Commentary Magazine


Topic: Intifada

Israel and Its Arabs: Rockets, Riots, and the Dream of Coexistence

One age-old critique of Israeli deterrence, self-defense, and unwillingness to give away the store in negotiations with the Palestinians was psychological: didn’t Israeli leaders realize, it was asked (rhetorically), how they were radicalizing a new generation of Palestinian youth, who only knew “occupation?” I often would wonder why these same voices didn’t ask the reverse question: what if a generation of Israelis grew up in a time of recurring intifadas and ceaseless rocket fire, condemning Israeli youth to PTSD and burdened by an instinct to constantly look over their shoulder? How might such a generation feel about its Arab neighbors?

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One age-old critique of Israeli deterrence, self-defense, and unwillingness to give away the store in negotiations with the Palestinians was psychological: didn’t Israeli leaders realize, it was asked (rhetorically), how they were radicalizing a new generation of Palestinian youth, who only knew “occupation?” I often would wonder why these same voices didn’t ask the reverse question: what if a generation of Israelis grew up in a time of recurring intifadas and ceaseless rocket fire, condemning Israeli youth to PTSD and burdened by an instinct to constantly look over their shoulder? How might such a generation feel about its Arab neighbors?

Of course, neither argument is a legitimate defense of violence. The importance of personal responsibility in the Middle East cannot be reiterated enough. Whatever the pretext, whatever the grievance, the conflict would spiral completely out of control if the affected population decided contempt and vengefulness were sufficient cause for vigilantism. And Israelis should (and generally do) know better than to say, “well, the other side does it.” But those who would blame Israeli policies for the “radicalization” of Palestinian youth should take a look at the other side of that equation, and be consistent. The New York Times delves into the topic today.

In an article about Israeli soul searching after the murder of an Arab teen last week, the Times makes yet another foray into the world of moral equivalence but ends up undermining its own point. After all, the Times did not also write an accompanying article about Palestinian or Israeli-Arab soul searching. Nonetheless, even if such soul searching is one-sided, it is welcome. No society should desensitize itself to the murder of children.

The Times then tries to pin Israeli radicalization on the religious right, but accidentally stumbles upon a different point. The reporter discovers that religious leaders are condemning such violence in no uncertain terms and discouraging their followers from even contemplating it. The Times goes looking for another factor, and finds one:

Tamir Lion, an anthropologist who studies youth, said he was troubled by the changing attitudes among Israel’s young people. For many years, Mr. Lion interviewed soldiers about why they chose to enter combat units. “The answers,” he said on Israel Radio, “were always about the challenge, to show I could make it, the prestige involved.”

That began to change in 2000, he said. “I started to get answers — not a lot, but some — like: ‘To kill Arabs.’ The first time I heard it, it was at the time of the large terror attacks, and since then it has not stopped.”

A generation has grown up in a period of Israeli-Palestinian conflict, with suicide bombs and military incursions, rocket fire and airstrikes. Young people on both sides may think about the other more as an enemy than as a neighbor.

Those who blamed Israel for radicalizing Palestinian youth could do so freely because they never thought Israeli youth could be radicalized in sufficient numbers to expose their hypocrisy. They might now be wondering if they were wrong.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think they were: Israeli youth may be resentful of the Palestinians who have tried to kill them since the day they were born, but the rare vigilantism will likely remain rare. In part, that’s because of such soul searching. When Israelis go missing, the entire nation holds its breath. When a gruesome hate crime is carried out, Israelis wonder what went wrong.

And that’s what makes this current conflict so worrying for Israelis. It was epitomized by the scene of Arab rioters in the Jerusalem neighborhood of Shuafat destroying a light-rail train station built to connect them with the rest of the city. The symbolism was impossible to ignore. As Jonathan Schanzer told the Free Beacon:

The total destruction of the modern light rail—which was seen as a symbol of coexistence between Israeli and Arab areas of Jerusalem—is evidence of mounting frustration among Israeli Arabs, who have increasingly clashed with Israeli police as tensions reach a boiling point following the murders.

“These are Arab-Israelis in Jerusalem, and they destroyed a multi-million dollar project that connected them to the rest of the city,” said Jonathan Schanzer, vice president of research for the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD). “This is apartheid, self imposed.”

Israelis know Hamas and its supporters want an unending genocidal war against the Jews. But they believe that Israel’s Arabs want what they want: peace, safety, coexistence. When Israel’s Arabs destroy symbols of such coexistence, when they explicitly reject Jewish Israelis’ overtures, they raise the concern that the coexistence they prize is illusory, a time bomb with an exposed fuse.

