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January 15, 2019 9:27 am

Palestinian Conspiracy Theories Explain the Lack of Peace

avatar by Adam Levick

Opinion

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, US, September 27, 2018. Photo: REUTERS/Carlo Allegri.

Though media outlets covering the region subject nearly every Israeli moral failure to something akin to a forensic examination, Palestinians (as we’ve documented continually) are usually spared this level of scrutiny — a pattern of double standards that egregiously skews reports on the conflict.

The latest example of disturbing behavior by a Palestinian Authority (PA) minister that likely won’t be reported by the media involves the promotion of a bizarre anti-Israel conspiracy theory — that Israel spreads drugs  and AIDS in Palestinian society, per a report by Palestinian Media Watch (PMW).

PMW notes that the charge has actually been promoted countless times by PA officials, including President Mahmoud Abbas.

However, rather than focusing on the media’s failure to cover this libel, let’s consider instead how high-level Palestinian officials promoting such conspiracies reflects on their society.

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For starters, we know from polling that such conspiratorial thinking — especially of the antisemitic variety — is quite common among Palestinians. A staggering 88 percent of Palestinians, for instance, believe that Jews have too much control over global affairs and the global media. And 78 percent think that Jews are responsible for most of the world’s wars. Other conspiracy theories widely accepted in Palestinian society involve the claim that Israel is trying to destroy the al-Aqsa Mosque, and that Israel steals Palestinian organs.

Why does this matter? Because, it gets to the heart of the question of why a slim majority of Israelis still support two states, but are nonetheless extremely cautious in proceeding with such a plan out of concern for what kind of Palestinian state would come into being.

The media often frames the coolness to two states by recent Israeli governments — and the fact that most center and center-right opposition parties tend to either downplay the Palestinian issue or avoid talking about it altogether — as a reflection of the country’s continuing move “right.” Whilst the word “right” itself is misused by the media as more of a pejorative rather than an objective ideological description, the fact that most Israelis have indeed grown wary of the logic of the Oslo Accords does not reflect any affection towards the status quo in the West Bank, which most concede is untenable in the long-term.

Rather, this shift is nurtured by the trauma of the Second Intifada, frustration over multiple Palestinian rejections of real Israeli peace offers, the rise of Hamas following the evacuation from Gaza, the failure of the Arab Spring to facilitate regional democracy, and PA leaders who express little if any interest in inculcating a culture of peace, liberalism, and tolerance in their society.

The promotion and acceptance of conspiracy theories like the one we highlighted above only fuels Israeli suspicions that, even if its leaders did one day agree to two states, a future Palestinian state will be hostile to Israel.

Walter Russell Mead persuasively argued that “attributing global events to the machinations of an all-conquering Jewish conspiracy is the sign of profound mental and social failure — and a harbinger of more failures and errors to come.”

“Societies,” he continued, that are “in thrall to this kind of darkness … and whose intellectual leaders cannot understand how power works in the modern world … are unlikely to develop the vigorous, forward-looking and competent civil societies that can promote true democracy.”

The prevalence of such delusional conspiracy thinking, Mead adds, represents a “tell” that points to important limits on a country’s “potential for political, social and economic progress.”

While the media — and most international diplomats — focus almost entirely on settlements as an obstacle to two states, they all but ignore such Palestinian pathologies. Until such behavior is called out with the same fervor and moral force as condemnation of the settlements, Palestinians will have little incentive to embark on a real program for reform, and Israelis will have little reason for hope that two states will actually achieve peace.

Adam Levick covers the British media for CAMERA, the 65,000-member Boston-based Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

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