While marketing gurus in Israel and the United States ponder the proper methodology for “rebranding” the Jewish State to make people think better of it, the Palestinians continue to eschew ad agencies and rely on The New York Times. That’s the only way to explain the Gray Lady’s curious dispatch today, which claims that the Palestinians have put away their decades-long predilection for violence and become disciples of Mahatma Gandhi.
According to the Times’s Ethan Bronner, “Senior Palestinian leaders — men who once commanded militias — are joining unarmed protest marches against Israeli policies and are being arrested.” How inspiring! It would seem that finally the Palestinians have decided to beat their swords into plowshares and find a way to live with Israel. “It is all about self-empowerment,” said Hasan Abu-Libdeh, the Palestinian economy minister. “We want ordinary people to feel like stockholders in the process of building a state.”
But rather than Fatah focusing on improving life in its putative state or encouraging peaceful people-to-people exchanges with their Jewish neighbors, the whole point of this allegedly non-violent action is to merely carry on their struggle against Israel without all the bad press associated with suicide bombings. Hence, the “self-empowerment” that Minister Abu-Libdeh is referring to is a campaign to boycott the goods produced by Jews who live in the territories and for the tens of thousands of Palestinians who work in and around the settlements to give up their jobs. As for the non-violent “protest marches,” they are directed at Israel’s security fence and consist of throwing stones at any Jews present and attempts to damage or destroy the barrier that was erected to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from crossing into Israel and committing mass murder. How any of that empowers ordinary Palestinians in any way is left unexplained.
If there is any change of tactics on the part of Fatah, it is only because Israeli military actions in the West Bank and the erection of the fence have effectively taken the terrorist card out of the P.A.’s hand. Take down that fence and terrorism becomes an attractive option again for a movement that continues to vie with Hamas for popularity in a political culture that continues to value the shedding of Jewish blood over the building of an economy.
Thus it is hard to escape the conclusion that even the most attractive manifestation of Palestinian nationalism is still obsessed with expunging any manifestation of Jewish life around them. Far from a “third way,” as Bronner claims it to be for Palestinians who are frustrated with the “failure” of either terrorism or diplomacy to achieve their goals, the new tactic seems to be merely a way of creating pressure on Israel to lower its guard and make terrorism a bit easier. And if their goal was merely to declare a Palestinian state (as Bronner says Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Salam Fayyad wants to do in 2011) what is the point of the ongoing obsession with eradicating the scattered Jewish towns and villages in the West Bank as a precondition for statehood? Apparently, the notion of sovereignty is only meaningful for them if every Jew has been thrown out of the territory.
More to the point, diplomacy hasn’t failed the Palestinians. Rather, it is the Palestinians who have failed to embrace the diplomatic option as 17 years of peace talks have proved that their leadership isn’t interested in taking yes for an answer since they have repeatedly refused Israel’s offers of a state in the West Bank and Gaza, including a share of Jerusalem. The last refusal came in 2008 when the same PA that now claims to be pursuing non-violence turned down Ehud Olmert. Thus, the attempt to convince the world that this is an argument about settlements or the fence (which, as Bronner notes, has made of the village of Bilin an international tourist attraction for celebrities, such as Rajmohan Gandhi or Martin Luther King III, who want to get a little attention for bashing Israel) rather than an ongoing existential struggle against any manifestation of Zionism, is absurd.