Jewish World Review Jan. 17, 2003 / 14 Shevat, 5763
What the Palestinians
still haven't figured out
Warren Christopher wrote last week in The New York Times of terrorist attacks "wreaking havoc in far-flung places such as Indonesia, Kenya, Jordan and Yemen." Maybe I am being myopic, but why didn't he mention Israel in that list, the state that suffers most from this savagery?
Certainly Bill Clinton's secretary of state wouldn't be the first prominent American to believe that terror against Israelis is different, not quite so satanic, as terror against other civilians. Palestinian terror, say its apologists, is political--the illegitimate means to a legitimate end, statehood. But many peoples have pursued statehood in modern history, and only the Palestinians have pursued it so barbarically. Terrorism, truth be told, is about the sum total of what the Palestinians have bestowed on our civilization during the last five decades.
The Palestinians aren't skittish about claiming this peculiar gift to the world as their own. Take the double suicide bombing near the old bus station in south Tel Aviv. Before all the shattered bodies had been dispatched to hospitals, Islamic Jihad had taken credit for the deed. And, not long after, came word from Hamas that it, too, should share in the kudos. Then, this competition became snarled. The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, an armed gang of Yasir Arafat's own Fatah, announced that, no, it had committed the act. And, then, Arafat's Palestinian Authority (P.A.), itself dominated by Fatah, condemned it. The P.A. boldly promised to act against those responsible. But by now this is an old trick, which only the European Union still seems to believe. The purveyors of murder and the denouncers of murder are the same people. (To make the P.A.'s horror even less credible, authoritative Israeli observers now believe that it was Tanzim, another of Fatah's militias that actually shed the blood.)
This was not the first time these particular Tel Aviv streets had hosted Palestinian carnage. On Tisha B'Av last summer, a day of fasting and mourning for the destruction of the First and Second Temples, terror took the lives of five and wounded dozens over the same pavement. There was another bloodletting earlier. This is a poor neighborhood, and many of those present in its alleys and open spaces are foreign workers, the poorest of the poor. A wise Jerusalem friend speculated that the murderers now target foreign workers because they are the ones on whom Israel depends for the work once done by Palestinians from the territories.
The Palestinian aim is to make the Filipinos and Romanians, Nigerians and Colombians, Turks and Thai, so scared that they leave. If my friend has divined an intention of the Palestinians, it is a mad intention. The intifada has not only brought current agony to nascent Palestine; it has guaranteed that economic misery will continue far into the future. In the coming months, a wall, urged upon Israel by many of its foolish doves and many of its foolish hawks, separating much of the disputed territories from the Israel-to-be, will be an established fact.
When (and if) there is a peace agreement, the borders will not again be open for hundreds of thousands of Palestinian workers to share in the prosperity that will surely return to Israel. The peril of admitting an alien and hating workforce is simply too great. Edmund Burke wrote in his Letters on a Regicide Peace (1796), "War never leaves where it found a nation. It is never to be entered upon without mature deliberation." At what might have been the dawn of a real state, the Palestinians started this macabre war in a fit of delirium. The war has been and will remain, long past the day when agreed rules govern relations between Israel and whatever becomes Palestine, a calamity for their people.
One index of the immaturity of Palestine even as a concept is that its elites still turn to neighboring Arab countries to fight their battles for them. (The term "Palestinians" is immature as well. The U.N. Partition Plan of 1947 never called the local Arabs "Palestinians" and neither did the crucial 1967 Security Council Resolution 242). When the Egyptians, Jordanians, and Syrians sent armies to fight in 1948, 1967, and 1973, they were there not on behalf of the Palestinians but on behalf of their ambitions for sovereignty over the lands of what was historically called Palestine. The other Arabs talked a lot about Arab Palestine but did little. They are now doing even less. In real terms, the Palestinians are now on their own, which is why they nourish the fantasy that Saddam Hussein might somehow become their liberator. (The Boston Globe reported just this week on a pro-Saddam march in Nablus.) Egypt is now in a panic that the deteriorating situation of the Palestinians will inflame Cairo's rent-a-mob populace.
So, just as the bombs went off in Tel Aviv, Hosni Mubarak was trying to convene meetings with Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and two "Marxist" murderous bands (one, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine; the second, the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine) aimed at an agreement to stop terror against Israeli civilians within the armistice lines of 1949. Terror outside those armistice lines, of course, would still be perfectly acceptable.
No national movement in modern history has been more compromised by collaborators than that of the Palestinians. I know that the Shin Bet and the Mossad and the various legendary Sayerets are smart and brave. But they're not that smart or that brave. Still, it's part of the anti-Semitic repertory, and not just among the Arabs, to impute demonic gifts to the Jews.
This is the only excuse the Palestinians have to explain (away) the shame of so many of their own being informants for Israel.
Yes, there are heroic Palestinians, perhaps many of them. And there certainly are passionate Palestinians, passionate enough to blow up school buses. But, since the Israeli security services seem able to locate particular terrorists--many of them--at particular times and in particular places, the Palestinian nation seems to me not yet a faithful community, not yet faithful to itself beyond family or tribe, class, or degree of Muslim piety.
There were, not long ago, hundreds of thousands of Christians among the Palestinians. But Palestine somehow did not truly encompass them, and they were envied, denounced, and persecuted. So, many decamped from their homes to the usual places that take in the unwanted. Western Christians pretended not to notice this abandonment of Palestine by its historic inhabitants. But betrayal is a grisly habit that is not easily contained. The Yishuv (the Jewish community in pre-state Palestine) was divided along ideological lines, and its warring politics were often steeped in bitter history. But, unlike the Palestinians, Jews did not rat on one another, not to the British and not to the Arabs. They did not have a civil war. The Palestinian civil war, by contrast, is yet to come, and it will be vindictive. Like Spain's. And the society it produces won't be kind, regardless of how it ends or who wins.
JWR contributor Martin Peretz
is editor-in-chief and chairman of The New Republic. Comment by clicking here.
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© 2003, Martin Peretz