An Unacceptable Reality in Israel
Israelis are accustomed to the often harsh circumstances that mark their existence. But no matter how often war and terror claim the lives of Israel’s soldiers and civilians alike, Israelis refuse to sink into the sort of apathy that often accompanies reoccurring tragedy. Every individual victim is collectively and personally mourned as if they were kin, never to be thought of as merely a statistic of tragic consequence.
Israelis may be outwardly brash at times and argumentative with one another, but they love their country more than anything and are willing to sacrifice all for their fellow man. The spate of recent terror attacks in and around Jerusalem stirs those sentiments and brings their ever painful reality to the forefront once more, leaving Israelis and their supporters everywhere asking why this is happening yet again.
As to be expected, the Palestinian leadership blames the current violence on Israel, this time for allowing Jews to visit the Temple Mount, and is subsequently trying to rally pan-Muslim sentiment around a supposed threat to the status quo of the holy sites. Street battles with stone throwing youths and ‘lone-wolf’ attacks have also been attributed to broader Israeli attitudes toward a unified Jerusalem, the eastern part of which Palestinians demand as their future capital.
A more accurate pretext, however, is the Palestinians’ frustration over having lost yet another battle with Israel in Gaza this past summer, and to a greater extent a staggering peace process that seems less likely to fulfill their nationalistic aspirations anytime soon. Whether it be Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad, et. al, antagonism and incitement seem to be the Palestinians’ sole means of maintaining relevance and the best way to secure world attention.
While the lack of international condemnation following terror incidents is troubling, and the flagrant criticism of Israel bewildering, placating the Palestinians’ reckless behavior legitimizes and even rewards their belligerence to themselves and others. It’s no surprise then that when a Palestinian uses violence it’s often seen as an act of resistance while the Israeli who thwarts it is deemed the aggressor. But the reason for this double standard in world opinion may be due to underlying perceptions as much as it is to politics.
At a policy conference in Washington, D.C., a few years ago I had a conversation with a State Department official who had been part of the Israeli-Arab peace negotiating team. At a time not unlike now, when the peace process was dormant and sporadic violence was threatening to erupt on a broader scale, I asked him if the cessation of violence wasn’t a prerequisite to further (and earnest) negotiations. “No” he replied, “the fact of the matter is that Israelis will always have to live with some degree of low-level violence; an occasional shooting or stabbing, as long as it’s not a mass casualty suicide bombing or something on a larger scale of the sort, that unfortunately is their reality.” His answer while startling in of itself, is a window into the rationale of those who in the pursuit of peace seek to compel Israel into a treaty with dubious consequences they themselves would never accept, and that Israel can ill afford to acquiesce to.
As is often the case in international relations, foreign sentiments play a large role in the prevailing attitudes and behavior of others, especially in the Middle East. While well-meaning Western diplomats should be seeking compromise and common ground, their efforts – stymied by the Palestinians – become increasingly one sided and irrationally antagonistic toward Israel whom they surmise can sustain peace with whatever terms dictated.
One recent example of foreign fumbling is the way global media outlets have been searching for the onset of a third intifada, probing public dissent and motives of terror for a sign that they ultimately conclude isn’t quite there yet. It’s one thing to report the news and an entirely other matter to provoke it – and serious peace proponents need to be mindful of the stakes their careless postulating raises.
The purpose of Palestinian terror is of course to break Israel’s spirit, to force it into a precarious settlement and to subsequently erode the fabric of its society. While Israel shows no sign of capitulation, its friends in the international community, while mindful of terror, see it as a never ending cycle that Israel must perpetually deal with. But as the people of Israel are its greatest asset, Israel will always choose to protect them before and after any agreement, and will never consent to a deal that suggests anything less. The recurrent reality of provocation is not one Israel should ever choose to accept, nor is the one that would likely follow a reality it should ever settle for.