Explaining Palestinian “Heroes”

By Jonathan S. Tobin

Commentary Magazine

June 9, 2016


In the aftermath of yesterday’s terrorist atrocity at Tel Aviv’s Sarona Market that left four Jews dead, some Israelis, as well as some of their foreign friends and critics, sought to try to make sense of the crime. Why do Palestinians seek to murder random Israelis sitting in cafes? And, as is often the case with such ruminations, the impulse to blame the victims—the people of Israel who are targeted by terrorists—was irresistible. Ron Huldai, the city’s leftist mayor and a former general, claimed the real culprit was the “occupation.” For him, the Israeli presence in the West Bank creates terrorism because Israel is the only country in the world that rules territory where others live and no one has taken a step toward peace. Both of those statements were risible falsehoods, but the real answer for the crime came from the Palestinians.

Rather than being horrified by the cold-blooded murders of innocents carried out in their names, spontaneous Arab demonstrations of joy about the killings broke out in various places in the West Bank and even in JerusalemOn social media, the slaughter was celebrated with hashtags like #RamadanOperation. A Palestinian anchor on Al Jazeera television crowed that the terrorist attack was “the best answer to stories about the peace process.”

Palestinian leadership also responded according to form. Hamas openly celebrated the attacks, prompting a comical reaction from United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who expressed shock that a terrorist group would think that terrorism was a good thing. The Palestinian Authority issued a cryptic statementthat said it “rejected” attacks against civilians, a stance consistent with their policy of posing as an opponent of terror when speaking to the West while signaling Palestinians that they approve it. The ruling Fatah Party’s Twitter account said Israel “was reaping the repercussions” of its policies toward the Palestinians. Moreover, we know the two terrorists who are now in custody will be paid pensions by the PA; the same as they do for all others who commit acts of terrorism. Sooner or later, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas will also demand their release, the same as he does for other terrorists. The pair will doubtlessly be lauded as “heroes” by the official PA media and eventually some public place will be named for them to honor their bloody deed.

On its face, this is counterintuitive. The two killers did the Palestinian cause no good. Such acts don’t make the international community more willing to waste time promoting Palestinian statehood. By striking at Jews in Tel Aviv rather than at soldiers or West Bank settlers—a group that many critics of Israel think deserve to be targeted for terror—the pair reminded the world that the goal of the Palestinians isn’t two states or merely getting Israel out of the West Bank and Jerusalem. Both Hamas and the supposedly moderate Abbas are open about their belief that all of Israel, including cosmopolitan and liberal Tel Aviv, where many people would be only too happy to celebrate the creation of a Palestinian state, is “occupied” territory. But Palestinians don’t lament this blot on their cause and national honor. To the contrary, they think this crime, like others committed against Jews, is a laudable act.

Israelis like Huldai and many others look at this awful situation and think that there must be some logical explanation or rational way out of the mess. They believe Israel must be able to do something to solve the problem. The “status quo” cannot continue, they say, but the awful truth is that it can because the alternative is the creation of another Gaza-like Palestinian state in the West Bank that would make terrorist murders like yesterday’s atrocity even more commonplace.

Let’s backtrack for a moment and note for the record that the idea that Israel’s position in the West Bank is unique is absurd. There are up to 200 territorial disputes in the world in which nations argue about sovereignty over land. What’s different about this one is that the international media treats the Palestinians as if they are the only ones in the world with a valid complaint about their situation because their opponents are Jews. But the really unique element in the conflict is the fact that Israel is the only country in the world that is marked for complete elimination by its adversaries. No other people in the world are considered to be unworthy of a national home or the right of self-defense in the way that the Jewish state is singled out for such treatment.

Moreover, the idea that Israel hasn’t tried “to take a step toward some kind of agreement,” as Huldai foolishly said, is equally ludicrous. In 2000, 2001, and 2008, the Palestinians were offered a state in almost all of the West Bank, Gaza, and a share of Jerusalem and their answer was “no” each time. Since then, they have refused to negotiate seriously with Israel and failed to take advantage of the fact that even the supposedly right-wing Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu has accepted a two-state solution and offered withdrawals from the West Bank.

It must also be pointed out that, in 2005, Israel withdrew every soldier, settler, and settlement from Gaza. Instead of progress toward peace, that led to the establishment of a Hamas-run independent Palestinian state in all but name that operates as one large launching pad for terrorism. The prospect that a similar withdrawal from the larger and more strategic West Bank would repeat that experiment is why a majority of Israelis continue to re-elect Netanyahu rather than members of Huldai’s party and regard advocacy for more retreats as not so much mistaken as insane.

The status quo has continued not because more houses or apartments are being built in existing Jewish communities in the West Bank or Jerusalem (almost all of which are in places that peace processers conceded would remain in Israeli hands even if there were an agreement with the Palestinians). Nor does it continue because hard-hearted men who don’t want peace lead Israel. If Palestinians wanted a two-state solution, they could have had one many years ago. They refuse because the price of Israeli acceptance of a Palestinian state is Palestinian acceptance of the legitimacy of a Jewish state alongside it no matter where its borders might be drawn. And that price remains too high for any Palestinian leader or the Palestinian public to accept.

Terrorism against Jews didn’t begin in June 1967. The Palestinians have been waging a century-long war on Zionism and that struggle has become inextricably linked with their sense of national identity. That’s why they cheer people who commit indiscriminate murder against Jews and call them heroes. They were doing that long before the Six Day War, let alone the two intifadas, and it is not illogical to suppose they would continue to do so even if Israel were so foolish as to withdraw its forces from the West Bank as it did in Gaza.

While some Israelis search their souls in vain for enough guilt about winning wars launched against them that would have ended the “occupation” of Tel Aviv, this is a futile quest. The status quo will change when the Palestinians stop thinking of people who kill random Jews as heroes and when they are ready to accept peace with the Jewish state.

That is why it is important that the world react to crimes such as yesterday’s murders by avoiding statements calling on both sides to show restraint or use it as an excuse for more pressure on Israel to make concessions. For too long, Palestinians have been led to believe that they could prevail against Israel if they had enough patience or were willing to shed more blood. When a sea change in the political culture of the Palestinians makes a change in their thinking possible, they will find Israelis willing to accept a deal. Until then, they will continue cheering terrorists and doom themselves to pursuing a hopeless effort to eliminate Israel that keeps a status quo neither side wants in place.