Tomorrow morning a Tel Aviv court will deliberate on a lawsuit against Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai charging him with abuse of power, destruction of private property and the violation of civil liberties—specifically, the right to speak freely about the need for an Israeli victory over Palestinian irredentism.
The lawsuit, brought by the Middle East Forum (MEF) think-tank, is about more than just the law: Huldai anointed himself the Israeli public’s arbiter of morality when he ordered his minions to demolish billboards belonging to the MEF’s Israel Victory Project.
Huldai claims Tel Aviv is “Israel’s epicenter of pluralism and liberalism” and a “city for everyone”—everyone, that is, except those who disagree with his views on how to deal with Palestinian rejectionist tendencies.
If you’re the CEO of Breaking the Silence, the head of the Joint Arab List, or perhaps Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh or Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas, you may find yourself agreeing with the mayor.
Even without the mayor’s interjection of his personal opinion, it has become a well-worn adage that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is one of the most difficult and complex to solve.
Considering this widespread belief and mantra, it is sometimes confounding how little actual thought goes into solving it, how it’s articulated in public discourse, and how little understanding there is about its root causes despite the mountain of evidence.
If we look at the genesis of the conflict at the beginning of the 20th century, long before the birth of the State of Israel, we see it had no connection to land, borders, settlements, refugees or Jerusalem. It started over a hundred years ago on the basis of violent Palestinian rejectionism of Jewish sovereignty in the Jews’ ancestral and indigenous homeland.
If we look at all the failures to achieve peace in the more than a century since, despite the Jewish nation agreeing to all of the Palestinians’ demands, the common thread woven through the various failed attempts remains Palestinian rejectionism.
Until this foundational point is properly understood and dealt with, no peace plan or negotiations can succeed.
With the heightened interest around the conflict and security issues raised by the “Peace to Prosperity” peace plan recently released by the U.S. administration, and against the backdrop of the Israeli elections, the Israel Victory Project once again decided to begin a thought-provoking and image-based campaign to create a conversation aimed at meeting the issue of Palestinian rejectionism head-on.
Our billboards in Tel Aviv depicting P.A. leader Abbas and Hamas leader Haniyeh in a position of surrender and submission, with the title, “Peace can ONLY be made with defeated enemies,” were meant to prompt debate and court controversy to ensure fresh and original discussion about how to solve the conflict.
However, Mayor Huldai, who has gone on record multiple times claiming that Tel Aviv is a beacon of “freedom of expression,” decided that censorship was necessary to ensure Israelis don’t veer from the tired paradigms that have underpinned almost 30 years of failed peace-planning.
Huldai, it must be remembered, is the person who said in 2016 that the State of Israel was responsible for terrorism against it, seeming to indicate the need for worse acts of barbarity against the residents of his own city.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Tel Aviv Municipality spokesperson Eytan Schwartz, in justifying the removal of our billboards, made a stunningly illiterate and cretinous comment, evoking Holocaust imagery by comparing terrorist mass murderer Haniyeh, head of a genocidal organization, to innocent Jewish children murdered by the Nazis.
This hysterical overreaction to our billboards not only gave them far more attention than we could possibly have imagined, they also demonstrated to the Israeli public that it is exactly this type of narrow-minded thinking that has guaranteed the continuance of our bloody conflict.
These posters put a mirror up to the likes of Huldai and others who have not been able to entertain an original thought about how to solve the conflict, except that more Israeli blood needs to be shed—and they did not like what they saw.
Regardless of which side of the political map they’re on, many Israelis are still stuck in the Oslo paradigm, where we look at maps, how much land we can retain, how much of Jerusalem will be ours, and what we will extend our sovereignty to.
On the other side, the Palestinians are uninterested in maps and territory; they still see Israel as temporary and believe that eventually they will be victorious, however inconceivable that appears to us.
The Palestinian leadership retains this hope through the concessions and compromise we continue to offer.
Only by defeating their hope of victory through crushing their will to continue fighting will we be able to end the conflict.
That is why Abbas can say “no, no, a thousand times no” and will not even answer a phone call from President Donald Trump; his will to stop the Palestinian war against the Jewish state, whether military, diplomatic or legal, has not been broken.
The more Israel talks of concessions or offers compromises the more the Palestinian leadership will perceive us as weak and temporary.
No peace plan will work until the Palestinians give up hope of eventual victory. If they can still say no and use the arrogant language of rejectionism, that means they still have hope.
We must force them to say yes to peace and prosperity by using all means, within moral and legal bounds, to break their will to continue fighting.
Once they have accepted that they will not be able to meet their war aims of ending Jewish sovereignty, we can talk peace, security and prosperity for both peoples and the wider region.
No amount of censorship, lies and incitement from those who continue to fail both Israelis and Palestinians will remove this salient fact.
Huldai has pontificated that the “Israeli government has forgotten what democracy is, and doesn’t understand that without freedom of expression, there will be no culture here.”
Mr. Mayor: You have violated your democratic oath and your silencing of opposing views will only help guarantee there will be no peace. This author hopes the Tel Aviv court rules in the MEF’s favor. It will be a victory against an Israeli mayor who ironically, albeit indirectly, supports Palestinian rejectionism.
Gregg Roman is director of the Middle East Forum, an organization that promotes American interests in the Middle East.