If there’s one article I’d like every international diplomat to read today, it’s Carlo Strenger’s post on the Haaretz website. Strenger, a professor of psychology, is a lifelong leftist and dedicated advocate of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But unlike many of his fellows, he refuses to shut his eyes to reality. Here’s his comment on the latest violence out of Gaza:
Most commentators assume that neither Hamas nor Israel is interested in further escalation of the hostilities that have been initiated by Islamic Jihad this time, ostensibly to jockey for position vis-à-vis Hamas … [But] Israelis, for very understandable reasons no longer care who is responsible for the violence. All they know is that, in the end, there will always be a Palestinian group that will initiate violence. As a result they say “why should we take the risk of retreating to the 1967 borders? Why should we rely on Palestinians to keep the peace? All we’ll get is rockets on Tel Aviv, Raanana and Kfar Saba. So the world won’t like us for the occupation; we can live with that, but not with rockets on our population centers.”
Strenger’s conclusion is that however sincerely committed to peace Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas may be (and he credits Abbas with far more sincerity than most Israelis do), Israel won’t sign any agreement as long as major Palestinian players remain committed to violence: The risk of a pro-violence faction gaining control of the Palestinian state, whether through elections or by force, is too high. And he’s smart enough to realize that the kind of dodges now being mooted by parts of the Israeli left and the international community – like a Palestinian unity government in which Hamas authorizes Abbas to continue negotiating but refuses to recognize Israel itself, or Hamas’s offer of a “long-term truce” rather than full peace – won’t do:
Israelis will not move towards peace as long as Hamas, a central player and crucial part of Palestinian society will not endorse peace explicitly. No amount of playing games will do; nothing less than full recognition of Israel’s right to exist in safety and abolishing the [Hamas] Charter and excising its anti-Semitism as it stands completely; nothing less will do.
Strenger is certainly right as far as he goes, and anyone who supports a two-state solution should take his words to heart.
Nevertheless, he doesn’t go far enough. For as he himself wrote, even when Hamas isn’t interested in escalation, there’s always some “Palestinian group that will initiate violence” instead. And that means reforming Hamas, while necessary, isn’t sufficient: Pro-violence Palestinians will simply migrate to other groups, like Islamic Jihad.
What is needed, therefore, is a change in attitude among the Palestinian public. And that will never happen as long as even the “pro-peace” camp, aka Abbas and the PA, engages in relentless, vicious incitement against Israel: denying historic Jewish ties to Jerusalem; teaching children that pre-1967 Israel was “stolen” from the Palestinians, who will someday get it back; consistently promoting a vision of a world without Israel; and lionizing murderers.
Combatting Palestinian incitement and educating for peace is slow, unglamorous work; international peace conferences are much more exciting. But as Strenger noted, peace isn’t possible as long as “there will always be a Palestinian group that will initiate violence.” And only a fundamental change in Palestinian culture can change that.