“Those whom the gods wish to destroy, they first make mad.”—Anonymous ancient dictum misattributed to Euripides.
Israel is a country of paradoxes and colliding opposites, many of which make it one of the most fascinating and dynamic countries on the face of the globe. It’s a country that has overcome almost impossible odds to drive its way to the forefront of virtually every realm of human endeavor, including medicine, agriculture, cybertechnology, arts and entertainment. There’s one jarring exception: the functioning of its body politic.
This is particularly true regarding the paradox embedded in Israel’s perverse, perilous and puerile approach to what has become known as “the Palestinian problem.” It would be no exaggeration to state that it is a patently self-contradictory policy, certain elements of which manifestly contradict and annul others.
Thus, in 2018, Israel passed a law—with disconcerting reluctance—mandating the reduction of payments to the Palestinian Authority by deducting a sum equivalent to the amount that it pays to imprisoned terrorists and the families of those killed while perpetrating acts of terror. This legislation reflected a compelling rationale that Israelis should not be complicit in compensating their Judeocidal Arab assailants or their dependents.
Oddly, rather than spearheading such a measure itself, the Israeli government found itself belatedly echoing the punitive initiative—taken previously by the U.S. Congress—known as the Taylor Force Act. The bill provides for ending U.S. aid to the P.A. unless and until it ceases to pay stipends to the incarcerated terrorists and to the families of deceased terrorists, including the families of suicide bombers.
One legal expert, Thane Rosenbaum, designated these payments for terror as “lavish incentives to commit violence,” which, in effect, constitute “a bounty system … enshrined in Palestinian law, provided for in the Palestinian Authority’s budget and indirectly supported by foreign aid.”
Noting that the compensation paid to convicted terrorists and to the families of deceased ones is markedly higher than average salaries in the P.A.-administered territories and paid according to the loathsome criterion that the more heinous the terror, the higher the remuneration, The Wall Street Journal wrote of the “pay-for-slay” practice: “Incentivizing the murder of civilians is barbarism, and it happens to offer a career path for ardent and enterprising Palestinians.”
Aid as a transfer payment for terror
In endorsing the move to curtail U.S. funds to the Judeophobic P.A., The Wall Street Journal pointed out that, for all intents and purposes: “U.S. aid [had] become … a transfer payment for terrorists” and urged that “ending the P.A.’s bureaucracy of terror should be atop the agenda.”
However, the Palestinian-Arab Judeocidal campaign continues unabated.
Last month, a member of Hamas opened fire with an automatic weapon on passing civilians in the old city of Jerusalem, killing one and wounding several others, before being killed himself by armed police. The perpetrator, one Fadi Abu Shkaydam, was considerably different in his socioeconomic profile from that which has often characterized previous “lone wolf” terrorists.
In his early forties, he was married with children; was a well-known and well-respected figure in his community; had a steady job as a religious preacher; was relatively well off economically—reportedly even owning property abroad—and was not suffering from any known personal crisis or trauma.
None of this prevented him from leaving a four-page testament to his family, in which he revealed that he had been planning his terror attack for a long time. In the document, he called on others, including family, colleagues and students to emulate him, and conveyed his elation at the prospect of carrying out his planned massacre: “I write these words with great joy … I end years of hard work with a meeting with God.”
The middle-aged Muslim cleric urged the Arab residents of Jerusalem to prepare for a holy war (jihad) to protect the Al Aqsa Mosque. Indeed, the prospect of Jews on the Temple Mount (heaven forfend!) reportedly so enraged him that it set him off on his gory rampage to murder or maim innocent passers-by. Poor fellow. One can only imagine his anguish and torment…
A worthy objective
As asserted previously, government policy on the Palestinian issue has been incontrovertibly self-obstructive and self-contradictory—with one policy element impeding the goals of another. To fully grasp this, consider that when the law mandating the deductions from tax receipts accruing to the P.A. was passed, one of its two initiators, MK Elazar Stern of the Yesh Atid Party, explained the rationale behind the legislation and the objectives it was designed to attain as follows: “… [T]his historic law will significantly weaken the encouragement of terrorism by the P.A. It is our duty to stop the economic incentive that the P.A. gives terrorists, an incentive that encourages others to commit terror attacks. That way, any Palestinian youth will realize that it’s not worth it for him to choose the path of terrorism. No more encouraging terrorism at our expense.”
