Another grisly week in the Holy Land. On Monday, three Jewish teenagers—Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Frankel, and Gilad Shaar—who had been kidnapped three weeks ago were found murdered on the West Bank. The studious attention to not releasing details suggests that something horrific was done. As they were being laid to rest on Wednesday, a Palestinian boy, Mohamed Abu Khudeir, either 16 or 17, was kidnapped in a revenge-attack, and burned alive.
Those who campaign against Israel did not respond to the murders of her teenagers with even human sympathy, let alone a re-appraisal of their politics. They worried, loudly and tendentiously, about possible Israeli indiscriminate revenge attacks on the Palestinians. This was in itself a slur: to suggest that Israel would even consider indiscriminate attacks on civilians. When the rioting broke out in East Jerusalem on Wednesday, looking terribly like the stirrings of a Third Intifada, it was Israel that tried to pacify the situation, protecting Palestinians accused of collaboration with Israel or mistaken for Jews from violent crowds, as video evidence showed. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unequivocally condemned this revenge-killing and sought to lower the temperature. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said: “Israel has full responsibility for the killing of the boy.”
This is where the two crimes diverge. The crime against Israel was carried out by Ḥarakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiyya (HAMAS, or The Islamic Resistance Movement), which is part of a unity government of the Palestinians. There have been various efforts to say that HAMAS is not really part of the government—it is a technocratic government “backed by” HAMAS, was one effort—but casuistry of this kind has no place in serious analysis. HAMAS has praised kidnappings in general and this one specifically, without having the bravery to claim it. The crime against the Palestinians was committed by a zealot on a wholly individual basis, condemned not only by the Israeli State but by her society, with anti-racialism demonstrations being held in Jerusalem, and punishment sure to fall on whoever is found responsible. The overheated rhetoric of social media from some in Israel, including some ugly calls for revenge, are likewise under investigation and, where committed by the armed forces, have been punished with prison sentences.
Israel struck into Gaza at HAMAS military targets after days of rocket fire. It was unfortunate that Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch seemed to only perfunctorily acknowledge the crime against Israel before saying that Israel’s response was “collective punishment“. This encourages Israel to view these organizations as hostile, and they have hardly helped themselves. Amnesty makes itself a platform for HAMAS’ ideological soul-mate Moazzam Begg, and HRW’s own founder is moved to ask what gives with this focus on the Jewish State. This was clumsy at a time of national grief of a kind not seen in Israel for roughly ten years. As to the United Nations, it has to be hoped that the illusions about that body have been stripped from people by the manner in which it has abetted the barbarous campaign of extermination against the Syrian people—not just in its structure, held hostage to a Russian (and Chinese) veto, but in its own operations, sending Kofi Annan to run down the clock on the good options and buy time for the killers. There cannot be many people who still take the U.N. Human Rights Council seriously, but, just in case, this year’s members include: Algeria, China, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Saudi Arabia.
It is not that Israel does not do wrong things. The shooting dead of two young Palestinian men in the middle of May is almost certainly a criminal act, but when that verdict comes, the guilty will be punished because Israel does not shoot unarmed teenagers as a matter of State policy. HAMAS, on the other hand, explicitly endorses the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and says, “our struggle against the Jews is extremely wide-ranging and grave,” i.e. they do not want a two-State settlement but the obliteration of Israel and the Jews.
There seems to be an inchoate belief that if HAMAS can be drawn into an all-Palestinian government and if they can be made part of the peace process, then a two-State settlement will moderate them. None other than Yasser Arafat told us this was not so: if he signed a final end to this conflict, conceding the “right of return”—the Palestinian claim that the more than four million people who descend from the 750,000 refugees from the 1948-49 War should be permitted to live in Israel—then he would be killed in a bloody upheaval by the open rejectionists. Any peace agreement worth the name has to relinquish this claim, however, for such a demand is really an attempt to destroy Israel by demographic conquest. HAMAS’ men do not blow themselves up in crowds of Jewish—and Muslim and Christian and Druze—Israelis in order to bring about a compromise; they are not going to be mollified by an alteration to the border between Israel and the West Bank, or by the security barrier adhering more closely to the internationally-recognised frontier. HAMAS’ conception of their religion tells them that a Jewish State is unacceptable, and they reject entirely a nationalist concept of identity. The first thing to happen if there was a peace agreement that formed a PLO State would be a declaration of war by HAMAS on this entity as a heretical sell-out.
At the present time, with this PLO-HAMAS “unity” government—an incredibly cynical pact between mutually hostile parties—the United States and the European Union are seeking to circumvent their own laws to keep funding the Palestinian Authority, even though the unity accord bans any co-operation with the West. One of the means by which the Obama administration will likely do this is to have its dreaded lawyers argue that since HAMAS does not exert “undue influence,” as the statute banning American funding to HAMAS demands, over the Palestinian institutions and entities, then it is not in breach of the law for tax-payer money to flow to a designated Foreign Terrorist Organisation. This is where the “peace process” ideology takes you: the process becomes all, with the vague idea being that so long as you keep the process going, the peace will come.
There is then the attendant belief of the peace processers that the squabble in former Mandate Palestine is the centre of (at least the Islamic) universe, and that it is worth suffering indignities such as this one over HAMAS—and occasionally roughing-up the Israelis—because the solution of this problem will be so beneficial in the region. There is no shifting this view: How Israel was ever connected to the State failure of Pakistan, say, which has undergone a very serious counter-evolution since its founding and poisoned the entire region around it, is simply beyond me, but for anybody who cared to notice the Arabian Revolts have overthrown forever this notion even in the areas conceivably connected to Israel.
