There is merit to the claim that certain Israeli public figures, and not only most of their Arab counterparts, are inflaming the conflict between the two nations.
True, Israeli bureaucracies, together with our monopolies, that generally exploit Israeli consumers do not spare our Arab citizens, to put it mildly. Making everyone’s effort to make a living a misery, they exacerbate the conflict.
But economic oppression of both Jews and Arabs is not the only obstacle to peace. Well-intentioned Israelis (or so they claim) actually harm their Arab partners by diverting most of their energies to sterile ideological protests that inflame the conflict between the two nations, instead of encouraging and helping them to engage in constructive activities and do the many practical things that are possible even under the admittedly difficult circumstances of the conflict. Improving the Palestinian Arabs’ lives would be a far more effective way of helping them rehabilitate their economy and society that were despoiled and destroyed by Arafat and his ilk after Oslo, with the complicity of the Israeli peace camp.
The way the plight of the Palestinian Arabs is being exploited by “the sane” “peace camp” (similar to the political exploitation of the Israeli poor by the welfare lobby) was demonstrated in a recent conclave at the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute. This institute, very well-endowed by Dutch billionaires, specializes in ultra-“liberal” causes. Its scholars and activities are generally anti-capitalist and often espouse a return to socialism (recently an American guest professor averred that American corporations murder people in South America in order to extract their fat for use in cosmetic products!). Van Leer is not, however, liberal enough to permit in its seminars and conclaves more than token opposition to its prevailing dogma.
SO IT was not surprising that a panel “Economic Peace: Foundation or Distraction” organized by Hebrew University Business School professor Bernard Avishai included five prominent Arab businesspersons who represented only the “distraction” party. They devoted all their time to a litany of complains about “occupation” as the sole source of all evil, attacking Binyamin Netanyahu’s economic peace ideas as a dastardly plot.
Prof. Avishai, an eloquent advocate of granting statehood to the Palestinian Authority and a passionate liberal, does not seem bothered by the fact that under the Authority Palestinian Arabs lost even the minimal civil rights and rule of law that they enjoyed under Israeli occupation; or that they are brutally oppressed by a police state; or that unemployment skyrocketed while their standard of living plummeted, making them destitute and miserable. It seems that nationalism, which Avishai and his like detest when it is embraced by Jews, is a great blessing, even in its most jingoistic form, when it is foisted on the Palestinian Arabs by their rapacious and corrupt elites. It apparently also does not matter that they are subjected to totalitarian brainwashing that redirects their rage against Israel.
Thus one Arab woman on the panel blamed the occupation for creating miserable conditions for women under the PA. She was asked whether the reason the inferior status of women in all Arab states – which she admitted was deplorable – was also due to Israeli occupation, but thought it was a joke.
When someone asserted that while occupation was unfortunate, it did not come out of nowhere, as all the speakers insisted (“you just came, took over our land and oppress us”) but had resulted from an attack on Israel and an intent to destroy it; and that the closures and roadblocks (some counterproductive) were the result of Israel’s reluctance to take more stern and effective measures against terrorism (not mentioned once by any of the speakers), he was booed by the audience.
The same person asserted that while the occupation indeed imposes hardships, it is not true that it necessarily arrests economic development. The most extensive and brutal occupation in history, the Arab conquest of more than half the ancient world, which was exploited and ruled with an iron fist, resulted in five centuries of immense economic growth simply by imposing “a common market” and the rule of law.
Later, when Arab autocracies, the only form of rule known in Islam, strangled their own economies with brutal controls and taxes, it was colonial conquest and rule that (temporarily) reversed this decline. And finally, as much as those who blame everything on occupation will resent it, the fact is that Israeli occupation of the economically backward West Bank and Gaza stimulated exceptional growth. It not only quintupled the Arab standard of living but created many beneficial social changes, better health and education and especially a phenomenal rise in the status of women, children and the lowliest workers.
This created a storm of protest in the audience, and a few Women-in-Black types tried to remove the heretic from the hall by force. Neither chairman Avishai nor any of the panel members came to the defense of free speech.
Two Hebrew University professors, both partisans of Palestinian independence and involved with its economic affairs, tried lamely to ask the panelists why the Palestinians failed to take measures that would benefit their economy, like developing the rule of law and property rights, especially in real estate. “It’s the occupation” was the expected answer.
Expected because you cannot become a prominent businessperson (or even
live in peace and poverty) under the Palestinian Authority by daring to
criticize its corrupt system; indeed you probably must be part of it
and always blame Israel for everything, including global warming
probably. Like terrorism, the word corruption, arguably a chief cause
of economic retardation in the PA, was also not mentioned.
So the Palestinian Arabs will continue living miserably in the morass
of their perverse nationalism, and their liberal Jewish friends will
facilitate their being held in bondage by blaming all their troubles on
The writer is director of the Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress (ICSEP).