saul singer 88.
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Every time we Israelis get in a funk about the quality of our leadership, we should imagine ourselves in Palestinian shoes.
"How is it that the political factions have led the Palestinian people to the brink of national, political, economic and social disaster?" wrote Abdallah Awad, a columnist for the Palestinian daily Al-Ayyam on October 15. "Who is responsible for the state of chaos, the havoc and the collapse of morality, society and internal security? Our [Fatah and Hamas] leaders have nothing to say but lies and deception... Nothing interests them but... their madness, their self-love, and their love of power."
Another commentator followed, in the same newspaper, on October 17: "Has the violence become a culture implanted in our body, in our flesh, and in our bones?... I fear that we have surrendered to it, and it has become the master that we obey everywhere - in the home, in the neighborhood, in the family, in the tribe [and] in the organization or the university... Even our children have lost [their] innocence and become filled with both fear and violence... the violence that has taken the best of our children and our sons from us."
This last, remarkably, was written not by a government opponent but by Palestinian Authority spokesman Ghazi Hamad.
Tragically, even these brave observers either cannot see or will not admit that their society's violence has something to do with with its grisly attacks against Israel. Awad mocks Hamas for not attacking Israel enough. "Where is the resistance that [our] arrogant leaders talk about? Where are the casualties of the martyrdom operations?" he wonders.
Hamad concludes, "Let us... uphold the motto: 'Among ourselves - love, dialogue and mutual understanding; toward the enemy - force, resistance and steadfastness'" (translations by Memri.org).
This formula obviously does not work. It is impossible to brainwash an entire society into lionizing death and murder while creating a polity built on respect for democracy and the rule of law. At some point, a cult of death and the sanctity of life must come into conflict.
THIS WEEK, President George Bush met with PA President Mahmoud Abbas in Amman, in the hope of bolstering the "moderate" Palestinian camp. Yet the same Abbas still controls Palestinian television, which on November 8 broadcast an interview with Sheikh Imad Hamato claiming that suicide bombers are granted divine forgiveness "from the first gush of blood." This spiritual leader explained that while ordinary folk may be repelled by the sight of a bomber with "no head, no legs, his body completely burned... intestines outside, fingers... gone," this is "what the Shahids wish for most of all."
If this were not enough, last week the Palestinians marked a new milestone in self-dehumanization with a suicide bombing by Fatma Omar an-Najar, a 68-year-old grandmother to 42 grandchildren.
Grabbing at straws, one might think that Palestinians would want to reserve one small corner of the spectrum of age and gender for more nurturing qualities, and that roping a grandmother - whom most crumbling societies rely upon as an anchor against violence and broken families - into the murder/suicide cult would repel even Palestinian sensibilities.
No such luck. The same Palestinian press which has become so frankly critical of internal violence admired the exploding grandmother. A news report in Al-Hayat al-Jadida gave her the honorific title Fidaiyya - a female warrior ready to sacrifice herself - and claimed that her attack "restores the honor of the role of women in the national struggle."
A partial exception was Mahmoud Abu Alheija, a columnist for the same paper, who mocked Hamas for transforming "elderly mothers into explosive material, even though Allah the great commands us to surround them with a soft and loving embrace, rather than with a bomb belt" (translations by pmw.org.il). He too, though, seemed to be criticizing Hamas mainly for ineffectiveness, and only secondarily for immorality.
HOW, THEN, does Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's generous peace overture fit into all this?
At Ben-Gurion's grave this week Olmert re-tabled a version of Ehud Barak's 2000 offer of a Palestinian state. This offer is real, because there is no doubt that if the Palestinians gave up terrorism and their demand to destroy Israel through the "right of return," a state would be theirs for the asking. It is also smart diplomatically, since it is crazy for Israel to look like it is gumming up the works when Hamas cannot even accept Israel's right to exist.
The problem is that Olmert's proposal deals with only one side of the coin: It demonstrates that Israel is not an obstacle, but remains silent about what is.
It is no longer enough to say to the world that the Palestinians must stop terror. It should be obvious that the Palestinians cannot alone extricate themselves from their suicide spiral. Nor can the sweetest of offers by Israel.
The Arab states, by contrast, if they were pressed by the US and Europe to take concrete steps toward normalization with Israel and defusing the refugee issue, could tip the balance among Palestinians toward true moderation. But why should the US, let alone Europe, demand that the Arab states lead the way toward peace if Israel is not making such demands, or even stating the problem?
Offering the Palestinians a state is not, by itself, a peace plan because the lack of a state is not the cause of the war. There will be no real movement toward peace, let alone peace itself, before the international community holds the Arab world accountable for its refusal to accept Israel's right to exist - a refusal that is still largely intact even in the two Arab nations that have signed peace treaties with us.
Israel must call on the Arab states to reject plans to flood Israel with Palestinians, to shut down anti-Semitic attacks, allow people-to-people contacts, exchange high-level visits and crack down on financial and material support for radical movements.
Why should the US, let alone Europe, make demands of the Arab states if Israel does not?
- Editorial Page Editor Saul Singer is author of the book, Confronting Jihad: Israel's Struggle & the World After 9/11
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