Arabs and Israel

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Posted by Danny P. ( on January 23, 2002 at 22:06:45:

Last June, Palestinian television broadcast a sermon in a Gaza mosque in
which the imam, Ibrahim Madi, made the following statement: "God willing,
this unjust state Israel will be erased; this unjust state the United States
will be erased; this unjust state Britain will be erased."

The sheikh's gentle homily comes again to mind as Palestinians' efforts to
build their arsenal and persistent attacks on Israeli civilians have again
been exposed of late. The most recent assault was at a ballroom last
night, when a Palestinian used hand grenades to kill five and wound more
than thirty Israelis, a much smaller number than would have been the case
had the explosives on the terrorist's body gone off as intended.

And while the American and Israeli situations might seem completely
different, Sheikh Madi's remarks remind us that the forces of militant Islam
see them as akin. So if a reminder is needed that the war on terrorism
goes beyond the campaign in Afghanistan, the Palestinians offer a
powerful mnemonic. Militant Islamic rule in Afghanistan may be history but
militant Islam is not.

Osama bin Laden years ago declared a jihad against all Christians and
Jews while his friend Mullah Omar, the Taliban dictator, talked publicly
about "the destruction of America," which he hoped would happen "within
a short period of time." That militant Islamic leaders wish the same for
Israel should hardly be news. The most powerful of them all, Iran's
supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, recently called for "this cancerous
tumor of a state be removed from the region."

There are differences in the situations, to be sure. The jihad against the
U.S. is newer, less advanced, and less supported by non-militant Islamic
elements. But especially now, as the U.S. has formally declared war on
terrorism, the common cause of the two states is growing.

As far as being target nations goes, Israel is a bit further along the
learning curve. The attempt to destroy the Jewish state has gone on since
it came into existence in 1948. For over a half century, the majority of
Arabs have persisted in seeing the state of Israel as a temporary
condition, an enemy they eventually expect to dispense with, permitting
Israelis to, at best, live as a subject people in "Palestine." At worst, who

When Israel first came into existence, the Arabs casually assumed they
would destroy it. But Israel did something right. For 45 years the state
defended itself with a toughness and determination that had, by 1993, left
the Arabs reeling. It was a moment when Israel should have pushed its
advantage, to get, once and for all, recognition of its right to exist.

Instead, the Israelis made what has turned out to be the historic mistake
of easing up. Rather than go in for victory, they offered advantageous
deals to their two main enemies, the Syrians and Palestinians.

Predictably, these offers backfired: Rather than being seen as far-sighted
strategic concessions intended to close the conflict, they were interpreted
as signs of Israel's demoralization. The result was renewed Arab hopes of
destroying Israel through force of arms and an upsurge in violence.
Diplomacy, in other words, unintentionally revived Arab dreams of
obliterating the Jewish state.

Obviously, this wall of Arab rejection harms Israel, denying its bid to live as
a normal nation, subjecting its population to homicidal attacks, and
compelling it to take tough steps against neighbors. But Israel is
prospering despite these attacks, boasting a high standard of living, a
democratic policy, and a vibrant culture.

The great irony is that Arabs are paying the higher price for their
destructive urge. The Arab focus on harming the Jewish state prevents a
talented and dignified people from achieving its potential. It means they
neglect improving their own standard of living, opening up their own
political process, or attaining the rule of law. The result is plain to see:
Arabs are among the world leaders in percentages of dictatorships, rogue
states, violent conflicts, and military spending.

Getting Arabs to reconcile themselves to Israel's existence is easier to say
than to do. But it is, and will remain, the only solution. Only such a change
of heart will close down the century-old conflict, permit Israel to attain
normality, and give Arabs a chance to advance down the path to

But this interpretation of the Arab-Israeli conflict puts the onus on Arabs,
something we're not altogether accustomed to doing these days.
Conventional wisdom has shifted so far that even Israelis tend to consider
Arab acceptance of Israel a fait accompli, shifting the burden of action to
Israel in the form of concessions (handing over the Golan Heights, parts of
Jerusalem, etc.). But if that position was credible in 1993, surely today's
inflamed rhetoric and the drumbeat of Palestinian violence proves it to
have been a mirage.

Israel now has the unenviable task of convincing the Arabs that their
dreams of destruction will fail. Translated into action, that means resolve
and toughness. It means becoming feared, not loved. The process will be
neither domestically pleasant or internationally popular. But what choice is
there? The failure of the Oslo negotiating process showed nothing so much
as that attempts at a quick fix are doomed to fail.

Understanding the conflict in this way has profound implications. It means
that the outside world, always anxious to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict,
can be most helpful by simply coming to terms with the basic fact of
continued Arab rejection of Israel. It must acknowledge Israel's
predicament, tolerate its need to be tough, and press the Arabs to make a
fundamental change in course.

For many governments, even the American one, this approach requires a
reversal from current policy of premising a breakthrough on concessions
from Israel. Such a reversal in policy will not come easily, but it is a
near-prerequisite for anyone truly serious about closing down the
Arab-Israeli conflict.

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