For many American Jews, the story of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians is one about blaming Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for resisting peace and building settlements. The fact that most Israelis view the issue very differently is an inconvenient fact.
American liberals see the reluctance of Israelis to abandon the West Bank as they did Gaza in 2005 as the result of misguided extremism or foolish fears.
What explains the gap between Israeli opinion and that of the Diaspora?
The answer lies in an unwillingness to think clearly not only about what the Palestinians want, but what they’re doing and saying. In the last week, those who were willing to listen got an explanation for why even most of those Israelis who are in favor of a two-state solution in theory don’t think it makes sense to withdraw from the West Bank and Jerusalem in the foreseeable future.
Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas just provided yet another example why Israelis don’t trust the person most of the world refers to as their peace partner. In a rambling anti-Semitic rant before the Palestine National Council in Ramallah, he denounced Zionism as a European plot. Giving his listeners what he called a “history lesson,” he told them that “Israel is a colonial project that has nothing to do with the Jews. Europeans wanted to bring the Jews here to preserve their interests in the region.”
Abbas went on to dispute the more than 3,000-year-old connection between the Land of Israel and the Jewish people. He recycled discredited anti-Semitic myths about modern-day Jews being descended from the Khazars, rather than the ancient Israelites.
Just as bad, he said the Holocaust was not caused by anti-Semitism, but by the “social behavior” of the Jews, “[their charging] interest and social matters.” He also sought to link the Zionist movement to Adolf Hitler, arguing that an agreement that allowed many German Jews to escape the Shoah was proof that the Jewish return to their land was a Nazi-Zionist plot.
For those who are aware of Abbas’s biography, this latter accusation is nothing new. Abbas was the author of a 1982 doctoral dissertation that focused on the Nazi-Zionist smear, as well as on Holocaust denial in which the Palestinian claimed that the figure of 6 million Jewish victims was an exaggeration.
While this is far from the first time he has engaged in anti-Semitism, it was the sort of thing that even those who normally bend over backwards to rationalize Palestinian misbehavior couldn’t swallow. The European Union and former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry condemned Abbas’s anti-Semitism. The left-wing lobby J Street went to so far as to note his use of “anti-Semitic tropes,” as well as his “deeply offensive comments.” Nor could Amira Hass—a rabidly anti-Zionist columnist for Haaretz—avoid noting the “scent of anti-Semitism” in his comments.
Nevertheless, some still argue that it doesn’t matter if Abbas is an anti-Semite as long as he wants a two-state solution. They believe that Israel’s presence in the territories is both corrosive to the country’s character, and ultimately, a threat to the nation’s claims to being both a democracy and a Jewish state. They say better to have a people who share Abbas’s hateful opinions on the other side of a border defended by the Israel Defense Forces as opposed to inside of it.
The problem is that it means Israel is being asked to trade its only bargaining chips in the form of territory in exchange for something that—as even most peace advocates acknowledge—will be an armed truce at best, rather than peace. Abbas’s speech is a tip-off that the Palestinian state that peace advocates clamor for would be a stepping stone to new campaigns aimed at the end of the Jewish nation.
Israelis know this because they saw what happened the last time Israel gave up territory, when former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon withdrew every last soldier, settler and settlement from Gaza in 2005. Instead of trading land for peace, Israel traded land for terror. Instead of protesting the Israeli settlements in their midst, Hamas-ruled Gaza now protests the “settlements” inside the borders of pre-1967 Israel.
The Friday “March of Return” demonstrations at the border between Israel and Gaza being orchestrated by Hamas are not civil-rights protests. The point of these weekly efforts, in which Palestinians armed with guns, Molotov cocktails, rocks, burning tires and lit kites try to tear down the security barrier that protects Israel (though outlets like The New York Times pointedly try to ignore the violence, as this cartoon portrays) is to destroy the Jewish state.
As an essay by one of the participants, published in The New York Times last week, states that the use of the term “return” is not a figure of speech. Fadi Abu Shammalah made it clear that the goal is to tear down the border and allow the descendants of the 1948 refugees to invade pre-1967 Israel, effectively ending the Jewish state’s existence. Evacuating Gaza didn’t inspire its people to accept the notion of two states for two peoples. It merely whet their appetite to continue their century-old war on Zionism which, contrary to the claims of some on the Jewish left, they have yet to concede is a lost cause.
So the question for Jews who carp at Netanyahu and claim that Israel is the obstacle to peace is: Which Palestinian state do you want? The one in the West Bank led by a fanatical anti-Semite who is determined to whip up hatred for Jews among his people? Or the one led by Islamist terrorists in Gaza who are already actively seeking Israel’s destruction?
If Israelis say, “no, thank you,” to either and insist that as bad as things are, repeating Sharon’s disastrous Gaza experiment in the West Bank will make things infinitely worse, it’s because they are paying attention to what Abbas and Hamas are saying. American kibitzers and critics ought to do the same.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS — Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.