Commentary Magazine


Topic: palestinian prisoners

A New Round of Palestinian Extortion

Yasser Arafat was famous for perfecting a style of diplomacy that could win him accolades from naive Westerners without having to make a single concession or sacrifice for the peace process. He would do this by refusing to do something basic that he should have already done until he could extort a reward for it. The West would pretend they got a concession from Arafat, and Arafat would laugh and laugh. It was a classic lose-lose dance that has marked the peace process from the beginning.

Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, is a slight improvement, but in this regard he is turning back the clock. Haaretz is reporting that something which in the pre-Obama days of Middle East diplomacy was taken for granted–the willingness by Palestinians to meet for the purposes of political theater–has turned into something that requires ever more concessions. The latest is the Palestinian demand that Israel release 125 terrorists just for the pleasure of Abbas considering a meeting. Benjamin Netanyahu has supposedly accepted the offer, and issued a proposal for how to structure the deal.

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Yasser Arafat was famous for perfecting a style of diplomacy that could win him accolades from naive Westerners without having to make a single concession or sacrifice for the peace process. He would do this by refusing to do something basic that he should have already done until he could extort a reward for it. The West would pretend they got a concession from Arafat, and Arafat would laugh and laugh. It was a classic lose-lose dance that has marked the peace process from the beginning.

Arafat’s successor, Mahmoud Abbas, is a slight improvement, but in this regard he is turning back the clock. Haaretz is reporting that something which in the pre-Obama days of Middle East diplomacy was taken for granted–the willingness by Palestinians to meet for the purposes of political theater–has turned into something that requires ever more concessions. The latest is the Palestinian demand that Israel release 125 terrorists just for the pleasure of Abbas considering a meeting. Benjamin Netanyahu has supposedly accepted the offer, and issued a proposal for how to structure the deal.

There are caveats to this: it’s possible Israel was mulling the release of the prisoners at some point in the near future anyway; alternatively, as Abbas has no intention of negotiating it probably won’t happen. Nonetheless, the mere whiff of such a story going public will have negative consequences, as the following two key paragraphs of the story indicate:

The Palestinians are at this point said to be in no hurry to agree to Netanyahu’s proposal; they are concerned that after the initial stage of prisoner release Israel will find excuses not to carry out the other four. The Palestinians also say Israel’s proposal for the exchange of old weapons for new ones is “humiliating,” and does not meet their security needs.

And:

Talks between Erekat and Molho are ongoing ahead of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to Israel next Monday. This will be Clinton’s first visit to Israel since September 15, 2010, when she, Netanyahu and Abbas met at the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem. The talks have been stalled since that meeting.

On the first: the Palestinians are actually balking at their own ridiculous demands because Israel is only agreeing to release some weapons and some murderers to them–surely a recipe for peace–but are afraid they won’t get all the murderers and all the guns and ammo they’re asking for. Translation: they made a crazy offer designed to repulse the Israelis enough to keep them away from the negotiating table. The Israelis accepted the crazy offer–something the Palestinians didn’t anticipate–and now Abbas must find a way to weasel out of it. (He’s done this before; it works.) It’s possible the Israelis are simply calling Abbas’s bluff here. If so, the peace process is no less of a cynical joke than it has been for years.

On the second excerpt from the story: Hillary Clinton is coming to the region (though she is bound to get lost on the way to Jerusalem, since she still doesn’t know what country it’s in) to do some peacemaking, and would like the publicity stunt of announcing the resumption of talks. If she is serious, the first thing she should do is reprimand the Palestinians for trying to extort this face-to-face meeting with Netanyahu. If not, she should save the trip and her breath. If what she wants is peace, she cannot in good faith bless this sort of disaster.

What’s the point of all this? If you read this and thought: This is far too nonsensical for the United Nations not to be involved somehow, you would be right. Next paragraph:

The United States and Israel believe that a Netanyahu-Abbas meeting and Israeli moves could create an atmosphere in which Abbas is less likely to approach the United Nations once again in September with a request to receive the status of a non-member observer state.

Why? What makes them think this? If Clinton wants to prevent the Palestinians from taking more unilateral action at the dictators’ Pack ’n Play that is the United Nations, she should remind Abbas that unilateralism will thus have his blessing, and so he shouldn’t be surprised if the Israelis take a few unilateral actions of their own. What would those unilateral actions be? Who knows? Clinton should dare Abbas to find out.