Another intifada, or something like it, would reinforce this concern. And Israelis who see–and deplore–the rise in anger and mistrust after the last intifada know how precarious that coexistence will be if each generation grows up with its own intifada. And they’re all too aware of the limits of soul searching if they’re the only ones engaging in it.

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Palestinian “Moderates” Rely on Violence

The firing of a single rocket from Gaza today is easy to dismiss as just an isolated incident unworthy of much notice. The rocket was fired at the city of Ashkelon, but fortunately landed in an open field and did not lead to the activation of the Iron Dome defense system. But the attack, which was the first missile launched from Gaza since the cease-fire that ended Operation Pillar of Defense last November, may tell us more about the violent intentions of the so-called moderates of the Palestinians than it does about the Hamas rulers of the strip.

As I noted on Sunday, the Palestinian Authority’s plans to launch a new intifada prior to President Obama’s visit to Israel isn’t exactly a secret. The recent outbreak of violent demonstrations in the West Bank isn’t so much a natural response to anything Israel has done as it is an orchestrated attempt to get the world to focus on Palestinian complaints. Thus it is not exactly a surprise to note that the group that claimed responsibility for today’s rocket wasn’t Hamas or any of its Islamist rivals but the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which is part of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party.

The Al Aqsa group’s rocket launch is a reminder to foreign observers that their assumptions about the peaceful intent of Abbas and Fatah is based on willful ignorance and forgetfulness about the last time the PA decided to play the intifada game.

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The firing of a single rocket from Gaza today is easy to dismiss as just an isolated incident unworthy of much notice. The rocket was fired at the city of Ashkelon, but fortunately landed in an open field and did not lead to the activation of the Iron Dome defense system. But the attack, which was the first missile launched from Gaza since the cease-fire that ended Operation Pillar of Defense last November, may tell us more about the violent intentions of the so-called moderates of the Palestinians than it does about the Hamas rulers of the strip.

As I noted on Sunday, the Palestinian Authority’s plans to launch a new intifada prior to President Obama’s visit to Israel isn’t exactly a secret. The recent outbreak of violent demonstrations in the West Bank isn’t so much a natural response to anything Israel has done as it is an orchestrated attempt to get the world to focus on Palestinian complaints. Thus it is not exactly a surprise to note that the group that claimed responsibility for today’s rocket wasn’t Hamas or any of its Islamist rivals but the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, which is part of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party.

The Al Aqsa group’s rocket launch is a reminder to foreign observers that their assumptions about the peaceful intent of Abbas and Fatah is based on willful ignorance and forgetfulness about the last time the PA decided to play the intifada game.

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, after all, was created by Abbas’s predecessor, Yasir Arafat, in order to compete with Hamas. In the upside-down world of Palestinian politics, a group or a leader’s credibility is based on how many Jews it kills, not how much it can do to help the plight of their people. That’s why genuine moderates like PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad, who is so well liked in the West, have virtually no constituency.

What may be happening now is, however, a reversal of roles as the PA attempts to bolster its support with violence while Hamas stands pat. Instead of Hamas using terrorism to upstage Fatah in the West Bank, what may be unfolding is a series of events in which it will be the alleged moderates–to whom Israel is being told to make concessions–looking to draw the Islamist rulers of Gaza into a new cycle of violence. The rocket firing was supposedly in retaliation for the death of a Palestinian demonstrator and must be seen in the context of an effort to provoke retaliation that will, they hope, galvanize international condemnation of Israel.

With the West Bank security fence making another campaign of Fatah-funded suicide bombings extremely difficult, and the Iron Dome system making missile attacks on Israel less of a threat, the Palestinians lack effective military options. But they do hope to create enough of a disturbance in order to make President Obama push Israel to do something to appease them. Yet since nothing–not even a settlement freeze–was enough to push Abbas to return to peace talks, there is very little reason for Obama to waste any of his political capital on a spat with Israel that he knows won’t advance the cause of peace.

The last intifada also started with what we were told was a spontaneous outbreak of popular protests, but which were actually instigated by Arafat and followed up with a murderous offensive sponsored by the PA. Fatah may think their interests are best served by heightening tensions with Israel and spilling some blood in order to gain attention. But if they were truly interested in peace or even independence, all they have to do is accept Prime Minister Netanyahu’s offer of peace talks. Until that happens, even an administration as friendly to their cause as that of President Obama is not likely to reward them for inciting violence.

