Why can’t Israel and the Palestinians just get along? Daniel Pipes answers that wars end when one side or the other wins. And Israel, he says, is not trying to win.
Please consider two sets of three dates. The first three are 1865, 1945, and 1975 – the end of the Civil War, World War II, and the Vietnam War. All of those were conclusively ended wars. They ended the fighting, nothing more followed. The South never rose again. The Germans didn’t try to conquer Europe again. And Americans didn’t return to Vietnam.
Then, three other dates: 1918, 1953, and 1967 – the end of the First World War, the Korean War, and the Six-Day War. Those were inconclusive. The Germans did try again. Any day, the Korean War could restart. Hostilities did resume between the Arabs and Israel.
The difference between these two sets of dates lies in the losers’ sense of defeat. In the former triad, that sense existed; in the latter, it did not. Losing a round of a war is not tantamount to feeling defeated. Defeat means the loser giving up on war goals. That’s what we Americans experienced in 1975. Victory means imposing one’s will on the enemy. The enemy gives up; the winner prevails.
In the case of Israel and the Palestinians, not only does Israel not try to decisively win, but the Palestinians are encouraged to think that if they just persevere, victory is within their grasp.
Until the Oslo accords of 1993, Pipes says, Israel’s objective in its conflicts was winning. Sometimes – when Israel was forced to withdraw from the Sinai in 1956, when she was forced to allow the Egyptian 3rd army to escape from its encirclement in 1973, and when the US arranged for Yasser Arafat and his cadre of terrorists to flee Beirut in 1982 – international intervention prevented a decisive victory.
But since Oslo, “Israelis have tried various other approaches – appeasement, unilateral withdrawal, putting out brush fires – but not sought victory.”
Israel has refrained from taking steps that would damage the PLO and even Hamas too much because of fear that at best Israel would have to take responsibility for governing a large and mostly hostile Palestinian population; and at worst, the Israel could end up with an Iran- or ISIS- dominated regime next door. Unfortunately this fear has led to outrageous situations, such as Israel transferring money from tax collections to the PA, despite the fact that the PA pays salaries to murderers in Israeli jails. It has prevented Israel from taking effective steps against terrorism. It has made Israel tolerate a continuous flow of incitement to murder in official PA media.
Pipes has been saying this for at least 15 years (here is a prescient 2003 piece) and has been accused of cruelty for using phrases like “break their will” and “crush their hopes.” However, the point he is making is quite rational: nothing would be better for the Palestinians in the long run than losing hope.
Pipes says that the fundamental cause of the conflict is Palestinian rejectionism: “It means saying no to Zionism, to Jews, to Israel: no political contacts, no economic relations, no personal relations.” I agree with him, but I would take one step farther back and say that rejectionism itself is a consequence of accepting the “Palestinian narrative.”
The narrative has two parts:
- A false historical story of a native civilization dispossessed from its land by foreign invaders; and,
- A hope that with perseverance and struggle the invader society (like the Crusaders) can be expelled, the Jews killed or sent back to “where they came from.”
Given the honor-shame Arab culture of the Palestinians, the narrative commits them to an unending struggle. The narrative becomes their identity. This is one reason they resist compromise solutions so strongly. To give up on the “right of return,” for example, is to give up on being Palestinian.
Dispelling the first part of the narrative may be impossible at first, because rational arguments have little force against an emotional commitment to one’s identity. But as Pipes argues, it is possible to change the environment by concrete actions so that it becomes clear that the second part is a delusion.
The delusion that Israel can be eliminated remains after 70 years because half the world is telling the Palestinians that they’re right about that. And Israel is not working to dispel the notion.
There is the Palestinian leadership, the PLO and Hamas, which have been inciting Palestinians against Israel and Jews, and indeed telling them that there is no real state of Israel (look at their maps), just a temporary “occupation” of their land.
There is the UN, which observes an “International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People” each year, and which passes resolution after resolution attacking Israel.
There is UNRWA, an agency which exists to teach the narrative and to nourish the growth of a population of “refugees” who are encouraged to believe that some day they will “return” to a place that they never came from.
There is a massive international support system of organizations and governments that constantly tell the Palestinians that their cause is just and will prevail.
There is the attitude of the IDF and other Israeli security services that don’t want to rock the boat.
But today there have been some geopolitical developments that for the first time in decades may make it possible to directly challenge the second part of the Palestinian narrative, their belief that it is possible for them to win.
First is the split in the Muslim world caused by Iranian expansionism. Some countries, like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, understand that the main bulwark against Iran in the region is their erstwhile enemy, Israel. They are more concerned about the danger of a nuclear Iran than about destroying Israel, which they realize poses no threat to them. They are therefore prepared to take a more realistic approach to the Palestinian issue.
Second is that the cost of maintaining the corrupt Palestinian Authority and the equally corrupt UNRWA, with its exponentially growing number of “refugees,” is finally beginning to become a burden on the Western democracies. They are starting to ask themselves if it’s worth billions to support the Palestinian fantasy.
Third is the fact that the Trump administration in the US – the main source of support for the UN, for UNRWA and the PA – is starting to ask tough questions and to resent being blackmailed by terrorist militias like the PLO and Hamas. The violent Palestinian reaction to Trump’s Jerusalem announcement, which simply recognized reality and took nothing away from them, and Mahmoud Abbas’ recent extremist rant attracted attention in the US. And it doesn’t hurt that the importance of Middle Eastern oil to the American economy is far less than it was in the past.
Pipes provides some concrete suggestions to convince the Palestinians that they won’t win. In my mind, the most effective ones are those in which anti-Israel activity is punished in ways that go directly against the goals of the Palestinian movement. For example, towns that are hotbeds of terrorism should be cut off from services; the bodies of terrorists should not be returned to their families; terrorist activity should result in new Jewish settlements being established or existing ones (like Havat Gilad, the home of murdered Rabbi Raziel Shevach) being regularized or expanded. And Israel should reduce the funds that it transfers to the PA (from customs duties, etc.) by the amount that the PA pays to terrorists in Israeli jails, or to the families of “martyrs.”
The US can end its financial coddling of the PA. UNRWA, the mother of the narrative, can be abolished, and funds diverted to host nations to pay for the support and ultimately, absorption, of Palestinian “refugees.” Real refugees from 1948 – perhaps there are 20,000 of them – can be taken care of by the UN’s normal refugee agency, UNHCR.
As Pipes says, it’s a long process. Attitudes developed over decades must change, both inside and outside of Israel. But they won’t change unless we, in Israel, adopt a consistent program: one of seeking victory, not temporary quiet.