Sunday, October 23, 2005
Brett Stephens on Palestinian Barbarity
I'll reluctantly only excerpt Mr. Stephens' excellent editorial from the Wall Street Journal. (It is now on there free site, www.opinionjournal.com; articles there generally remain for seven days.) It really does deserve to be read in full.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas paid George Bush a friendly visit Thursday in the Oval Office. At the Rose Garden press conference that followed, Mr. Bush stressed Mr. Abbas's responsibility to "end terror attacks, dismantle terrorist infrastructure, maintain law and order and one day provide security for their own state." Mr. Abbas himself made no mention of the words "terrorism" or "terrorists." But he did demand the release of those he called "prisoners of freedom," now being held in Israeli jails.What Stephens is pointing out here (correctly) is that these are not fringe members of Palestinian society. On the contrary, their release from prison is being demanded by Mahmoud Abbas, the so-called 'Palestinian President' and the most moderate face the Palestinians currently have in the West.
Who are some of these prisoners? One is Ibrahim Ighnamat, a Hamas leader arrested last week by Israel in connection to his role in organizing a March 1997 suicide bombing at the Apropos cafe in Tel Aviv, which killed three and wounded 48. Another is Jamal Tirawi of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades: Mr. Tirawi had bullied a 14-year-old boy into becoming a suicide bomber by threatening to denounce him as a "collaborator," which in Palestinian society frequently amounts to a death sentence.
And then there is 21-year-old Wafa Samir al-Bis, who was detained in June after the explosives she was carrying failed to detonate at an Israeli checkpoint on the border with Gaza. As Ms. Bis later testified, her target was an Israeli hospital where she had previously been treated--as a humanitarian gesture--for burns suffered in a kitchen accident. "I wanted to kill 20, 50 Jews," she explained at a press conference after her arraignment.
Demanding the release of these animals means, essentially, that the Palestinian Authority officially considers them unjustly imprisoned... and therefore condones their actions.
Could Israel, with the best will in the world, make further concessions to a Palestinian leadership that supports such brutality? (Actually, Israel has been making concessions to them for years, with little or nothing to show for it... and is always told that these concessions, horrifically expensive though they are in human lives, are not enough.)
Would you trust such people with your safety? Think about it a minute.
Mr. Stephens goes on:
Many explanations have been given to account for the almost matchless barbarism into which Palestinian society has descended in recent years. One is the effect of Israeli occupation and all that has, in recent years, gone with it: the checkpoints, the closures, the petty harassments, the targeted assassinations of terrorist leaders. I witnessed much of this personally when I lived in Israel, and there can be no discounting the embittering effect that a weeks-long, 18-hour daily military curfew has on the ordinary Palestinians living under it.How, indeed? (emphasis added)
Yet the checkpoints and curfews are not gratuitous acts of unkindness by Israel, nor are they artifacts of occupation. On the contrary, in the years when Israel was in full control of the territories there were no checkpoints or curfews, and Palestinians could move freely (and find employment) throughout the country. It was only with the start of the peace process in 1993 and the creation of autonomous Palestinian areas under the control of the late Yasser Arafat that terrorism became a commonplace fact of Israeli life. And it was only then that the checkpoints went up and the clampdowns began in earnest.
In other words, while Palestinian actions go far to explain Israeli behavior, the reverse doesn't hold. How, then, are the Ighnamats, Tirawis and Bises of Palestinian society to be explained?
My own feeling is that the Palestinians long ago painted themselves into a corner, by building a society in which only violence is respected. Violence is the solution to nearly any Palestinian problem; violence is the only skill worth having among Palestinians today. The future many Palestinian parents want for their children, we are frequently told, is suicide. They can thank the late Yasser Arafat for this, with his endless maniacal calls for Jihad.
Matters were made worse by a total abandonment of any kind of personal or cultural responsibility. Palestinian economic problems are all Israel's fault, in spite of anything Israel does or can do to help. (Even today, a major sector of the Palestinian economy consists of jobs in Israel. What other country would keep its borders open to tens of thousands of foreign laborers, even in the face of unceasing and ever-more-brutal terrorist attacks?) Problems in any sector of Palestinian society are blamed on 'the occupation', even though Palestinians, during the years of full-fledged Israeli occupation (1967 - 1993), had a higher average standard of living than their neighbors in any Arab country -- a status that changed, for the worse, only when Arafat took over in 1993.
The result of all this is a Palestinian nightmare with no escape. No Palestinian leader can proclaim himself pro-peace, under any conditions, without being labelled a 'collaborator' (and thereby being marked for death). Violence, only violence, is seen as the answer... and if it doesn't get results, the answer is ever-increasing violence. If sending a woman to blow up the very hospital that treated her isn't barbaric enough, up the ante with a woman who hides a live grenade in her own baby's clothes.
What can be done? Frankly, not much. It's clear that conciliatory actions by Israel don't help; giving the Palestinians free reign over the entire Gaza Strip, asking for nothing in return, produced only more cries of Jihad and an increased tempo of terrorist attacks.
Conciliatory Palestinian actions would help tremendously; Israel has been waiting for almost forty years to have reasonable Palestinians to talk to. But as I've explained, the Palestinians themselves won't permit reasonable voices to be heard.
Israel could move in and crack heads, imposing a clean-slate political solution, much as the United States is currently doing in Iraq. But that wouldn't work either, for a variety of reasons. The majority of Iraqis were aching for freedom from Saddam, and were all too happy to vote in free elections each and every time such elections were held. But Palestinians have been fed a daily diet of hate for decades now. If a solution can be imposed upon them, it certainly won't be by Israel.
I hate to say it, but the only solution I can see -- other than a Palestinian civil war, bloody enough to make anything (even peace with Israel) attractive by comparison -- is an imposed solution from without. That would have to be from somebody that has earned Israeli respect, and has the muscle to get Palestinian attention as well. I can only think of one source for such a solution, and that's the United States. But wih President Bush sounding as conciliatory as he is -- toward the terror leader that is Abbas -- even that avenue doesn't look very promising.
Sometimes there is no good solution. I hope to God that a solution exists here, and that someone smarter than me will find it and make it happen... because I don't see any answers here.
UPDATE: Rick Richman of Jewish Current Issues writes about the Bush-Abbas meetings, and sees them more optimistically than I do. As he explains, the much-vaunted 'Road Map' has three phases: Phase I (including, among other things, dismantling Palestinian terrorist organizations and infrastructure); Phase II (including a Palestinian state with 'provisional' borders); and Phase III (final status negotiations). Abbas enthusiastically explains that he's ready to start Phase III at any time, athough he hasn't met (or even attempted to meet) any of his Phase I commitments.
Bush, on the other hand, continues to use the language of Phase I: terrorist organizations must be dismantled before any further progress can be made. Put that way, it does sound like good news: Abbas is selling, but Bush isn't buying. I hope that's correct.
(Rick also explains that Israel has exceeded its Phase I obligations, and makes a good case for it. Let's hope Bush sees it the same way.)
UPDATE II: More positive commentary from Anne at Boker Tov, Boulder! Granted, she's citing Debkafile, which is not always reliable. But it rings true... and I, for one, would love to believe that it's true. Check it out and see what you think.