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Obama’s Intifada Welcoming Committee

It’s difficult to say yet what exactly will be on President Obama’s mind when he heads to Israel next month, but an all-out push for another futile try to make peace with the Palestinians may not be on the agenda. It’s likely the president will continue his advocacy for a two-state solution, but after more than four years of failure even this administration appears to have gotten the message that any more effort expended on the peace process will be sunk, as it has every other time, by Palestinian intransigence. But the Palestinian Authority, which has ignored every attempt by the Obama White House to tip the diplomatic playing field in their favor, may be planning its own little surprise for the president.

As journalist Khaled Abu Toameh reports, PA head Mahmoud Abbas is hoping to create an atmosphere in the country in advance of Obama’s arrival that will force him to push Israel for more concessions:

There are many signs that the Palestinian Authority is seeking to escalate tensions in the West Bank ahead of US President Barack Obama’s visit to the region next month.

Although the Palestinian Authority probably does not want an all-out confrontation between Palestinians and Israelis at this stage, some Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah believe that a “mini-intifada” would serve the Palestinians’ interests, especially on the eve of Obama’s visit.

The officials hope that scenes of daily clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians in the West Bank will prompt Obama to exert pressure on the Israeli government to make far-reaching concessions to the Palestinian Authority.

This is why the Palestinian Authority leadership has been encouraging its constituents lately to wage a “popular intifada” against Israel, each time finding another excuse to initiate confrontations between Palestinians and Israel.

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It’s difficult to say yet what exactly will be on President Obama’s mind when he heads to Israel next month, but an all-out push for another futile try to make peace with the Palestinians may not be on the agenda. It’s likely the president will continue his advocacy for a two-state solution, but after more than four years of failure even this administration appears to have gotten the message that any more effort expended on the peace process will be sunk, as it has every other time, by Palestinian intransigence. But the Palestinian Authority, which has ignored every attempt by the Obama White House to tip the diplomatic playing field in their favor, may be planning its own little surprise for the president.

As journalist Khaled Abu Toameh reports, PA head Mahmoud Abbas is hoping to create an atmosphere in the country in advance of Obama’s arrival that will force him to push Israel for more concessions:

There are many signs that the Palestinian Authority is seeking to escalate tensions in the West Bank ahead of US President Barack Obama’s visit to the region next month.

Although the Palestinian Authority probably does not want an all-out confrontation between Palestinians and Israelis at this stage, some Palestinian Authority officials in Ramallah believe that a “mini-intifada” would serve the Palestinians’ interests, especially on the eve of Obama’s visit.

The officials hope that scenes of daily clashes between Israeli soldiers and Palestinians in the West Bank will prompt Obama to exert pressure on the Israeli government to make far-reaching concessions to the Palestinian Authority.

This is why the Palestinian Authority leadership has been encouraging its constituents lately to wage a “popular intifada” against Israel, each time finding another excuse to initiate confrontations between Palestinians and Israel.

Like the decision of his predecessor Yasir Arafat to launch the second intifada in 2000 after rejecting Ehud Barak’s offer of a Palestinian state, the whole point of the agitation is to manufacture a sense of crisis that requires U.S. intervention. If the resulting chaos further wounds an already depressed West Bank economy or results in violence that takes the lives of even more Palestinians than Israelis, the PA leadership will still think another intifada a clever idea.

In one sense they are right. Any escalation of violence, no matter how much it is the product of a political decision rather than a popular protest, will generate a lot of negative press for Israel. Even the most restrained measures of Israeli self-defense (such as the security fence that prevents suicide bombings) will be denounced by Europe and by many American liberals as disproportionate or cruel. As has been the case since 1948, the plight of the Palestinians Arabs will ignored as they are used as political pawns in the effort to destroy Israel.

But the Palestinians’ problem is that although they are certainly capable of churning up enough violence and suffering in order to get more attention for their cause, their obvious disinclination in making peace on any terms makes it difficult to sustain the interest of even the most sympathetic of foreign leaders, such as Barack Obama. Their refusal to return to the negotiating table with the Israelis even after Obama had pressured Prime Minister Netanyahu to freeze West Bank settlement building and their decision to abandon the U.S.-led process in favor of a dead-end bid for United Nations recognition may have finally made it obvious even to this administration than any political capital expended on them would be wasted.

Nor, even under U.S. duress, is there much chance that Israel will consent to a West Bank withdrawal that is likely to duplicate the situation in Gaza, where Hamas terrorists used land vacated by the Israelis to create a terrorist state.

