenon.
And fifth, the world should make it clear: Terrorism is terrorism is terrorism. Take Europe. Countries like France and Belgium have been the targets of fatal attacks. And they respond as they should: with a no-holds-barred effort to find the perpetrators and their support networks, and to declare a no-tolerance policy for such bestiality.
But when it comes to attacks against Israelis, the language often changes, sometime subtly, other times overtly. There can be a hint of rationalization here, an immediate call for Israeli restraint there. Phrases like “cycles of violence” appear, implying that no one really knows, or cares, who started the process, or that this is really just a Hatfield-McCoy spat without any distinction between the two sides.
Yet surely there must always be a clear distinction between the fireman and the arsonist, the democrat and the despot, as there is in Europe and elsewhere when such outrages occur. Otherwise, moral fog replaces moral clarity.
Ending the infantilization of the Palestinians – and beginning to hold them responsible for their actions – could be one promising way forward for the peacemakers.