In the law itself, the above aim is clearly laid out: “The objective of this law is to bring about a reduction of terrorist activity and to abolish the economic incentive for terror activity by stipulating rules to freeze the funds which the Palestinian Authority paid for terror affiliated activity, out of the funds that Israel transfers to the Palestinian Authority.”
So far so good, but now for the kicker.
Working at cross purposes
But then, in Sept. 2021, following a meeting between Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz and P.A. leader Mahmoud Abbas, and totally counter to the rationale of the legislation passed, Israel agreed to lend the P.A. the sum of half a billion shekels ($150 million), “in order to prevent its collapse.”
As Yossi Kuperwasser recently wrote: This move makes a mockery not only of Israel’s protests against the P.A.’s terror stipends but also of Israeli law, which mandates that the government take action against the P.A. over these stipends.”
Seemingly oblivious of the fact that it is the P.A. that “pays for slay,” Gantz “explained” the decision, declaring: “As the Palestinian Authority gets stronger, Hamas gets weaker, and so long as it has greater governance, we will have more security and we will have to act less.”
However, Abbas has made it unambiguously clear that he has no higher priority than paying-for-slaying, proclaiming; “We will never stop paying the families of the martyrs and the prisoners, despite the efforts to prevent us from doing so … even if we only have a penny left, we are going to first put it toward these payments.”
This, of course, casts significant doubt on the logic and wisdom of Gantz’s argument for giving the P.A. considerably more “pennies.”
After all, until recently, Israel had frozen 1.3 billion shekels ($417.26 million) in tax revenues since the law went into effect. Accordingly, the loan that Israel extended to the P.A. pumped back almost 40 percent of the liquidity withheld by Israel to penalize the P.A. for incentivizing terror—thus considerably undermining its intended impact.
Clearly then, this is a portrait of a government hopelessly at cross purposes with itself.
Fungibility and foolishness
While Israel presented the loan as an advance on future tax payments, which were to be repaid in full, the Palestinians hotly disputed this. According to the P.A., only 100 million shekels of the total sum was an advance on future tax revenues, while the remaining 400 million were funds that Israel had owed to the P.A.—i.e., the amounts deducted because of P.A. payments related to terrorist activity—and for which Israel would not be reimbursed.
In other words, the P.A. made it clear that it would not repay 80 percent of the funds that it received from Israel.
This starkly underscores the earlier contention that government policy on the Palestinian issue is decidedly self-obstructive—even self-contradictory—with one policy element (designed to penalize the P.A. for incentivizing slaughter) impeding another element of it (designed to shield the P.A. from the effects of the penalties imposed on it for incentivizing slaughter).
Moreover, even if Israel were given credible assurances that the money transferred to the P.A. would not be used for “pay-for-slay” stipends, the policy would be no less perverse and paradoxical. After all, money is fungible, so even if the funds, transferred in the “loan” from Israel, were only used for legitimate humanitarian purposes, it would still free up other money to be channeled to “pay-for slay” recipients—hardly something that would enhance Israel’s security and Israelis’ safety as Gantz attempted to claim.
Funding corrupt kleptocracy and tyrannical theocracy
Sadly, the grave lack of consistency and rationality is sadly evident elsewhere. For instance, earlier this month, Israeli Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej, of the far-left Meretz Party, traveled to Oslo as the head of Israel’s delegation to the biannual gathering of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, comprised of donor countries for the P.A.
The purpose of Frej’s trip was an endeavor to drum up donations for a financially floundering P.A., which has suffered an 85 percent drop in donor funding from $1.2 billion in 2008 to $184 million this year.
Frej called on the international community to resume its funding to the P.A. He lamented: “Unfortunately, due to ‘donor fatigue,’ contributions have fallen.” He warned: “My friends, the risks are too great; the stakes are too high. We are in a state of emergency,” and urged donors: “Please continue and increase your support for the Palestinian people.”
One can only wonder what twisted rationale motivates a country to solicit funding for sworn enemies, undisguisedly dedicated to its own destruction.
Accordingly, as Ruthie Blum points out in a recent op-ed, Frej’s assertion that it was in Israel’s best interest for the P.A. to be “strong and stable” is enough “to elicit a raised eyebrow, if not a belly laugh.”
After all, the P.A. is an economic basket case, which, for three decades, has squandered billions of international aid—only to end up with a corrupt kleptocracy in the so-called “West Bank” and a tyrannical theocracy in Gaza, both totally dependent on the largesse of its alleged “oppressor.”
Of course, there may well be things more depraved than an Israeli minister soliciting funds for a self-declared mortal foe, but none comes readily to mind.