All this means that while the Palestinians have the capacity to make themselves troublesome, they do not have the ability to take advantage of the good will felt for them by many in this administration or the zeal of new Secretary of State John Kerry to succeed where all of his predecessors have failed.

Another intifada will be a trial for the Israelis and an annoyance for President Obama, who is far more interested in keeping Netanyahu in check when it comes to forestalling the Iranian nuclear threat than he is in appeasing the Palestinians. But it will be a tragedy for the people of the West Bank. Until they are ready to throw off a leadership that is incapable of ending the conflict or recognizing a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn, they will continue to suffer.

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Bill Clinton’s Disgraceful Comments About George W. Bush

Now that Bill Clinton has been welcomed into the home stretch of a close presidential race in order to help President Obama’s reelection efforts, the public is probably prepared to hear some whoppers. But yesterday, appearing on CNN with Fareed Zakaria, Clinton crossed a line:

ZAKARIA: Is Mitt Romney right that the only thing you can do with the Israeli-Palestinian issue is kick the can down the road?

CLINTON: No, it is accurate that the United States cannot make peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. They have to do that. What we need to do is maximize the attractiveness of doing it and minimize the risks of doing it. We can do that.

And if you look at it, President Bush, when he took office, the second President Bush, I’ll never forget he said, “You know the names of every street in the old city and look what it got you. I’m not going to fool with this now.”

And immediately the death rate went up among Israelis and Palestinians because there was nothing going on.

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Now that Bill Clinton has been welcomed into the home stretch of a close presidential race in order to help President Obama’s reelection efforts, the public is probably prepared to hear some whoppers. But yesterday, appearing on CNN with Fareed Zakaria, Clinton crossed a line:

ZAKARIA: Is Mitt Romney right that the only thing you can do with the Israeli-Palestinian issue is kick the can down the road?

CLINTON: No, it is accurate that the United States cannot make peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians. They have to do that. What we need to do is maximize the attractiveness of doing it and minimize the risks of doing it. We can do that.

And if you look at it, President Bush, when he took office, the second President Bush, I’ll never forget he said, “You know the names of every street in the old city and look what it got you. I’m not going to fool with this now.”

And immediately the death rate went up among Israelis and Palestinians because there was nothing going on.

In reality, what was “going on” when the “death rate went up” at the beginning of the Bush administration? It was actually the Second Intifada, which began under… President Bill Clinton. Clinton is right that the “death rate” went up. Thousands died in the Palestinian terror war against Israelis civilians that began after the failure of the Clinton Camp David peace talks.

Nonetheless, was Clinton’s position that George W. Bush should encourage more peace talks between the Israelis and Yasser Arafat, despite the violence? It most certainly was not; in fact Clinton’s opinion was decidedly the opposite of that—and that’s exactly what he told Bush. From Martin Indyk’s memoir of the Clinton administration’s Mideast diplomacy—a book that is extremely positive toward Clinton:

On January 23, 2001, Bill Clinton was in his final hours as president. There was one piece of unfinished business he was determined to take care of: it was payback time for Yasser Arafat….

Now Clinton wanted to make it clear to the incoming administration just who they would be dealing with. He had already dwelt at length on Arafat’s perfidy while briefing George W. Bush and Dick Cheney that morning. Now he called Colin Powell, the secretary of state-designate, who had earlier served as Clinton’s chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. When the phone rang, Powell was dressing for a pre-inaugural concert. He was surprised to hear Clinton’s voice. “I just wanted to wish you all the best in your new position,” the president said. Then he launched into a vituperative, expletive-filled tirade against Arafat. Powell understood the real motive for the call. As he would recount it to me, the president warned him, “Don’t you ever trust that son of a bitch. He lied to me and he’ll lie to you.” Arafat had failed his people and destroyed the chances for peace, Clinton emphasized. “Don’t let Arafat sucker punch you like he did me.”

Clinton called everyone he could get an audience with to tell the administration not to deal with Arafat. The Palestinian chairman was a liar, and he “destroyed the chances for peace.” The Bush administration recognized this as well, but made a push for peace once Arafat was gone and the Palestinians had a chance to recalibrate after the succession of Mahmoud Abbas to Arafat’s place and the Gaza disengagement.

Why is it so important to call Clinton out on this every time he repeats it? Because in his quote to Zakaria he blames the deaths of Israelis and Palestinians during the Intifada on Bush. If that’s not what he meant to say, he should clarify immediately. But either way, he owes George W. Bush an apology.

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