Saturday, April 7, 2012

The New York Times’ Charlie Brown

by Bruce Thornton

For decades now too many Western politicians, diplomats, and pundits have played Charlie Brown to the Palestinians’ Lucy. No matter how many times the Arabs have invited Westerners to kick the football of “land for peace,” only to jerk the ball away at the last minute, there remains no end of Westerners eager to line up and take another try no matter how many times they land flat on their backs.

Thomas Friedman might hold the record for falling for this trick. Just recently he endorsed a call by jailed terrorist murderer Marwan Barghouti for a “non-violent” uprising against Israel “with civil disobedience or boycotts of Israel, Israeli settlements or Israeli products.” Friedman does have one condition for his support: that the Palestinians present “a detailed map of the final two-state settlement they are seeking.” In the same column, Friedman also endorsed the view that creating a Palestinian state can create peace and stability by providing an alternative “model” to the Islamist states coming into being as a result of the “Arab Spring” uprisings: “the rise of Islamists in Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and Syria, Israelis and Palestinians” create “a greater incentive than ever to create an alternative model in the West Bank — a Singapore — to show that they [Israelis and Arabs], together, can give birth to a Palestinian state where Arab Muslims and Christians, men and women, can thrive in a secular, but religiously respectful, free-market, democratic context, next to a Jewish state.”

No better example of the persistent hold of received wisdom and unexamined assumptions can be found than Friedman’s column. The biggest assumption, of course, is that a critical mass of ordinary Palestinian Arabs––as opposed to the duplicitous or Westernized elites Friedman talks to––want a state more than they want to destroy Israel. If we attend to deeds rather than deceitful words, the evidence that the destruction of Israel trumps acquiring a state is overwhelming. For starters, Palestinians have squandered every opportunity to create their own state, beginning with the U.N.’s 1947 partition plan. As Efraim Karsh writes of the rise of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, “Had Arafat set the PLO from the start on the path to peace and reconciliation, instead of turning it into one of the most murderous terrorist organizations in modern times, a Palestinian state could have been established in the late 1960s or the early 1970s; in 1979 as a corollary to the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty; by May 1999 as part of the Oslo Process; or at the very latest with the Camp David summit of July 2000.”

And why have the Palestinians consistently rejected these opportunities for a state? One simple reason: an absolute rejection of the legitimacy of Israel and its right to exist. This rejection of Israel is obvious in the non-negotiable demand of a “right of return” for the ever-growing number of “refugees,” a demand that if granted would create a demographic WMD that would destroy Israel as a Jewish state. Nor is this rejection of Israel a consequence of Arafat’s failures as a leader, as compared to the “moderate” Mahmoud Abbas: “For all their drastically different personalities and political styles,” Karsh writes, “Arafat and Abbas are warp and woof of the same fabric: dogmatic PLO veterans who have never eschewed their commitment to Israel’s destruction and who have viewed the ‘peace process’ as the continuation by other means of their lifelong war.”

Thus in the 2007 Annapolis Conference, when Israeli president Ehud Olmert offered a Palestinian state on 97% of the West Bank on the condition of Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, Abbas turned him down, demanding again the “right of return,” the euphemism for the slow-motion demographic destruction of Israel. So too in 2009, when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanded recognition of Israel as a condition for negotiations, Abbas responded, “A Jewish state, what does that suppose to mean? You can call yourselves as you like, but I don’t accept it and I say so publicly.” Netanyahu’s repeat offer a few months later was scorned throughout the Arab world. American “ally” Hosni Mubarak said that “no one will support this appeal in Egypt or elsewhere.” Chief Palestinian “peace negotiator” Saeb Erekat said that Netanyahu “will have to wait 1,000 years before he finds one Palestinian who will go along with him.” In August of that year, as Karsh concludes this history of rejection, Fatah’s general congress “reaffirmed its long-standing commitment to the ‘armed struggle’ as ‘a strategy, not tactic . . . in the battle for liberation and for the elimination of the Zionist presence. This struggle will not stop until the Zionist entity is eliminated and Palestine is liberated.’” Given this six-decade-long irredentist history, what sort of “detailed map of the final two-state settlement” does Friedman think the Palestinians will offer to earn his endorsement of their protests?

Even more delusional, however, is Friedman’s idea of a Palestinian state becoming a Middle East “Singapore,” where “Arab Muslims and Christians, men and women, can thrive in a secular, but religiously respectful, free-market, democratic context, next to a Jewish state.” Where does Friedman find in any Muslim Middle East country the cultural or religious foundations for such a state? Where in the region is there even a “secular” state? The recent revolts have eliminated the barely secular state like Egypt. Turkey has been secularizing for eight decades, and it’s becoming more Islamist, not less. Or where are Christians “respectfully” treated? On the contrary, they are fast disappearing from the regions of Christianity’s birth, those few remaining subject to increasing violence and persecution. More broadly, where in Islam can Friedman find the foundational principles of liberal democracy, such as separation of church and state, recognition of universal human rights, secular law, or free speech? And if a “partly free” regime, as Freedom House calls it, like Singapore is Friedman’s model, where can he find in Islam the intellectual freedom and dynamism, scientific rationalism, respect for contracts and laws apart from tribe or sect, and all the other constituents of a free-market economy? Surely if an Islamic state could achieve these boons that Friedman believes a Palestinian state would provide, the region wouldn’t be the intellectually stagnant and intolerant, repressive backwater that it is.

A Palestinian state has always been the Arab pretext for attacking Israel, one that plays to Western goods like nationalist self-determination that are not native to Islam, or exploits Western self-loathing based on the presumed historical sins of imperialism and colonialism. The hatred of Jews, however, can be found throughout Islamic theology and history, justified as the proper response to those who rejected Allah and his prophet. And it can be found everywhere in the Muslim Middle East, including the West Bank, where anti-Semitic eliminationist rhetoric is commonplace in government media and school curricula. To believe that Palestinian rejection of Israel is a consequence of “settlements” or “refugees” or the lack of a state instead of reflecting this long, theologically sanctioned, anti-Jewish tradition requires a leap of faith that would, like Charlie Brown’s, be funny if it wasn’t so deadly.

Bruce Thornton


Copyright - Original materials copyright (c) by the authors.

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