Defining 'pro-peace'

What evidence does the Left need before doubts creep in about the PA's leadership?

Abbas cartoon 521 (photo credit: Avi Katz)
Abbas cartoon 521
(photo credit: Avi Katz)
Much of the recent American Jewish discourse on Israel has centered on what it means to be “pro-Israel.” Jewish groups on the Left – the socalled peace camp – have been vocal in support of a “big tent” definition of pro-Israel. For example, the left-wing Jewish lobby group J Street states on its Web site that “we do not believe that agreeing with everything the current Israeli government does should be the litmus test for what it means to be pro-Israel.”
Fair enough. I can understand the frustration of Jews on the Left who constantly have to defend their pro-Israel credentials, but on the other hand, why do they get to define what it means to be “pro-peace”? What about the frustration of those of us inside the pro-Israel establishment (e.g., federations, AI PAC ) whose pro-peace credentials are endlessly called into question by those outside the establishment?
The problem with the Jewish Left claiming a monopoly over the pro-peace label is that it doesn’t make room for anyone who, while supportive of a two-state solution, believes that the current Palestinian leadership is simply incapable of making peace.
Left-wing groups such as J Street and Americans for Peace Now, well-intentioned though they may be, have refused to face the inconvenient truth that Israel’s putative peace partner is anything but. The assertion that the Palestinian Authority (PA) under Mahmoud Abbas is a credible peacemaker can only be maintained by ignoring much of what the PA says and does.
One need look no further than the October prisoner exchange in which Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was freed. President Mahmoud Abbas gave a heroes’ welcome to the released Palestinian terrorists – among them, those responsible for some of the most horrific suicide bombings during the second intifada – praising them as “freedom fighters and holy warriors for the sake of Allah and the homeland.” In large part to compete with Hamas, the PA leader also pledged substantial monetary rewards to the freed prisoners as “tokens of honor.”
Imagine an Israeli prime minister deciding to hold a ceremony commemorating the life of Baruch Goldstein, the Jewish extremist who murdered 29 Palestinian worshipers in Hebron’s Tomb of the Patriarchs in 1994. Who in their right mind would consider such a leader to be a seeker of peace? How are Abbas’s actions any different?
And this is no one-time anomaly. Terrorists are regularly given an honored status in Palestinian society, both in the government-controlled media and in ceremonies organized by the PA. Last year, for example, members of Abbas’s Fatah faction held a ceremony to name a town square near Ramallah after Dalal Mughrabi, the female leader of a 1978 bus hijacking in which 37 Israelis were killed.
None of this should come as a surprise. These are the same Palestinian leaders who have expressed their unwavering support for Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who was indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. “The Palestinians stand with Sudan in everything it wants,” Abbas wrote in a letter to Bashir last December.
As if the glorification of terrorists and the backing of a genocidal regime weren’t enough to expose the PA’s talk of peace as lip service, Abbas has made it clear, as he did on Egyptian television in late October, that he will “never recognize” Israel as a Jewish state nor will he recognize “the Jewishness of the state.”
Predictably, some on the Left dismiss these statements as mere posturing. Yet, denial of the Jewish religious and historical connection to the Land of Israel – whether through school textbooks, TV programs or the wanton destruction of Jewish artifacts on the Temple Mount – has been the official policy of the PA since its inception. This is precisely the reason why it sought membership in the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization: to lay claim to Jewish holy sites in the West Bank in order to expunge over 3,000 years of Jewish heritage there.
How much more evidence does the Left need to see before doubts creep in about the true intentions of the Palestinian leadership? Curiously, the same Left doesn’t hesitate to express its skepticism when Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls for a resumption of peace talks.
A common misconception is that those who raise these red flags are all hard-line neo-conservatives who support the Jewish settler movement. After all, if a right-wing Israeli government is willing to negotiate with the Palestinians despite their problematic behavior, why call attention to these issues unless it’s out of a desire to see the peace process fail?
Hence the need to broaden the definition of “pro-peace.” In the same way that expressing legitimate criticism of Israel doesn’t make one anti-Israel, refusing to accept the portrayal of the PA as moderate shouldn’t be equated with opposition to a two-state solution. To the contrary, many of us who view the PA as rejectionist still yearn for peace even with the knowledge that it will require Israel to give up land that holds profound significance for the Jewish people.
But real peace will also require a Palestinian leadership that works to end incitement and terrorism while unequivocally recognizing the right of the Jewish people to sovereign statehood. Not only will sweeping egregious Palestinian actions under the rug not get us closer to that vision – it’s a recipe for continued conflict.
The writer is the Community Relations Director of the Jewish Federation of Greater Portland, Oregon.