As Jonathan correctly noted yesterday, it’s ridiculous to assert that Israeli-Palestinian peace is threatened by plans to build 40 new homes inside a settlement that everyone knows will remain Israeli under any agreement. But if UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon would like to see a genuine obstacle to peace, I suggest he study what happened at a conference of Mediterranean writers in Marseille last week: An Israeli author was kicked off a panel discussion because a Palestinian writer refused to sit at the same table with him.
Organizer Pierre Assouline told Haaretz that in the previous two years, Palestinian writers refused to attend the conference at all because Israelis were present. This year, poet Najwan Darwish agreed to show up, but only if he didn’t have to participate on the same panels as any Israeli authors. When he discovered that he was in fact listed as speaking on one panel together with Israeli Moshe Sakal, he told Assouline he would boycott the discussion unless Sakal was ousted. And Assouline, deciding that Sakal in any case wasn’t important to the issue at hand (the Arab Spring), acquiesced.
It is, of course, problematic that Palestinian authors refuse to even sit in the same room with Israeli authors, who as a group (and Sakal is no exception) are overwhelmingly critical of Israeli government policy and consistently advocate greater concessions to the Palestinians. If Palestinian intellectuals won’t deign to talk even with the Israelis most supportive of their cause, it’s hard to see how a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace could ever emerge.
Far more problematic, however, was the response of Darwish’s Western enablers: Instead of telling him that such boycotts won’t be tolerated, the conference organizers cravenly capitulated to his demands. Moreover, this decision was supported by many of the conference-goers: While half the audience was angry, Assouline related, “the other half was thrilled.”
This is the problem of the entire peace process in a nutshell: Much of the Western political, cultural, and intellectual elite cravenly acquiesces in Palestinian rejectionism, and thereby encourages its continuance. What Assouline did was essentially no different from what Ban Ki-moon does when he condemns plans to build 40 houses in Efrat but never utters a peep about the real obstacles to peace – like Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s refusal to recognize a Jewish state in any borders, or his refusal to negotiate with Israel’s prime minister even during the 10 months when Israel acceded to his demand for a freeze on settlement construction. Just as Assouline and his colleagues effectively agreed that Sakal’s presence, rather than Darwish’s boycott, was the problem, Western leaders who routinely condemn construction in Jewish neighborhoods of Jerusalem or major settlement blocs while remaining silent on such issues as Palestinian refusal to recognize a Jewish state are effectively agreeing that the problem is Israel’s very existence – even in areas that everyone knows will be part of Israel under any deal – rather than Palestinian opposition to this existence.
And as long as such Palestinian rejectionism continues to receive Western support, Palestinians will have no incentive whatsoever to abandon it.