An important new poll of Palestinian opinion was released last week to minimum fanfare. The poll confirmed what no one wants to hear: the Palestinian population of the West Bank and Gaza is far from being ready to accept Israel’s existence or to conclude a peace treaty based on two states for two peoples.
Nearly two-thirds (66%) of the Palestinians polled said that a two-state solution should at most be an interim stage on the path to a unitary Palestinian state between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. The poll showed an almost total absence of ability to empathize in any way with Israelis. Ninety-two percent of the Palestinians, for instance, said that Jerusalem should be the capital of a Palestinian state only. When asked whether they agreed with the famous hadith attributed to Mohammed and cited in the Hamas Charter, that at the end of time, even inanimate trees and rocks will call out, “There is a Jew hiding behind me. Come and kill him,” 73% answered in the affirmative. In other findings, 72% denied any Jewish historical connection to Jerusalem; 62% supported the kidnapping and holding hostage of Gilad Shalit and other Jewish soldiers; and 53% supported teaching anti-Jewish songs in the Palestinian schools.
The poll could not be dismissed as biased or the product of some right-wing bias. It poll was designed and administered by Bill Clinton’s personal pollster Stanley Greenberg, who was dispatched to Israel in 1999, along with other Clinton political operatives, to assist the campaign of Ehud Barak to defeat Binyamin Netanyahu. And the questions were asked face-to-face in Arabic by the Sanhour-based Palestinian Center for Public Opinion.
Though the depth of the Palestinian antipathy nearly twenty years after Oslo and the failure of the population to accept the most basic conditions for a Palestinian state might come as a surprise to some, it shouldn’t. Since the onset of Oslo, the Palestinian media has been promoting Oslo as a step on the road to the recapture of all “lost” Arab lands. The need to give up on the so-called “right of return” to Israel proper as a condition for peace has never been brought home to the Palestinian population. And since 2000, they have been whipped into a frenzy of bloodlust and a celebration of suicide bombers by the official Palestinian media.
As we have previously pointed out, President Barack Obama implicitly acknowledged the fact of Palestinian intransigence when he said in his May 19 speech on the Arab-Israeli conflict that the plight of Palestinian refugees should be left to the end of peace negotiations, after all the territorial issues have been resolved. The President was eager to help the Palestinians obtain further Israeli territorial concessions to be pocketed for some future date prior to the inevitable blow-up over the “right of return.”
After Palestinian protestors breached the Israeli-Syrian border and attempted to breach the Israeli-Lebanese border in mid-May, the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens wrote an op-ed entitled “Israel Will Never Have Peace.” “People do not scamper over barbed wire, walk through minefields and march towards the barrels of enemy soldiers,” he noted, unless they are “profoundly convinced of the rightness of what they are doing.”
Stephens offered a number of reasons for that conviction. The first is the Palestinian mythology concerning what exactly took place in 1948, “which is long on tales of what Jews did to Arabs but short on what Arabs did to Jews – or to themselves.” That mythology ignores the fact that as soon as the U.N. voted its partition resolution on November 29, 1947, the Arabs living under the British Mandate immediately attacked Jewish settlements. Over 300,000 Arabs fled mandatory Palestine prior to Israel’s declaration of independence and the simultaneous invasion of five Arab armies on May 14 1948. But they did so primarily in response to calls from the Arab High Command led by the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, who spent World War II in Berlin as a Nazi propagandist. Mahmud al-Habbash, writing in the official Palestinian Authority paper Al-Hayat al-Jahida in 2006 described Palestinian Arabs as having left their homes “under the instructions of their own Arab leaders and with false promises of a prompt return.”
Also left out of the mythology of Palestinians brutally evicted from their ancestral homes is the fact that the Arab population of mandatory Palestine grew fivefold from 1900 to 1940. Only the Jewish reclamation of the land made possible that increase and created the relative prosperity that made it possible for Arab field workers and laborers to earn twice as much in Palestine as they could have in their native Syria, Jordan or Iraq.
