“With the winds of change blowing through the Arab world, it’s more urgent than ever that we try to seize the opportunity to create a peaceful solution between the Palestinians and the Israelis,” President Obama saidlast week after meeting with Israeli president Shimon Peres.
Peres’s visit was widely regarded as a groundbreaker for a visit in May by Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu is expected to come under a mounting tide of pressure on the Palestinian-state issue, culminating in a Palestinian attempt to secure UN recognition of a Palestinian state in September.
Meanwhile a poll by the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has found that one-third of Palestinians approved the attack in the Israeli West Bank community of Itamar in March. In that attack, five members of the Fogel family – the parents as well as their 11-year-old son, 4-year-old son, and 3-month-old daughter – were stabbed to death in their home.
Four decades ago America was shocked by the Manson murders – intruders shot and stabbed to death four adults and a teenage boy at the house of actress Sharon Tate in Los Angeles (Tate, one of the stabbing victims, was eight months pregnant). One can imagine the horror Americans would have felt toward any society one-third of whose members approved the Manson murders. On the scale of horror, the Itamar massacre, given the ages of three of the victims, was even worse.
Two other points should be made.
One is that the Itamar perpetrators have not yet been caught – in contrast to other Palestinian terror attacks where Israeli security forces usually quickly nabbed the culprits. The delay this time is attributed to Israel having withdrawn its forces from much of the West Bank, to be replaced by U.S.-trained Palestinian forces.
The second point is that while the ages of the young Itamar victims may indeed have been “too much” for many Palestinians, that wasn’t the case with the 2008 massacre by gunfire of seven teenage boys and a young man in Jerusalem’s Mercaz HaRav Yeshiva. That attack won the approval of 84 percent of Palestinians.
The murderous hatred of many of the Palestinians who are supposed to be awarded a state abutting Israel can be added to the many other arguments against such a state, at least at this time, that make no impression on the devout. Or as Netanyahu himself said recently – not about a Palestinian state per se, but about the supposed centrality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the region and the world – “There is no evidence that these true believers will not ignore.”
Take, for instance, the statement by Obama, who certainly must be counted among those believers, mentioned above. Rationally speaking, the “winds of change blowing through the Arab world” should not make “more urgent than ever” the creation of a Palestinian state, but induce more wariness than ever.
Those winds have already blown away the Mubarak government in Egypt, which upheld a formal albeit icy-cold peace with Israel for three decades, and is likely to be replaced by a far more hostile, quite possibly belligerent, regime.
Then there’s Jordan, also formally at peace with Israel since 1994, now subject as well to instability and seething with Islamist and Palestinian hatred of Israel. As for Syria, while the Alawite regime of the Assads is already one of the most hostile toward Israel, it’s also a regime that has, out of pragmatism, maintained a peaceful border since 1973; its weakening, and the rise of Sunni Islamists in its stead, could well put an end to that pragmatism.
Rationally, then, the overall instability of the Middle East, where regimes can disappear overnight, is not an argument for creating yet another Middle Eastern state squeezed up against your borders; it’s an argument against it.
To this must be added the results of Israel’s previous territorial withdrawals over the past decade – from Lebanon, leading to Hizbullah’s takeover of the south and eventually the whole country, now teeming with military facilities directed at Israel; and from Gaza, leading to the empowerment of Hamas and an ongoing nightmare of rocket fire and warfare.
Put popular Palestinian hatred in the mix, and the idea of the Palestinian state as an urgent policy goal emerges as not just irrational but crazy. It’s been suggested that Netanyahu, instead of trying to parry the pressures with deft diplomatic games, should start boldly enunciating the truth. It makes a lot of sense.