How political movements gain footholds remains one of the great true-life mysteries.
In the 1960s and early 1970s, for example, Yasir Arafat was generally viewed as a thug and a terrorist by most of the international community, as was his Fatah movement and the PLO.
So why and how did this movement become acceptable – even admired – on such a wide scale?
Some will point to Arafat’s indefatigable spirit and determination.
Others will note geopolitical shifts, such as Israel’s beginning to move away from its socialist roots, thereby allying itself more fully with the United States at a time when the U.S. was increasingly being viewed as a bully on the international stage.
Still others will impute anti-Semitic motives to those seeking to further the Palestinian cause while ignoring or downplaying the causes of dozens of nationalistic movements on every continent.
One thing is certain: it must start with an idea.
And that brings us to Benjamin Netanyahu.
Full disclosure: Netanyahu has been one of my favorite Israeli politicians for a long time, despite his prisoner releases and settlement freezes. Maybe I’m a sucker for his polished English, witty oratorical style, and clever sarcasm.
My personal feelings aside, he has always been a force to reckon with.
He’s advocated – and, more important, implemented – strong security and defense policies and, at least thus far, resisted the strongest negotiating demands of the Palestinians (and sometimes the Americans).
Given the circumstances and constraints, he’s usually acted admirably and courageously.
He did so again with his recent suggestion that Jews living in settlements over the green line should remain there, under Palestinian rule, should a peace agreement with the Palestinians be implemented.
It was a brilliant tactical move that perhaps signals the beginning of an era of thinking differently about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict – and that just might fill a decades-old perception gap.
To say the hundreds of thousands of Jews driven out of Arab countries in the years after Israel’s founding have not received the same share of attention as Palestinian refugees is akin to saying foosball tournaments don’t receive the kind of television air play accorded the NFL.
Certainly not one of those Jewish refugees has ever been invited to address the plenary session of the UN General Assembly, nor has the subject inspired 7,000-word articles in The New Yorker documenting their sufferings.
More to the point, can anyone offer a satisfactory explanation, without invoking anti-Semitism (which no doubt does play a part in it), as to why Israel is repeatedly lambasted for the exodus of Palestinians – during a war, mind you – some sixty-six years ago even as more than a million and half remain in the country as Israeli citizens while Algeria and Egypt and Iraq and Libya and Morocco and Syria and Yemen receive nary a whisper of rebuke for persecuting Jews and confiscating their property?
Predictably, both right-wing and left-wing Israelis have harshly criticized Netanyahu’s remarks; the right is never happy with any indication a Palestinian state may be on the horizon and the left frequently parrots Palestinian concerns.
Those Palestinians concerns may best be summarized by PA negotiator Saeb Erekat, who responded to Netanyahu’s statement by saying, “Anyone who says he wants to keep settlers in the Palestinian state is actually saying that he doesn’t want a Palestinian state. No settler will be allowed to stay in the Palestinian state, not even a single one, because settlements are illegal and the presence of the settlers on the occupied lands is illegal.”
So here you have two propositions: Netanyahu says I’ll work for a Palestinian state but you must treat Jews living in that state as we treat Arabs living in Israel; Erekat says nothing doing.