A second important factor identified by Stephens is the UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Work Administration), the special UN agency that deals only with Palestinian refugees and treats them differently than all the other 40 million refugees resulting from political or ethnic strife since the end of World War II. Only the Palestinians have their own special agency and do not fall under the jurisdiction of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. Only the children of Palestinian refugees retain the status of refugees in perpetuity. And only Palestinian refugees remain in fetid refugee camps 60 years later, as a matter of deliberate Arab policy. In short, because of UNRWA only the Palestinians have never been given the message to get on with their lives, like all the other tens of millions of refugees over the last sixty years, including 800,000 Jews from Arab lands.
In part, the Palestinians have clung so desperately to their mythology because they have been so badly treated by their Arab brethren. Except for Jordan, no Arab state has granted them citizenship. An Arab League Resolution of 1959 prohibits Arab states from granting citizenship to Palestinians in order to prevent their assimilation. Thus the Palestinians alone among the tens of millions of post-war refugees have not been absorbed by states of their own ethnicity.
The Europeans have played their own role in the Palestinian refusal to come to grips with the reality of Israel’s existence. As Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told Bulgaria’s foreign minister recently, peace would come faster if Europe stopped treating Palestinians “like a spoiled child” and instead began to “tell them the Palestinians the truth” that a peace agreement will entail recognizing Israel as a Jewish state and giving up on their dream of Palestinian refugees returning to Israel.
PALESTINIAN REJECTION OF PEACE with Israel makes further mockery of the Obama administration’s entire Middle East diplomacy. From day one in office, President Obama made the creation of a Palestinian state his number one foreign policy goal, as well as the centerpiece of his much ballyhooed outreach to the Muslim world. It did not seem to occur to the president to ask why achieving an Arab-Israel peace had proven so intractable and eluded all his predecessors. Now, two-and-a-half years into the Obama presidency, there have been no face-to-face Palestinian-Israel negotiations – the longest such period since the onset of Oslo. And the President is largely to blame: He raised Palestinian expectations so high that they were content to let Obama pressure Israel into submission. And by placing Israel settlements at the center of his agenda, President Obama made it impossible for the Palestinians to be less any less aggressive on the issue.
Meanwhile, the so-called Arab Spring has revealed the falsity of the underlying premise of Obama’s Middle Eastern diplomacy: the centrality of the Arab-Israel to all the deformations of the Arab world. While chasing the will-of-the-wisp of Arab-Israel peace, the Obama administration has allowed the Iranians to proceed closer than ever to obtaining nuclear weapons and openly test missiles capable of carrying them.
Even the vaunted outreach to the Muslim world has backfired. A recent Zogby poll of Arabs in six Middle East countries found that favorable views of the United States had declined in most countries from what they were at the end of President George W. Bush’s second term. In Egypt, they plummeted from 30% to 5%. Overall, only one in ten of the 4,000 Arabs interviewed expressed a favorable opinion of President Obama, and his lowest score came with respect to “engagement with the Muslim world.”
Admittedly, Zogby has a polemical purpose – to convince the Obama administration to put still more pressure on Israel – but the findings were largely consistent with an earlier Pew Center poll. The Obama administration has forgotten the basic lesson for dealing with the Moslem world taught by Osama bin Laden: When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, they will generally prefer the strong horse.
Partly by design and partly out of incompetence, the Obama administration has turned the United States into a weak and scorned horse. Barry Rubin finds the President’s response to a question at a 2009 news conference emblematic of his failure to understand the Middle East. Asked whether he wasn’t concerned that his “outstretched has been interpreted by extremists, especially Ahmadinejad, Nasrallah, and Mashal as weakness, the President replied, “Well, it’s not clear to me why my outstretched hand would be interpreted as weakness.”
On which Rubin comments: “He has no idea why apologies, unilateral concessions, undermining friends and rewarding enemies doesn’t work.” The worst part, in Rubin’s view, is that the President is in all likelihood entirely sincere in his inability to understand. Politically correct politicians and intellectuals absolutely refuse to acknowledge than other people and certain parts of the world think differently than we do. To even countenance the possibility that what works with respect to Canada will not work with respect to Egypt, Syria, and Libya is, in their eyes, “racist.”
As long as American policy remains so removed from reality, perhaps we should be grateful that the president has largely eschewed a leadership role for the United States.