More than a week into what is increasingly looking like the start of a third intifada, Israelis are angry. The daily stabbings along with the shootings, gasoline bomb and lethal rock attacks, as well as at least one documented attempted suicide bombing, have taken the lives of several Israelis and shaken the country. They want their government to take action. Many of them would also like the world to note the fact that the supposed moderates that are supposed to be their partners for peace have been inciting the violence. Though he fears the consequences of another all-out conflict, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas’s lies about threats to the mosques on the Temple Mount are geared toward fomenting the kind of religious hatred that motivates individual Palestinians to seek to murder random Jews on the streets. But if Israelis are expecting a wave of sympathy because of Abbas’s talk about keeping “filthy Jewish feet” off of the Temple Mount or the murderous rampages from Palestinians that have sadly once again become daily fare again, they are bound to be disappointed.
The narrative of the second intifada was shaped by the myth that a walk on the Temple Mount enclosure by Ariel Sharon set off that violence when the truth is that it was a calculated response of Abbas’s predecessor Yasir Arafat to an Israeli offer of peace and an independent state. If the Palestinians have their way, the narrative of the third one will be that this was begun by Jews plotting to divide the Mount or to take over the mosques as Palestinian leaders have been claiming for a century whenever, like Abbas is now, in need of a way to distract their people away from their plight or their leaders’ refusal to make peace.
The Palestinians have a long way to go to convince most in the West that an Israeli government that has zealously guarded the status quo on the Mount (including a ban on Jewish prayer) is at fault here, especially when all of the provocations at the site have come from radical Muslims who harass non-Muslims that visit the site (which is the holiest in Judaism) or use the mosques as staging areas for attacks.
But even if they can’t sell that lie, Israel’s foes have what they think is a stronger argument going for them that could serve to excuse even the kind of bloodthirsty attacks that have horrified Israelis. It’s simple. The Palestinians are suffering from Israeli oppression and have no choice but to lash out. If the Israelis had offered Palestinians hope for a better life and independence, we are told, then none of this would be happening. What’s to blame for the latest round of terrorism? Blame it on settlements, they say. Blame it on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government. Blame it on the Israelis that elected him. From this perspective, even the most heinous terrorist crime is the fault of its victim and the perpetrators and those that incite and cheer them on, are innocent.
This is not only the point of view we’re starting to hear from Israel’s usual chorus of critics who use the stalled peace process as an all-purpose rationale for bashing the Jewish state. It’s also what we have come to hear from many Israeli left-wingers who are always quick to blame their own country and to absolve its foes no matter what they do. Indeed, the opinion section of Haaretz provides daily sermons of this sort.
But while fighting back this tide of calumny is as difficult as stemming the terrorist attacks, these arguments should not go unanswered. Just as the claims about the Temple Mount are transparent canards, this more basic argument about Palestinian hopelessness fueling terror is equally false.
Let’s start by conceding that the status quo in which Israel holds the West Bank in a wary partnership with Abbas and the PA is unsatisfactory to both sides. Most Israelis would love to divest themselves of most of the West Bank as much as the Palestinians would love to be rid of them. But it bears repeating that the responsibility for the Palestinians’ failure to achieve the two-state solution that the world sees as the only answer to their plight belongs to no one but themselves and their leadership.
For all of the constant cajoling from President Obama for Israel to take risks for the sake of peace, can the world have really forgotten that this is what the Jewish state did in 1993 when it signed the Oslo Accords that gave Arafat virtual control of the West Bank and Gaza?
Does no one remember that instead of trading land for peace, as they hoped, the Palestinians answered this with terror?
Does no one remember that with Bill Clinton’s approval, the Israeli government led by Ehud Barak offered the Palestinians an independent state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem in 2000 and was turned down flat by Arafat and then again the next year?
Does no one remember that Abbas fled the negotiating table in 2008 when Ehud Olmert, another Israeli prime minister, sweetened Barak’s offers?
And does no one really remember what happened when Ariel Sharon withdrew every last soldier, settler, and settlement from Gaza in 2005? Instead of a model for peace, Hamas seized the strip and the Islamist group has turned into a vast launching pad for terror and given Israelis a good look at what an independent Palestinian state on their borders would look like.
Apparently they have forgotten. Or choose not to remember because of hatred for Israel.
Even Netanyahu, the man who is branded as an intransigent right-winger by the Western press and treated like a pariah by the Obama administration, sought to negotiate with the Palestinians and was prepared to offer them vast territorial concessions. As State Department veteran Dennis Ross notes in his new book, Netanyahu offered to pull out of almost all of the West Bank, just like Barak and Olmert. But again, for what must be considered the fourth time in less than 15 years, the Palestinians said no to peace.
The fact remains that even with the Obama administration seeking to tilt the diplomatic playing field in their direction, they refused to take the minimal steps necessary for peace including agreeing to end the conflict for all time. Not even Abbas and his Fatah are prepared to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders might be drawn. At this point, with Gaza bristling with terror tunnels and thousands of rockets aimed at Israeli cities and with Abbas inciting mayhem, any Israeli government would have to be crazy to think about recreating Sharon’s disastrous experiment in the West Bank.
Are the Palestinians frustrated with the status quo? Sure. So are the Israelis. But it was the Palestinians who have turned down every attempt to make peace in the last generation just as they did in the past. If the Palestinians want to separate from the Israelis they must stop killing and start acting as if they are prepared to live in peace with their neighbors. Their leaders must be prepared to recognize Israel as the Jewish state and thus signal that the conflict is really concluded rather than just paused until it can be recommenced on more advantageous terms. They must get leaders who have the courage to make peace rather than being more worried about seeming soft. Most of all, they must discard a political culture of hate and an identity that remains inextricably tied with the war on Zionism. If they do those things, they will have hope. But without them, peace will remain a remote dream.
But in the absence of such changes, there is no escaping the fact that the Palestinians have again embraced terror because they haven’t given up on trying to destroy Israel. That, and not the false narratives about the Temple Mount or hopelessness, is the real reason blood is again being shed on Israeli streets.