The Egyptians veered between crude democracy and populist despotism without reference to Israel. The Libyans could call for Western help while Israel remained the custodian of the West Bank. Syria has melted down and Iraq has now had her frontier erased. Israel could have never existed and this would still have happened: The problems of the Arab world are the problems of the Arab world, and the “Palestinian issue” turns out to be no barrier to co-operation with the West, after all. The hatred directed at Israel comes from religiously-inspired animosity to ceding land ever ruled by Islam, European-imported antisemitism—both of these things incubated and incited by tyrannical ruling elites as a means of deflecting their failures—and perhaps above all because Israel has held up a mirror to the Arab States in which their own decay could be glimpsed. Without oil and under siege, Israel thrived democratically and economically, and when it came to war she bested the Arabs every time.
From a purely realpolitik point-of-view, too, it should be obvious that the import of Israel-Palestine peace is much overstated. If the Israelis and Palestinians sign a peace deal it will be akin to the 1994 Treaty with Jordan: welcome in tone but irrelevant in practical terms. Jordan’s security architecture was already interwoven with America and Israel and the treaty simply formalised it; the same will be true for the Palestinians.
This is all an old story but it bears repeating since it seems to get forgotten every time trouble flares up. But where to go from here?
The last Palestinian elections saw HAMAS take a majority in the Parliament, then launch a violent coup in Gaza that included throwing PLO members off roofs, and since then it has imposed a shari’a regime on the Strip that has included banning male hairdressers. HAMAS’ patronage system and corruption has been fully the equal of the PLO’s. And meanwhile Abu Mazen is nine years into a four-year term. There have been some rather dubious accounts of attempts to oust HAMAS by force but otherwise this status quo, of an Islamist autocracy in Gaza and a PLO Police State on the West Bank, has held since 2007.
The HAMAS-PLO accord is supposed to lead to elections. The Israelis are worried about this, as are the PLO and Western “realists,” all of whom are happy with the status quo, because they perceive, possibly correctly, that HAMAS would win such elections. That is exactly why they must be held.
In recent years the Palestinians have fallen back increasingly on their Islamic identity, and it is entirely possible that this is now predominant and would carry the day in elections. Benny Morris, Israel’s most famous revisionist historian, who exploded the Zionist founding myths and wrote very sympathetically of the First Intifada, certainly thinks so:
[The chances for a two-State settlement] appear very bleak. Bleak primarily because the Palestinian Arabs, in the deepest fibers of their being, oppose such an outcome, demanding, as they did since the dawn of their national movement, all of Palestine as their patrimony. … [I]n the highly unlikely event that Israel and the [Palestinian Authority] were in the coming years to sign a two-state agreement, it would in short order unravel. It would be subverted and overthrown by [maximalists] in the Palestinian camp—probably representing Palestinian Arab majority opinion.
Whether or not the majority of Palestinians reject a two-State solution can only be known if there are elections because Morris is surely correct that a peace treaty between Israel and the PA would quickly collapse. But if HAMAS wins the elections, it is the end of the peace process for now. We should not lament this, however, because as Reuel Marc Gerecht has put it,
There won’t be lasting peace between the Israelis and Palestinians—the kind of peace where Israeli forces are withdrawn from the West Bank, Shin Bet no longer unilaterally undertakes night raids, and the barrier comes down—until peace is a democratic mandate, born of a civil society that demands its own rights before demanding rights from Israelis. That time is probably far off.
What holds in Egypt and Turkey holds in Palestine: The way to peace and stability in the long term is not around the faithful but through them. If a majority of Palestinians oppose a peace agreement with Israel, it is worse than pointless to sign one over the heads of the Palestinians with a corrupt autocracy, even if President Obama doesn’t see it this way. (Palestinians “prefer a country of their own that allows them to find a job,” Obama says, with no mention of democracy.) But people-to-people peace is the only one worth having. Treaties with brittle autocracies can collapse at a moment’s notice, and cause running instability with a ruling elite having to defend the treaty against a hostile populace.
On a strategic level, these constant failed attempts by America to negotiate between Israel and illegitimate Palestinian governments leads to bloodshed for both sides and damages American credibility in a region where this cannot be afforded. America cannot force peace by wanting it more than the participants do. All this does is open America up to being taken advantage of: The PLO extracts further rents with the same après moi le deluge arguments of the other regional tyrannies and Israel nearly got back the treacherous Jonathan Pollard at the knock-down price of continuing the peace process for a few more months.
Democracy is the answer for the Palestinians: they must be given responsibility for their choices. The decades of railing against outsiders while demanding that they deliver them a State and giving themselves over to a cult of violence have to be ended: either they have to set aside this maximalism and accept a Jewish State or they have to accept the consequences of giving in to their most ruinous temptations, which would include a significant reduction in international funding and not only a perpetuation of the Israeli presence on the West Bank but likely an increased visibility, where it had been receding. If the Palestinians do elect HAMAS it at least opens the chance for evolution: the Palestinians will not be able to blame outsiders for what happens, so they might have to blame themselves and perhaps reflect on where they went wrong. Dictatorship, as the Palestinians have now, is a dead-end: it prevents the debates the Palestinians need to have to advance. In the meanwhile, an election would remove the confusion for the rest of us: we would know whether the Palestinians really did want peace or not.
Update: Polling data has suggested that a narrow majority of Palestinians support a two-State settlement. There are some ambiguities: even in a poll showing 54% of Palestinians in support of sharing the land, one-third support a Third Intifada.