The alternative to wishful thinking

When attacked, we often attempt to understand our attackers "rage," rather than our own anger.

barghouti in handcuffs88 (photo credit: )
barghouti in handcuffs88
(photo credit: )
If dictatorships tend to be aggressive, democracies are often self-effacing to a fault. When attacked, we often respond with efforts to understand our attackers "rage," rather than with our own indignation and anger. In general, we have reason to be proud of the fact that we hold ourselves to different standards than our enemies - which we are, tellingly, reluctant to label as such. Sometimes, however, our ability to deny and self-abnegate reaches absurd proportions, to the extent that we humiliate ourselves. How else can a decision to allow a convicted terrorist, Marwan Barghouti, to justify his own crimes from prison be interpreted? The US reportedly pressured Israel to allow Barghouti to be interviewed, but it is not clear that much pressure was necessary, given that the jailed Fatah leader seems to have become the latest Israeli candidate - after Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas - for the position of the Palestinian leader with whom we can "do business." According to this persistent way of thinking, Israel should be on the lookout for Palestinians who are radical enough to maintain the support of the Palestinian "street," and yet secretly harbor desires to cut a reasonable deal with us. Policy makers in Israel and the US are widely convinced that they can identify such closet moderates, who must be cultivated in place of the true radicals, in Hamas for instance, who seek Israel's destruction. This is not to say that true Palestinian moderates do not exist, or that they should not be supported or recognized in some way. On the contrary, it is those on a never-ending quest for "moderate" radicals who tend to shun true moderates, by dismissing them as unauthentic and having no hope of achieving influence. Barghouti, in his spate of prison interviews, left no doubt as to his authentic support for terrorism. When asked by British Channel 4 television whether "the time for using guns and bombs has gone," he responded, "The Palestinian people, and it should be very clear, have got the full right to resist against the Israeli military operations in the occupied territories in any way." He continued, "I support the Palestinian intifada and Palestinian resistance. I'm talking with you in jail; I'm not on the outside. And I still say that." Well, why shouldn't he say that. According to the prevalent Israeli-American form of realpolitik, it is even good that he did, because if he were to unmask his true moderation, he would no longer be "authentic" and then where would we be? Barghouti's main message was to endorse Hamas's participation in the elections and call for a unity government. Indeed, the political positions of Fatah and Hamas seem to have converged along with their joint participation in terror attacks. Fatah emphasizes its support for negotiations, Hamas its support for "resistance," but both parties support both tactics. As another Israeli-American favorite for the moderate radical slot, Jibril Rajoub, explained on Al-Jazeera on January 11, "We [Fatah] never removed the resistance from our platform, and we never will. As you know, it was Marwan Barghouti who founded the the Al-Aksa Brigades, according to a decision by Yasser Arafat... We have never had a dispute with Hamas or anyone else regarding the principle of resistance... We believe that certain fighting tactics should have been stopped, especially following 9/11..." (translation by MEMRI). The search for a moderate radical Palestinian leader is widely thought to be the province of "optimists," as opposed to the "pessimists" who believe that all Palestinian factions are equally out to destroy Israel. There is an alternative, however, to wishful thinking on one hand and giving up hope on the other. The alternative is to stop placing bets on individual Palestinian leaders and to instead repeatedly insist on core principles: that true peace can ultimately be founded only on true democracy and the rule of law, and on Palestinian acceptance of the national Jewish right to sovereignty in Israel. The refusal of supposed moderates, like Barghouti, to abandon either the "right to resist" or the "right to return" demonstrates that they have not given up the quest to destroy Israel. The refusal of Israeli and American policy makers to recognize this and say so, far from advancing the cause of peace, contributes directly toward the perpetuation of the conflict.