After another day of stabbings and other attacks of Israelis by Palestinians is making it harder to pretend that a third intifada has not broken out. As the Times of Israel notes, Palestinians are calling this surge of terrorism the “hibat al-Quds” or the “Jerusalem awakening.” That is significant and not just because it recalls the way Palestinians referred to the second intifada as being about the “al-Aqsa” mosque on the Temple Mount. While the narrative about this latest outbreak of violence from critics of Israel is that it is all about the sins of the “occupation” and Israel denying hope to the Palestinians, what we hearing from them is a very different story. Read any of the accounts of the motivations of the people going into the streets to stab random Jews they encounter or the mobs in the West Bank who are seeking to set off confrontations with Israeli troops, and you don’t hear much about frustration about the peace process. The same applies to clips from Palestinian television that Palestine Media Watch provides. What you do see are accounts of Muslim religious fervor that is drenched in the fever of martyrdom and faith-based hate.
This is significant and not just because most of the popular notion that the violence is caused by the failure of Israel to make enough concessions in negotiations to bring peace. If Palestinians are engaged in an intifada that is, at its core, a religious war rather than a protest movement about Israeli policies or a desire for a Palestinian state, then everything that the Obama administration and even many of Israel’s American supporters think they know about the conflict is just plain wrong.
This is, after all, the same administration that is engaged in a war against Islamist terrorists that it claims has nothing to do with religion. Even though jihadis throughout the Middle East are driven to try to kill Americans and their allies by their faith, the president, and his foreign policy team have been consistent in refusing to admit that there is any conflict with the form of Islam that has produced these enemies.
Part of that stubborn denial of reality is rooted in common sense. The U.S. doesn’t want or need a war against all Muslims. It is only fighting adherents of a variant of Islam that we have come to call Islamism. So differentiating between ordinary peace-loving Muslims in the United States or elsewhere and those who wanted to wage an unending war of annihilation on the West is smart. But pretending that those people that we are fighting have nothing to do with Islam is stupid. They may not represent all Muslims, but backers of ISIS, al-Qaeda, and other terror groups are not a tiny minority in the Middle East. In fact, though the number of active fighters is relatively small, those who sympathize with them make up a significant proportion of the Muslim population. The reason for that is that, although President Obama poses at times as an expert about what is and is not Islam, large numbers of Muslims disagree with his rulings on that question.
This failure to acknowledge reality is a major obstacle to the faltering U.S. efforts to deal with the rise of ISIS and other terror groups. It stands to reason that if you don’t know what you are fighting or why your opponents are so dedicated to your destruction, you’re not likely to defeat them.
The same rule applies to evaluations of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians and hopes for renewed peace talks.
If the struggle between Jews and Arabs over the same small country were merely about whether it could be split to grant both peoples a share of sovereignty, then the century-long war between them would have ended many decades ago. Though partition plans were offered before World War II and then again prior to Israel achieving independence, the Arab answer was always “no.” Since the 1967 Six Day War in which Israel came into possession of the West Bank and unified Jerusalem, the conventional wisdom was that if only the Jews gave up the “occupied territories,” peace would come. This ignores the fact that the “occupied territories” before June 1967 was Israel itself. Even today, Hamas and most other Palestinian groups, and at times the supposed moderates of Fatah, refer to all of Israel as “occupied.”
What those who keep saying that more concessions from Israel that will give hope to Palestinians don’t understand is that for those who go into the streets to seek martyrdom while killing Jews, the location of a future border between Israel and a state of Palestine is irrelevant. After all, Israel offered the Palestinians independence and statehood in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem in 2000, 2001 and 2008. And even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered them the West Bank in 2010.
But if the goal of the Palestinian leadership and the angry mobs with knives, rocks and gasoline bombs in the streets don’t care so much about statehood as they do about destroying Jewish rule in any part of the country, then this conflict is about religion and not land. That’s not a message most Israelis, who would like nothing better than a compromise that would bring them peace, want to hear. But that is the message of the hibat al-Quds that is coming through loud and clear.
The focus on saving the mosques on the Temple Mount from a mythical Jewish threat or the notion that, in the words of PA leader Mahmoud Abbas, “filthy Jewish feet” are present at holy sites in Jerusalem is a clear sign that faith is what is driving Palestinian anger. Unfortunately, that faith is not so much one of peace, as we would like to believe, as it is one that regards a Jewish state, no matter how much land it possesses, as anathema.
Those who blame Israel for what is happening aren’t merely wrong about the nature of the conflict. They are blaming the victims and mistaking jihadist intentions for a desire for peace. Protests about land and negotiations can be met with diplomacy. Religious wars that seek to spill the blood of infidel Jews must be with decisive force, not talk. Those Americans who don’t understand this are part of Israel’s problems, not advocates for a viable solution.