Commentary Magazine


Topic: Palestinian nationalism

The Olympics and the Peace Process

The controversy about the International Olympic Committee’s refusal to observe a moment of silence in honor of the victims of the Munich massacre has taught us a lot about what is wrong with both the Olympic movement and the way the international community thinks about Israel. It bears repeating that were the athletes of any other country to be murdered the way the 11 Israelis were slain at Munich in 1972, remembrance would have become a permanent feature of opening ceremonies of the games. But doing so for these victims is deemed a political intrusion into the joy of the sports extravaganza. But lest anyone forget why this is so, the Palestinian Authority gave us a sharp reminder not only of the motivation of the Black September terrorists who committed this crime but of why the peace process is dead in the water.

As Palestine Media Watch reports, Jibril Rajoub, president of the Palestinian Olympic Committee, wrote the following in a letter sent to IOC Chair Jacques Rogge commending his refusal of a moment of silence that was published by Al-Hayat Al-Jadida yesterday:

Sports are meant for peace, not for racism … Sports are a bridge to love, interconnection, and spreading of peace among nations; it must not be a cause of division and spreading of racism between them.

The article in the PA newspaper referred to the massacre as “the Munich Operation, which took place during the Munich Olympics in 1972.” The point is, the PA thinks of this atrocity as a heroic deed and part of the historical legacy of the Palestinian national movement, not an act of terrorism. Jibril praises Rogge because honoring the victims of Munich is, in the view of the Palestinians, an indictment of them. Worry about offending the Palestinians by drawing attention to their past is the real reason for the IOC’s refusal. But the implications of this issue go much farther than the Olympics. The devotion of the Palestinians to the memory of the Munich terrorists is a symptom of the way their political culture clings not just to violence but also to opposition to the legitimacy of Israel.

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The controversy about the International Olympic Committee’s refusal to observe a moment of silence in honor of the victims of the Munich massacre has taught us a lot about what is wrong with both the Olympic movement and the way the international community thinks about Israel. It bears repeating that were the athletes of any other country to be murdered the way the 11 Israelis were slain at Munich in 1972, remembrance would have become a permanent feature of opening ceremonies of the games. But doing so for these victims is deemed a political intrusion into the joy of the sports extravaganza. But lest anyone forget why this is so, the Palestinian Authority gave us a sharp reminder not only of the motivation of the Black September terrorists who committed this crime but of why the peace process is dead in the water.

As Palestine Media Watch reports, Jibril Rajoub, president of the Palestinian Olympic Committee, wrote the following in a letter sent to IOC Chair Jacques Rogge commending his refusal of a moment of silence that was published by Al-Hayat Al-Jadida yesterday:

Sports are meant for peace, not for racism … Sports are a bridge to love, interconnection, and spreading of peace among nations; it must not be a cause of division and spreading of racism between them.

The article in the PA newspaper referred to the massacre as “the Munich Operation, which took place during the Munich Olympics in 1972.” The point is, the PA thinks of this atrocity as a heroic deed and part of the historical legacy of the Palestinian national movement, not an act of terrorism. Jibril praises Rogge because honoring the victims of Munich is, in the view of the Palestinians, an indictment of them. Worry about offending the Palestinians by drawing attention to their past is the real reason for the IOC’s refusal. But the implications of this issue go much farther than the Olympics. The devotion of the Palestinians to the memory of the Munich terrorists is a symptom of the way their political culture clings not just to violence but also to opposition to the legitimacy of Israel.

The reference to “racism” in Rajoub’s letter isn’t just a recycling of liberal pap meant to resonate with the politically correct world of the IOC. It was a carefully chosen word that harkened to the Palestinian belief that the existence of Israel was an act of “racism.” They believe the Munich attack was not only heroic but justified because Israel, its athletes and its people have no place in the Middle East. As Palestine Media Watch documents, the PA media and its officials have often praised the Munich terrorists who, after all, carried out their crime at the behest of Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat (the “Black September” organization that was said to have organized the attack was merely a cover for Arafat’s Fatah).

The reaction to the demand for a moment of silence has taught us a lot. It gave friends of Israel, even those whose affection for the Jewish state is somewhat lukewarm like President Obama, an opportunity to do the right thing and join the call to remember the victims of Munich. Others, such as NBC sportscaster Bob Costas, who has said he will impose his own moment of silence when the Israeli team enters the stadium for the opening gala, have proved their seriousness and devotion to principle.

