Kicking the Palestinian Habit


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Conspicuous for its absence in President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address last week was any mention of what is variously called the Arab-Israeli conflict or the Middle East peace process. Israeli analyst Yoram Ettinger suggests that this “reflects a US order of priorities and, possibly, a concern that mediation in the Arab-Israeli conflict does not advance—but undermines—Obama’s domestic standing.”

Conceivably, a similar premise underlies Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent demonstrative acts in favor of settlement in the West Bank. Last week, just after a meeting in Jerusalem with U.S. Middle East envoy George Mitchell, Netanyahu marked the tree-planting holiday of Tu Bishvat by planting trees in public ceremonies in the Jerusalem-area West Bank settlements of Kfar Etzion and Maale Adumim. He capped it off on Friday with a tree-planting ceremony in Ariel, a settlement somewhat deeper in the West Bank in Samaria. There Netanyahu suggested that the settlement was a crucial part of Israel:

“Everyone who understands the geography of Israel know how important Ariel is. It is the heart of our country. We are here where are forefathers were, and we will stay here.”

And on Sunday Benny Begin, son of the former prime minister and a member of Netanyahu’s inner security cabinet, took part in a cornerstone-laying ceremony in yet another West Bank settlement, Beit Hagai, and said:

“The state of Israel and the people of Israel have interests in Judea and Samaria [West Bank] and in Jerusalem, which are not only security-related, but based on an ancient affiliation.”

Considering that in November Obama harshly criticized Israel for planning to build within a neighborhood of Jerusalem, also conspicuous for its absence, so far, is any public U.S. rebuke of Netanyahu or Begin for these gestures. Ettinger suggests that Obama’s “involvement with the Arab-Israeli conflict has diverted his attention from issues which are much more important…eroded [his] support among the American people, [and] complicated his relations with friends of Israel on Capitol Hill, whose support is critical to Obama’s legislative agenda.”

Although it may be too early to assume a waning of Obama’s pressures on Israel, his words in his recent Time interview also strengthen that impression. “This is as intractable a problem as you get,” Obama said. “Both sides—the Israelis and the Palestinians—have found that the political environment [was] such that it was very hard for them to start engaging in a meaningful conversation.” If so, a lull in the grimly relentless diplomatic activity on the Israeli-Palestinian front would be a chance to rethink some assumptions that have become all too axiomatic.

One is that the Palestinian side should always be coddled, with infinite patience, and should never have to pay a price for its failures. With Netanyahu having declared in November an unprecedented ten-month freeze in new construction in the West Bank, and Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas continuing to refuse to hold talks with him, it can be hoped that Netanyahu’s and Begin’s affirmations signal a new Israeli assertiveness. It is only for the Palestinians that land, and offers, are kept indefinitely on hold even as they preach hatred and practice rejectionism. Energetically resuming settlement activity at the end of the ten months would, for once, be a fitting response.

It could also be asked whether the pursuit of a Palestinian state as a supposed panacea has ever made much sense in normative terms. Human Rights Watch has published its World Report 2010 and gives a rundown of the human rights situation in Middle Eastern Arab countries that is anything but encouraging. Regarding women’s rights, the report points out that:

“Perpetrators of so-called honor killings in Jordan (where there were at least 20 such killings), and in Syria (at least 12), benefit from legal provisions that mitigate their punishments…. Domestic abuse went largely unpunished in Saudi Arabia and Yemen. In Lebanon and Jordan, where domestic abuse can be tried as assault, protection mechanisms for women are largely inadequate and ineffective.”

As for prison conditions, “Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, and Yemen failed to tackle frequent incidents of torture. Jordan’s prison reform program has not strengthened accountability mechanisms for torture….”

Minority rights—“Saudi Arabia discriminated against its Shia population…. Kurds, Syria’s largest non-Arab ethnic minority, were subject to systematic discrimination….” and so on.

Considering that all these abuses—oppression of women, torture in prisons, persecution of the Christian minority—already exist in the Palestinian Authority (not to mention Hamas-ruled Gaza), a diplomatic lull could be a time, particularly from an American standpoint, to question whether the dogged pursuit of a Palestinian state holds up to scrutiny. Instilling democracy in the Arab world may not have been realistic; creating another dictatorship—apart from the security threat it would pose to Israel—would appear worse than pointless.

