The kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teens by Hamas, and the subsequent murder of an Arab teen by Jewish extremists, actually underscored two fundamental differences between Israeli and Palestinian society. COMMENTARY contributor Eugene Kontorovich and the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens both addressed one difference–the societal response to such murders. But the second is no less important: Israeli police swiftly nabbed the suspected Jewish killers because Israelis are generally prepared to face facts, even when the facts point to a horrific revenge killing. Palestinians, in contrast, are so mired in conspiracy theories that many refused to even believe the kidnapping had occurred.
This view started from the very top: Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki, for instance, said the kidnapping might be either “a childish game on Israel’s part, meant to attract attention,” or “part of a bigger game meant to turn the Israelis from aggressors into victims.” And as even Haaretz’s pro-Palestinian reporter Amira Hass acknowledged, many Palestinians agreed:
As long as the bodies hadn’t been found, a great many Palestinians believed no abduction had ever occurred. In their view, the kidnapping was fabricated to thwart the Palestinians’ national unity government, undo the achievements (from the Palestinian perspective) of the deal to free kidnapped soldier Gilad Shalit, and harm Hamas.
This is simply mind-blowing. For 18 days, thousands of Israeli soldiers searched for the missing boys round the clock, as did numerous civilian volunteers. Mass prayer rallies were held throughout Israel. The kidnapping dominated both politics and the media; even major geopolitical events like the Islamic State’s takeover of swathes of Iraq got second billing. Yet “a great many Palestinians” found it perfectly reasonable to think this was all part of a massive conspiracy–that Israel’s political and military leaders, media outlets, and even the boys’ own families and friends had conspired to virtually shut down the country for weeks for the sole purpose of harassing the Palestinians.
Like the glorification of murder that Stephens and Kontorovich discussed, this penchant for conspiracy theories over truth has serious implications for the prospects of Israeli-Palestinian peace. Take, for instance, the rampant Palestinian denial of any historic Jewish presence in the Land of Israel–the repeated references to the “alleged Temple,” the claim that Jesus was a Palestinian, and much more. This denial makes it psychologically almost impossible for Palestinians to accept a Jewish state’s existence. If you believe two peoples have historical rights to a land, sharing it is a reasonable proposition. But if you believe the other side has no rights at all–that it has simply stolen your land and dispossessed you–then allowing it to keep its ill-gotten gains is a shameful, virtually inconceivable concession.
Or consider the Palestinians’ claim that recognizing Israel as a Jewish state would strip Israeli Arabs of their rights. In reality, this is ridiculous: Israel has defined itself as a Jewish state since its inception, but that hasn’t stopped it from granting Arab citizens full civil rights–more rights, in fact, than their brethren in the PA have. (Israel doesn’t, for instance, jail journalists for insulting its leaders.) But in the fever swamps of Palestinian conspiracy theories, where everything–even the kidnapping of three Jewish teens–is an Israeli plot to harm Palestinians, the idea that this Israeli demand is really a plot to strip Arab citizens of their rights is perfectly believable. And once having convinced themselves of this, they obviously can’t accept such a demand.
What all this means is that anyone who truly wants peace must do the opposite of what the West has done for decades: Instead of catering to Palestinian sensibilities by, for instance, avoiding all mention of Jewish rights in Jerusalem, the West must start demanding that Palestinian leaders publicly acknowledge, and educate their children to know, some basic truths about both the historic Jewish kingdom and the modern Jewish state. For only when Palestinians replace their feverish conspiracy theories about Israel with the truth will they be capable of making peace with it.