But for Palestinians, the issue was another chance to show us that their political culture has yet to reach the point of maturity where they can jettison their terrorist past. Having come into existence in the 20th century as an expression of a desire to reject the Jews more than to promote a specifically Palestinian Arab identity, their national movement is still mired in the swamp of terror. Their attitude toward Munich shows they have yet to grow up. It’s not likely they will until the world forces them to do so rather than, as Rogge has done, indulge their destructive embrace of terror.

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Explaining the Everlasting Palestinian “No”

It is an axiom of conventional wisdom about the Middle East that the government of Israel is a hard-line opponent of peace that must be pressured and cajoled to deal with the Palestinians for the sake of the survival of its people. This chestnut is an evergreen of foreign policy discussion used against Prime Minister Netanyahu’s predecessors that has always been false. But the persistence of this canard in the face of contrary evidence is testimony to the strength of anti-Israel prejudices among the chattering classes.

If this notion could survive the Palestinian leadership’s decision to turn down offers from Israel in 2000, 2001 and 2008 that would have given them a state in virtually all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem, then it will certainly outlast today’s refusal of the Palestinian Authority of Netanyahu’s offer of peace talks without preconditions. Nevertheless, those wondering why such an ardent supporter of the Palestinians like President Obama has abandoned them in the last year can’t blame it all on election year politics. Having staked out positions and picked fights with the Israelis to tilt the diplomatic playing field to the Palestinians directly, even he understands there’s no point getting into arguments for the sake of a group that simply won’t talk, let alone make peace, under any conditions.

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It is an axiom of conventional wisdom about the Middle East that the government of Israel is a hard-line opponent of peace that must be pressured and cajoled to deal with the Palestinians for the sake of the survival of its people. This chestnut is an evergreen of foreign policy discussion used against Prime Minister Netanyahu’s predecessors that has always been false. But the persistence of this canard in the face of contrary evidence is testimony to the strength of anti-Israel prejudices among the chattering classes.

If this notion could survive the Palestinian leadership’s decision to turn down offers from Israel in 2000, 2001 and 2008 that would have given them a state in virtually all of the West Bank, Gaza and a share of Jerusalem, then it will certainly outlast today’s refusal of the Palestinian Authority of Netanyahu’s offer of peace talks without preconditions. Nevertheless, those wondering why such an ardent supporter of the Palestinians like President Obama has abandoned them in the last year can’t blame it all on election year politics. Having staked out positions and picked fights with the Israelis to tilt the diplomatic playing field to the Palestinians directly, even he understands there’s no point getting into arguments for the sake of a group that simply won’t talk, let alone make peace, under any conditions.

The Palestinians claim their refusal of negotiations is based on the idea that it is pointless to talk if Israel isn’t going to concede every point of contention such as borders and settlements in advance. Part of this is, however, Obama’s fault. Since he demanded three years ago that Israel freeze settlement building as a precondition to negotiations — something that not even the Palestinians had thought of prior to 2009 — it is difficult for PA leader Mahmoud Abbas to insist on anything less. But since Israel already froze building in the West Bank in 2010 and Abbas still wouldn’t talk, the point is moot.

The fact is, neither Abbas or his Hamas coalition partners have any intention of ever signing a piece of paper that recognizes the legitimacy of a Jewish state and therefore end the conflict for all time. This is something that even Obama is beginning to understand, but it is one that many liberals and others who think the struggle over this tiny plot of land is about borders find inexplicable. Yet, it is actually quite easy to understand.

Palestinian nationalism flowered in the last century not as an attempt to recreate an ancient ethnic or national identity or to recover a dying language or culture, as was the case with nationalist revivals in places like Ireland, the Czech Republic or even the Jewish movement of Zionism. Rather, it was a reaction to the Jewish return to the land. Though apologists for the Palestinians contend that it was not a purely negative movement, it is impossible to understand Palestinian nationalism as anything but an effort to prevent Zionism from succeeding. Its essence is the illegitimacy of the Jewish state, and any effort to wean it from that belief constitutes a contradiction that the Palestinian grass roots and its vast refugee diaspora simply cannot accept.

It is this everlasting Palestinian “no” that is the basic fact of the Middle East conflict that cannot be talked out of existence. Nor can it be charmed away by Israeli concessions that stop short of the destruction of the Jewish state.

Anyone who doesn’t comprehend this will never be able to explain this latest Palestinian refusal to talk, those that came before it, and the inevitable “no’s” that will follow.

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