Over the last 20 years, since the Oslo accords, the Palestinians haven’t distinguished themselves as nation builders. Their economy depends on donations, their democracy is dysfunctional (elections haven’t been held in years and there is no single governing body that represents Palestinians in Gaza, Yehudah and Shomron), and they’ve failed to provide their young with the kind of education that offers hope for a brighter future.
But there is one area in which they have succeeded brilliantly — that is, in running circles around Israel’s PR apparatus. They have managed to convince the world that the dispute with Israel is about settlements. Indeed, every recent news story on the current round of peace talks includes a background paragraph noting that “peace negotiations were suspended in 2010, in a dispute over the continued building of settlements by Israel in the West Bank.”
In this age of information overload, no one remembers, or wants to remember, that the talks collapsed after Israel implemented a nine-month settlement-building freeze, and after Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, in a dramatic departure from his past positions, openly endorsed a two-state solution.
One person who hasn’t been taken in by the Palestinian disinformation campaign is U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor. On a visit to Israel earlier this month, he made it clear that the core issue is the failure of the Arab world to accept the existence of Israel as a Jewish state. Peace will only come when the Arabs go through a “cultural mind-shift,” he said. Only then will it be possible to talk about “territory, lines, towns and settlements,” as the congressman correctly put it.
Unfortunately, Cantor’s is a lone voice. Just about everyone else is convinced that the issue is borders and that, in the words of Bill Clinton, “everyone knows what a final agreement between the Israelis and Palestinians would look like.” The Palestinian Authority’s recognition of Israel’s right to exist — and halting its incitement in schools, mosques and the broadcast media — is a non-issue for all but Israeli right-wingers.
For this reason, it’s very likely that the five-hour meeting held in Israel last week between Justice Minister Tzipi Livni and chief PA negotiator Saeb Erekat, under the watchful eye of U.S. peace envoy Martin Indyk, focused on borders, etc. — not on PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas’s failure to condemn the murder of Jewish civilians at the hero’s welcome he accorded the terrorist killers who were released as a precondition for the talks.
Allowing the Palestinians to frame the dispute in terms of settlements and “two nations for two peoples” and to set the agenda sets the stage for disaster, chalilah. The danger isn’t just for “settlers,” who risk being thrown out of their homes (again), or for Israel, which would face a terror state minutes away from Tel Aviv, but for the entire free world.
Egypt is an example of how misreading the core problem makes a bad situation worse. The Egyptian revolution of two-and-a-half years ago, which prompted Washington to summarily dump then-President Hosni Mubarak, wasn’t about a nation clamoring for democracy. It was about an Islamic revolution using democracy to advance its cause. (The reason the administration didn’t protest when the military deposed the democratically elected Egyptian president last month is because it finally got it — better late than never.) What the people needed was food and work, and the West needed to work with Mubarak to ensure that he delivered the goods.
The Palestinians, as well, are using terms like “democracy” and “independent statehood” to advance an entirely different agenda. They won’t recognize Israel as a Jewish state because they don’t believe in it. Everything they say and do, including senior Palestinian Authority official Jibril Rajoub’s recent remark that “if we had a nuke we’d have used it this very morning [against Israel]” — indicates that gaining control of Gaza, Yehudah and Shomron is the first step toward righting what they consider a historic wrong.
If anyone has any doubt about what an independent, “democratic” Arab state in Yehudah and Shomron will look like, all he has to do is take a look at Egypt. Even if Abbas is a “moderate” — and he isn’t — sooner or later he will be thrown out of office, as he was in Gaza.
A Palestinian state is in the interest of Iran and radical Islam. It is not in the interest of Israel or of the Palestinians, who would enjoy a much higher quality of life under Israeli rule — even if they don’t have the right to vote. (Arabs living in eastern Yerushalayim are adamant that they remain under Israeli sovereignty so that they continue to receive National Insurance Institute benefits.)
And a Palestinian state is certainly not in the interest of the United States or Europe, who don’t need another hot spot in the Middle East, where they are forced to stand by helplessly as thousands of civilians are massacred by their local rulers.
For Americans, who take personal security, rule of law and a minimal standard of living for granted, democracy is indeed a necessity. For many of those who live in the Middle East, the basic necessities are stability, security and something approaching a decent standard of living.
Democracy can wait.