The confused, conflicted and contrary nature of Israeli policy on the “Palestinian issue” is largely the result of two fatally flawed assumptions that underlie the substance on which it is based and undergird the context in which it is formulated.
The first is that Israel should relate to the Palestinian Arabs as potential peace partners. The second is that the Palestinian public is somehow the victim of its leadership, which has a vested interest in keeping the conflict with Israel unresolved. Thus, giving greater voice to the people, rather than their leaders, will somehow lead to greater rapprochement.
These are both misleading misconceptions.
With regard to the former, the Palestinian Arabs, as a collective, are not a prospective peace partner, but—as they themselves undisguisedly declare—an implacable enemy, who will never be satiated by any show of Israeli goodwill. Indeed, concession and appeasement, no matter how far-reaching, will never satisfy Palestinian appetite; on the contrary, it will only whet it.
Failure to recognize this will merely lead to a policy of successive and ever more far-reaching—yet unrequited—conciliatory gestures in a futile pursuit of some elusive concession, which if only made, will result in a lasting resolution of the intractable Judeo-Arab conflict over the Holy Land.
Crucible not victim
With regard to the latter, the Palestinian public is not the victim of its leadership, but the crucible in which that leadership was formed and from which it emerged. The Palestinian leadership is a reflection of, not an imposition on, Palestinian society.
Indeed, opinion polls clearly indicate that the Palestinian public strongly identifies with the perpetrators of brutal and lethal acts of terror against Israelis and almost uniformly endorses the “pay-for-slay” practice. Thus, Adam Rasgon, today of The New York Times, noted: “Polls have found that the overwhelming majority of Palestinians oppose the P.A. suspending its payments to the security prisoners, including terrorists who have killed Israeli civilians, and their families.”
Quoting a “high-ranking Palestinian official,” he wrote: “These payments are one of the most sensitive issues in Palestinian society … If the P.A. were to get rid of them, it would be committing political suicide,” and cited a poll conducted by a leading Palestinian Institute according to which “91 percent of Palestinians were against stopping them.”
Underscoring this widely held public sentiment, one Israeli news channel noted: “These prisoners are often regarded by many Palestinians as heroes or martyrs.”
Removing and replacing the current leadership, therefore, is hardly likely to improve matters—as the most probable alternative candidates to ascend to power will almost certainly be more radical than the present incumbents.
Correctly conceptualizing the conflict
For Israel to be able to formulate a cogent and coherent policy vis-à-vis the Palestinian issue, it must first manage to correctly conceptualize the conflict. Failure to do so will inevitably result in flawed policy, which, in turn, will inevitably result in failure—as has been the case with Israel’s policy on the Palestinian issue for decades.
This brings to mind the wise words of eminent social psychologist Kurt Levin, who observed: “There is nothing so practical as a good theory.”
After all, action without comprehension is a little like swinging a hammer without knowing where the nails are—and just as hazardous and harmful. Thus, good theory creates understanding of cause and effect, and hence facilitates effective policy, allowing measures undertaken to achieve their intended goals. Formulating such “good theory” entails setting aside the previously mentioned misconceptions that underlie—and undermine—virtually all of the conceptual approaches to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: namely, that the Palestinians are a prospective peace partner and that they are unwilling victims of their leaders.
This leads inexorably to the dour conclusion that the conflict must be conceptualized as one between two irreconcilable collectives, with mutually exclusive foundational narratives: A Jewish collective and an Arab collective—for which, today, the Palestinian-Arab collective is its operational spearhead.
Grudgingly accepted or greatly feared
They are irreconcilable because the raison d’etre of the one is the preservation of Jewish political sovereignty in the Holy Land, while the raison d’etre of the other is the annulment Jewish political sovereignty in the Holy Land. Therefore, for one to prevail, the other must be prevailed upon. With antithetical and mutually exclusive core objectives, only one can emerge victorious, with the other vanquished.
Accordingly, as a clash of collectives, whose outcome will be determined by collective victory or defeat, it cannot be personalized. The fate of individual members of one collective cannot be a deciding determinant of the policy of the rival collective—and certainly not a consideration that impacts the probability of collective victory or defeat.
Thus, Israel’s survival imperative must dictate that it forgo the pursuit of international amity from the Arabs, which, for the foreseeable future, will remain an unattainable pipe dream. It must reconcile itself to the stern, but sober, conclusion: The most it can realistically hope for is to be grudgingly accepted, the least it must attain is to be greatly feared.
Any more benign policy goals are a recipe for disaster.
Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.
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