The internal Palestinian debate

The Palestinians are divided on two sides, and the chances of reaching an agreement with Israel depends on who wins this argument.

By MAX SINGER
April 14, 2010 23:34
Salam Fayyad.

Fayyad likes little girls 311. (photo credit: Associated Press)

A useful way to think about the possibility for peace between Israel and the Palestinians is to  imagine that the Palestinians have been involved in a long-term internal debate. The two sides would be those who think they should continue the effort to eliminate Israel, and those who think the fight to destroy it has gone on long enough, and that it’s time for the Palestinians to pursue their own interests in peace and prosperity.

These two groups have constantly shifting memberships, all of whom have organizational and political interests which complicate their choice. To some extent, many individuals are divided in their own minds, so that the general debate is echoed within individuals.

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It is important to note that the debate usually takes place in an environment where public (and even private) discussion is far from free. Providing certain information or expressing some views can be a risk for Palestinians.

Peace depends on those who are ready for winning the internal debate. While those who prefer to keep fighting are on top, there is no chance for a negotiated settlement. Serious negotiations can only begin when the predominant view is that it is necessary to give up the effort to destroy Israel.

There are two dominant issues in the debate. One is whether they have a serious chance of winning if they keep fighting. The other is whether making peace is honorable or shameful.

Palestinians who prefer peace have no chance of winning the internal argument if they believe the continued effort to destroy Israel might succeed. They can only be effective if they believe and can convincingly say, “We have no chance of defeating Israel,” or “You have no plausible theory of victory; it is time to get practical.”

Therefore, a main goal of anyone who wants to promote peace is to understand and counter the theory of victory that sustains those who want to keep fighting.

Currently the Palestinians do not believe they can militarily defeat Israel, or that the Arab and Muslim countries will send armies to force its surrender. Their willingness to keep fighting is now sustained by two hopes. The lesser is that Israel is becoming soft and divided and that if the pressure of hatred and terrorism is maintained, it will lose its will to defend itself, or enough Israelis will leave to fatally weaken the country. The greater hope is that their international campaign to delegitimize Israel will lead to international pressure that forces it into a series of retreats that ultimately makes it unable to defend itself.

THERE IS a third hope, that an Iranian nuclear attack will lead to so many deaths and desertions that Israel cannot sustain itself. But this hope is not near the top of Palestinian thinking, and may be too external to be a deciding influence on it.

Objectively speaking, the “keep fighting” group has a good case. Given the progress made over the past few years in building anti-Israel sentiment in Europe, the “peace camp” certainly cannot confidently argue that there is  little chance that the UN will take decisive measures against it.

Not only are there very few – if any – voices from Europe or the US telling Palestinians they are wrong and must accept a permanent Jewish state, but the Europeans are also handsomely paying to support them and show every sign of unwillingness to challenge the Muslim world.

It is true that the US especially continues to insist that it is committed to Israel’s security, and no European government has yet called for it to retreat beyond the 1967 borders – although that itself is a retreat that would force 10 percent of the population to move from places they have lived for a generation.

But Palestinians have plenty of basis for thinking that if they do more of what they have been doing, in a few years international opinion will move enough to act in ways that become fatal for Israel.

In the past year this theory of victory has been bolstered by President Barack Obama’s movement of American policy away from its traditional closeness to Israel and his apparent intention to force it to make important concessions without return.

The second crucial issue is whether the Palestinians believe it would be honorable to make peace. This depends on whether the Jews are colonial thieves stealing land solely on the basis of force, or whether they are a people that also historically lived in the land and are attached to it.

If the Palestinians understood that there are two peoples with long historical and moral claims to the same land, it would be honorable to recognize that fighting is useless and that compromise is an appropriate way to settle the dispute.

Currently, their leadership and elite are adamant in insisting there is no Jewish people, and that there was no Jewish presence in the land before Islam. They officially and energetically deny that there was ever a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount, despite the many Muslim sources from previous generations that recognized its location in pre-Muslim times. The Palestinian leadership is deliberately making an honorable peace impossible by falsely denying that Jews have a legitimate claim to any of the land.

When free discussion is possible, it will be impossible to conceal the fact of historical Jewish connection to the land. Those who want peace will be able to argue that peace could be an honorable compromise between two peoples with just claims to the land, and not just a cowardly yielding to force.


This issue, too, is in the hands of Europeans and Americans. If they regularly reminded the Palestinian leadership and public of the Jewish moral and historical claims to the land, recognized by the League of Nations in the Palestine Mandate, the leadership could not keep the truth from their people. But so long as they perpetuate the colonial lie, the rest of the world has an infallible sign that they have not yet become ready for peace. Peace will not become possible until Palestinians say to each other that the Jews also have an historical attachment to the land.

The path to peace is clear. Peace will become possible when Palestinians see that there is no chance that Europeans or Iranians will prevent Israel from defending itself, and when they recognize that they are not the only people with a moral and legal claim to the land. In the meantime, negotiations are a charade and concessions can do nothing to “improve the chances of success.”

The writer is a senior research associate at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies and a founder and senior fellow of the Hudson Institute.


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