The etiquette of destruction

Explicit calls to eliminate Israel have become offensive but implicit ones have become more acceptable.

December 14, 2005 03:12
3 minute read.
iran's Ahmadinejad portrait 298.88

Ahmadinejad 298.88. (photo credit: AP [file])


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There is a right way and a wrong way, strangely, to call for the elimination of Israel. Kofi Annan, secretary-general of the United Nations, provided an example of each in recent weeks. When Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the president of Iran, stated on October 2 6 that "the regime occupying Jerusalem must be eliminated from the pages of history," Annan replied by expressing "dismay." Again on December 7, when Ahmadinejad called for Israel to be moved to Europe, Annan responded with "shock." But dismay and shock at Ahmadinejad's statements did not prevent Annan from participating on November 29, just between the Iranian outbursts, in a UN-sponsored "International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People." Anne Bayefsky of "Eye on the UN" ( reports that Annan sat on the dais adjacent to an Arabic-language map of "Palestine" showing a Palestine replacing Israel. It cartographically achieved exactly what Ahmadinejad called for: The elimination of the Jewish state. Annan's contradictory acti ons result from the fact that, since 1993, explicit calls for the destruction of Israel have become offensive but implicit ones have become more acceptable. The latter include:

  • Demands for a Palestinian "right of return" (demographically overrunnin g the Jewish state with anyone claiming to be a Palestinian)
  • declaring a "jihad to liberate Jerusalem"
  • commemorating the creation of Israel as Al-Nakba ("the disaster")
  • proposing a "one-state solution" (i.e., no more Israel)
  • tributes to "all those of who have given their lives for the cause of the Palestinian people" (including suicide bombers)
  • maps that do not show Israel Fatah and Hamas together display this dichotomy. Both aspire to eliminate Israel, but they choose different paths to get there. Fatah's tactics have been opportunistic, duplicitous and inconsistent since 1988, when Yasser Arafat nominally condemned terrorism and began the "peace process" with Israel - even as he simultaneously sponsored suicide terrorism and promoted an ideology totally rejecting Israeli legitimacy. This transparent deception enabled Fatah to gain great benefits from Israel, including a self-governing authority, a quasi-military force, vast Western subventions, and near-control of one border. Hamas, in contrast, consistently rejected Israel's existence, winning it ever-larger segments of Palestinian public opinion (the latest poll shows it ahead of Fatah in the forthcoming elections, 45 percent to 35%). BUT THIS overt rejectionism also made it anathema to Israel and others, limiting its effectiveness. As a result, Hamas in recent months has started showing more flexibility; for example, it has generally honored a cease-fire with Israel and is moving in the direction of entering the diplomatic process. This brings advantages; the "Conflicts Forum" and others are, with some success, presenting Hamas as a newly legitimate interlocutor. Palestinian Islamic Jihad might find itself the only purely rejectionist organization against Israel. Why do such distinctions in style matter? Because the Fatah approach seduces Israelis enough to work with them; Arafat-like euphemisms, inconsistencies, subterfuges and lies encourage them to make "painful concessions." Contrarily, the Ahmadinejad-PIJ approa ch crudely confronts Israel with overt and brutal threats that cannot be rationalized away. Blatant calls for Israel's destruction make Israelis bristle, acquire new armaments and close down diplomatically. These ploys might strain credulity - surely the Israelis realize that more subtle tactics are no less lethal than overt threats with the same aim? Actually, they do not. Since 1993, Israelis have shown themselves, in the words of the philosopher Yoram Hazony, "an exhausted people, confused and witho ut direction," willing and even eager to be duped by their attackers. All they need are some overtures, however unconvincing, that they will be freed from war, and they barely can restrain themselves from making concessions to mortal enemies. Thus does e nlightened world opinion condemn Ahmadinejad, sensing he went too far and will cause Israelis to retreat. If he would only tone down his comments and politely call for Israel's elimination by, for example, endorsing a one-state solution, all would be well. Thus have Israelis effectively defined which anti-Zionism is acceptable and which is not. Kofi Annan's record of both condemning and endorsing Israel's elimination merely reflects the etiquette of destruction established by Israelis themselves. The writer is director of the Middle East Forum and author of Miniatures (ˇp
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