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Hunger Strikers’ Goal is Not Peace

For decades, foreign cheerleaders for the Palestinians have sought to portray those fighting against Israel as potential disciples of Gandhi as they seek to portray the Jews as stand-ins for the role of colonial oppressor. But there have always been two main problems with this scenario. The first is the fact that most Palestinians view violence against Israelis as not only a legitimate tactic but also something that is integral to their national identity. The second is that even if they were to adopt a policy of non-violence, the Palestinian goal is not their own state living in peace beside Israel but the end of the Jewish state and its replacement by one in which Arabs will rule.

These obstacles to the creation of a movement of Palestinian Gandhis remain. But that didn’t stop the New York Times from going back to a familiar theme today with a feature  by new Israel bureau chief Jodi Rudoren in which a hunger strike by some security prisoners is used as a launching point for a discussion about a possible change in tactics by the Palestinians. Since, as she notes, the peace process is “stalled” and “internal Palestinian politics adrift,” activists hope to use “the hunger strike as a potential catalyst to bring an Arab Spring-style uprising to the West Bank.” But the question Rudoren fails to ask is what do the hunger strikers or their supporters think will come from what they hope will be a new intifada? Do they see it as a path to a Palestinian state or something else? If the goal is a state, then they need not bother with non-violent resistance or violence. What they need to do is to instruct their leaders to negotiate with Israel. Read More

For decades, foreign cheerleaders for the Palestinians have sought to portray those fighting against Israel as potential disciples of Gandhi as they seek to portray the Jews as stand-ins for the role of colonial oppressor. But there have always been two main problems with this scenario. The first is the fact that most Palestinians view violence against Israelis as not only a legitimate tactic but also something that is integral to their national identity. The second is that even if they were to adopt a policy of non-violence, the Palestinian goal is not their own state living in peace beside Israel but the end of the Jewish state and its replacement by one in which Arabs will rule.

These obstacles to the creation of a movement of Palestinian Gandhis remain. But that didn’t stop the New York Times from going back to a familiar theme today with a feature  by new Israel bureau chief Jodi Rudoren in which a hunger strike by some security prisoners is used as a launching point for a discussion about a possible change in tactics by the Palestinians. Since, as she notes, the peace process is “stalled” and “internal Palestinian politics adrift,” activists hope to use “the hunger strike as a potential catalyst to bring an Arab Spring-style uprising to the West Bank.” But the question Rudoren fails to ask is what do the hunger strikers or their supporters think will come from what they hope will be a new intifada? Do they see it as a path to a Palestinian state or something else? If the goal is a state, then they need not bother with non-violent resistance or violence. What they need to do is to instruct their leaders to negotiate with Israel.

The peace process remains “stalled” for one main reason: the Palestinians won’t negotiate unless Israel guarantees in advance that they will give in on every territorial dispute. But even then there is no guarantee or any likelihood that the leadership of the Palestinian Authority as currently constituted, let alone after it consummates its unity deal with Hamas, would be able to recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn.

A new intifada, whether conducted by people throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails or mere demonstrators, is no substitute for a commitment on the part of the Palestinians to live in peace with their Jewish neighbors. With even Israel’s supposedly right-wing government willing to accept a two-state solution, the time is long passed for stunts whose only purpose is to embarrass or intimidate the Israelis.

As it happens, even the supposedly non-violent Palestinians gave away some of the game in Rudoren’s account:

On Thursday in Ramallah, 300 women marched to Al Manara Square, chanting, “Yes for hunger strike, no to submission” and “Down with the olive branch, long live the rifle.”

Is there another way to interpret a chant that calls for an end to peace and the use of “the rifle” but as a call for violent attacks on Israel?

The featured hunger striker, one Thaer Halahleh, is described as a sympathetic character. We are told that he “stopped political activity” soon after his marriage in 2009. But given the Palestinian definition of that term, a more experienced observer than Ms. Rudoren might have concluded that this meant he was a terrorist operative. Because people involved in such activities rarely voluntarily retire, the suspicion of Israeli authorities that he was not innocent is understandable. While the policy of administrative detention which can result in long periods of incarceration without trial may seem contrary to an American sense of justice, it should be pointed out that neither does the usual expression of Palestinian “politics” which is terrorism. As the return to violence on the part of Palestinians released in the Gilad Shalit exchange deal illustrate, the idea that Halahleh, if sent home will not engage in violence, is either naïve or deceitful.

However, the article does accurately portray the difficulties encountered by those seeking to create this new intifada. Their biggest problem is apathy from a Palestinian population that understands this latest plan for confrontation will not improve their lives and won’t lead to self-determination. Despite the obstacles the imperatives of Palestinian political culture of Palestinian society put in the way of peace, perhaps some are starting to recognize that the glorification of those who engage in violence and the identification of communal rights only in juxtaposition to the denial of the same to Jews is a dead-end street.

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