The latest poll of Palestinian opinion provides another sobering dose of reality to those who think that Israeli actions are the sole obstacle to peace. Following on the heels of previous surveys taken in the aftermath of this past summer’s war, the poll from the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center again shows that most Palestinians think Hamas won the conflict. More importantly, support for the Islamist terror group and the idea of continuing a military struggle against Israel continues to go up while backing for the supposedly more moderate Fatah declines. This is important in understanding not just how remote the chances of convincing those Fatah moderates to negotiate even a favorable peace deal with Israel are, but also why Israeli attitudes toward Palestinians have changed.
The polls tell us that the same people who were being used as human shields by Hamas in Gaza as well as other Palestinians in the West Bank are still unwilling to rethink their backing for the group’s efforts to wage war and ultimately destroy Israel. This is puzzling to those in the West who bother to look at the numbers, since it makes no sense. Hamas’s campaign of “resistance” against Israeli “occupation”—the phrase by which they refer to pre-1967 Israel and not just the West Bank—has no prospect of success. All it brings the Palestinians is more devastation, suffering, and bloodshed.
And yet the majority of Palestinians remain so hostile to Israel’s existence and the Jewish presence on even the land it held before June 1967 that the struggle remains popular. From its beginnings in the early 20th century, Palestinian nationalism has always been inextricably linked with the war on Zionism. Reinforced by a constant drumbeat of incitement from both the official media of the Palestinian Authority and its leadership, the political culture of the Palestinians remains implacably hostile to Israel even if one takes Hamas out of the equation. That culture of denial of Israel’s legitimacy feeds the terrorism of Hamas in the form of missiles and terror tunnels, but also the Arab violence in the streets of Jerusalem against Israeli citizens that has created a steady toll of casualties in recent months.
It is also in that context that we should read the latest diatribe against Israel in the New York Times. An op-ed published today by Israeli Arab journalist Rula Jebreal is a compendium of charges all aimed to depict the country as fitting into the “apartheid state” libel. In her telling, every aspect of the country’s laws is geared toward discrimination against the Arab minority population. Israel is, like any democracy, imperfect and it would not be true to claim that Israeli Arabs have no cause for complaint. Some of what she writes about is true and some are distortions. But one doesn’t have to read too far between the lines to see that the purpose of her indictment is not redress of specific wrongs but the end of the Zionist project. The rights of national minorities should be protected in any society but the existence of that minority does not give them the right to thwart the basic purpose of the state.
For 66 years since it won its independence, Israel has attempted to be both a Jewish state and a democracy where minority rights are guaranteed. As it has proved, doing so is difficult but not impossible. It has been the haven for oppressed and homeless Jews from around the world while also maintaining equality of the law for Arabs whose democratic rights and ability to obtain redress through the courts has been stoutly defended. It is understandable that this compromise hasn’t satisfied those who would wish to see the one Jewish state on the planet replaced with yet another Arab state. The same rejectionist Palestinian culture referenced earlier also makes it hard for Arabs to accept being a minority in a majority Jewish country. But even if Israeli Arabs are unhappy about this, they are also generally quick to acknowledge that they have better lives and more democratic rights than virtually any other Arab population in the Middle East.
But what is really missing from Jebreal’s account of Israeli Arab life is the fact that Israeli Jewish opinion of Arabs has been deeply influenced by the events of the last 20 years. After the Oslo Accords in 1993, most Israelis were convinced that peace was just around the corner. But the campaigns of terrorism and the rejections of peace offers changed their minds. The overwhelming majority believes that in both the Oslo Accords and the 2005 withdrawal from Gaza, they traded land for terror, not peace. But rather than distancing themselves from the Palestinians in the territories, the majority of Israeli Arabs sympathize with many of the terror groups. Most now call themselves “Palestinians” rather than Israelis as they did before Oslo.
Muslims cry racism when some in the West accurately trace the roots of ISIS and Hamas to a form of radical Islam that has significant support among Muslims. But Jebreal simply puts down all Israelis who are religious as racist without a shred of proof. Indeed, she decries the greater integration of Orthodox Jews into the Israeli Army as proof of Israel’s perfidy rather than its democratic values.
She claims Israeli education promotes discrimination against Palestinians when, in fact, peace education has been a hallmark of the system since Oslo even as the Palestinian Authority schools continue to promote hate against Jews.
For her, Israel is merely a discriminatory state driven by hatred against Arabs. This is false. But how can she be surprised that Israelis are bitter about what the Palestinians have done? With most of the country spending the summer scurrying back and forth to bomb shelters as Hamas rained down missiles on their heads, did she think they would be happy about the fact that most Palestinians, and even many Israeli Arabs, applaud Hamas?
Israel has its flaws but it remains a democracy where Arabs may vote and serve in virtually any government post. What it needs is peace with its neighbors. But with those neighbors continuing to refuse to make peace, and with the Arab minority increasingly hostile to the state and sympathetic to those who desire its destruction, it is hardly remarkable that inter-communal relations have suffered as they would in any country that remains in a state of war. Indeed, in the history of the world there is probably no other example of one party to such a conflict protecting the rights of members of their society who identify with the enemy in the way that Israel has done for its Arab population.
If she were honest, she’d admit that the Palestinian drive to exclude all Jews from their territory is the real apartheid, not a Jewish state that guarantees the rights of Arabs. If Jebreal wants Israel to become a place where Arab-Jewish hostility is lessened, then she should address her complaints to her fellow Arabs who support Hamas and whose hostility ensures the seemingly indefinite perpetuation of the conflict. But by invoking the apartheid libel about Israel and not the settlements in the territories she is giving away her real intent. Not even a total withdrawal from the lands won in 1967 would satisfy her any more than it would Hamas. What she wants is an end to the Jewish state, not a civil-rights movement as she disingenuously claims. So long as this is what passes for informed Arab opinion, no one should be surprised that Israelis have given up on peace for the foreseeable future.