Narrative first

The reflexive rush to blame Israel feeds directly into Hamas's agenda.

Abbas EU 224 (photo credit: AP [file])
Abbas EU 224
(photo credit: AP [file])
In her press conference yesterday with Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that Israeli-Palestinian talks would continue, despite claims of a boycott by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas's boycott came after he accused Israel of committing "more than a holocaust" in Gaza. The Abbas boycott and his reprehensible accusations follow a pattern established well before the current escalation in Gaza. Last month, for example, Abbas's Palestinian Authority declared a three-day mourning period for PFLP leader George Habash, who was associated with the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics and with the assassination of Israeli cabinet minister Rehavam Ze'evi. In case anyone might think that the PA is only remembering past "glories," Fatah, the faction that Abbas heads, issued a poster displaying a map of "Palestine" that included all of Israel, a machine gun and a picture of Yasser Arafat. Incitement against Israel, including the glorification of "martyrdom," continues through Abbas-controlled PA television, and PA educational institutions, such as schools and camps. Outside observers tend to excuse this behavior, particularly when Hamas steps up its attacks on Israel, knowing full well that these attacks will force Israel to escalate in response. How, indeed, can Abbas be expected to do otherwise when the Arab and international media is accusing Israel of massacring Palestinians while ignoring the attacks that precipitated Israeli action and the fact that Israel goes to tremendous efforts to minimize civilian Palestinian casualties. This is a near impossible task since Hamas deliberately attacks Israel from civilian areas with the specific objective of causing Palestinian civilian casualties that will be blamed on Israel. Yet Abbas is not doing anything near what he could and should be doing. No one is forcing him to play so wholeheartedly into the Hamas propaganda machine. On the contrary, as the supposed representative of all Palestinians, does he have nothing to say about Hamas's practice of firing missiles at Israel from civilian areas, thereby using innocent Palestinians as human shields? What about the obvious fact that the "holocaust" that he blames on Israel would not have happened if Hamas had not continued to bombard Israel's cities in the first place? Abbas's approach is typical of the refusal of the Palestinian leadership, including its relatively more moderate factions, to take minimal responsibility for its own destiny. The reflexive rush to blame Israel feeds directly into Hamas's agenda. It signals to Palestinians not only that they are helpless to advance the cause of establishing their own state, but that to do so would be immoral, since it would require ending the "struggle" to destroy Israel. Much has been said about the opposing Israeli and Palestinian narratives. But the gap is not just between these narratives, but between potential Palestinian narratives: one based on Israel's destruction and the other on building a democratic state that would live next to Israel in peace. The latter narrative is described almost obsessively by the US and often by Israel, but almost never by Palestinian leaders, including Mahmoud Abbas. Palestinians do not hear him talking about a future in any detail, nor do they see him laying the groundwork for such a future in concrete ways, such as institution building. What they do see is Abbas perpetuating the narrative of "struggle" and "return," which has always meant the establishment of Palestine on Israel's ashes. President George Bush and Secretary Rice have been saying lately that the remaining 10 months of the current administration is plenty of time to make peace. But peace will not come in another 100 years unless Palestinians adopt a narrative in which their national dreams are built on something other than denying and destroying the Jewish national project. This narrative transformation cannot wait for a peace agreement to be signed for the simple reason that no peace agreement can be reached so long as the Palestinian narrative remains focused on Israel's destruction. This was the lesson of the failed 2000 Camp David summit, of the rise of Hamas, and of the overall deterioration of the peace process. What we should have learned by now is that the real peace process is not a diplomatic one, but one of each side preparing itself for peace. Israel has effected a sea change in this sphere, in that a consensus that held that a Palestinian state would necessarily be an existential threat has been transformed into a consensus that such a state is a strategic necessity. Such a transformation has barely begun on the Palestinian side. We do the Palestinians no favors by not demanding it of them, by ignoring the narrative of war, dismissing it as mere "rhetoric," or actually joining in blaming the failure to change narratives on Israel.