Instead, a combination of Israeli assertiveness and U.S. benign neglect would convey the right messages to the Palestinians: that they, too, are subject to the cost-benefit calculi of human life and there are costs for clinging to radical positions rooted in a vision of Israel’s demise; that their present situation of enhanced autonomy under Israeli security control is quite feasible for Israel, which has always had its own interests and attachments in the West Bank.

  • Marty

    I was in Israel last month. Most people I spoke with simply have no reason to deal with the palestinians, most of whom want Israel destroyed. In the meantime, while palestinians sit around and hate Israel, a vibrant and prosperous democracy is moving forward. The palestinians created the hell they currently reside in; let them enjoy themselves.

    • guest

      You are TOTALLY correct. The Palestinians have created THEIR OWN HELL and unfortunately UNRWA (the U.N. agency devoted EXCLUSIVELY to perpetuating their "refugee" from generation to generation, despite the fact that a HUGE number did not even live in the area prior to 1948) is just part of the problem. I yawn. The PALS voted in a known Terror group–its in the Hamas Charter, no secret what they exist for and so they now have some good old Islamist pro-Sharia Masters to enjoy. Their poverty is THEIR OWN MAKING because TERROR tactics=Poverty. Meanwhile, Israel's economy has been buzzing and, as ever, it pumps out a huge number of gifts for the world in first rate research and technology each year, despite the constant onslaught.
      The PALs should be thankful–if they pulled their Jihad on China, they Chinese would have culled the whole population years ago instead of dropping leaflets an making cell phone calls to urge them to find safety in the midst of military conflict. The Arab ObSESSION to destroy Israel won't go away–they need it to drown their miseries and have some focal point other than their own societies to blame for their bondage.

  • PAthena

    There is a simple solution to the wars between Israel and the Arabs, a simple way to have peace. That is for the Arabs to stop making war against Israel!
    As for the Arabs misnamed "Palestinians," they have acquired that name through Soviet propaganda, which founded with Gamal Nasser in Cairo in 1964 the "Palestine Liberation Organization" (P.L.O.) and generated the propaganda that "Palestine" was Arab. The name "Palestina" was given to Judea by the Roman Emperor Hadrian in 135 A.D. after he defeated the last Jewish rebellion under Bar Kochba. He renamed Judea "Palestina," and outlawed Judaism, in order to forever eradicate from memory the land and its people. Instead, "Palestine" became synonymous with "land of the Jews" or "the Holy Land," and "Palestinian" became synonymous with "Jew."
    That is why the Zionists wanted the "Palestine Mandate" and Britain was awarded the "Palestine Mandate" as homeland for the Jews. The Arabs who live in the historic land of the Jews, Judea and Samaria, claim they want a state of their own – another Arab state, of which there are already many. They are not entitled to one.

  • andrew nitzberg

    The occupation is very costly to Israel in too many ways to count; financial, international business, diplomacy, morale of the Israeli people, etc. and it doesn't do much good for the Arabs either!!

    Netanyahu has a plan: continue the occupation while strengthening [creating] political financial and sociial institutions in the West Bank so that there is an actual society from which to make a nation. Then make a semi-autonomous nation in the West Bank with israel having a checkpoint at the border to keep Iranian bombs and suicide-bombers out.

    On the other hand, the Plaestinian Arab extremists who want to kill people with their own two hands numbers around 25% of the population. That is a huge number. Hard to know the impact such a large number of hard-core murderers on the future. Has there ever been, anywhere, such a large % who want to kill and murder with their own two hands? Hard to predict the future without any past to guide us.

  • andrew nitzberg

    Looks like when the 'political rhetoric' calms down, so does the violence.

    I would be happy to see a Palestinian Arab country in the West Bank. If the Arabs want to link it up with Gaza, that is their business – it's OK by me, not that they need my permission !!

  • timeklek

    WoW! something Bolshevic Barak has done right;
    Leave Israel Alone! ! !