The Age – May 3, 2006
Israel will talk peace when there is a genuine partner for peace
While open elections are a necessary component of democracy, they are not its be-all and end-all. Political liberty also requires freedom of speech and religious persuasion, equal rights for women and the guarantee that minority groups will enjoy the same legal privileges as the majority.
And while freely elected, the new Palestinian Hamas Government miserably fails these latter tests and goes to the back of the democracy class.
A case in point is the violent campaign by Hamas activists last month to force the closure of the YMCA in the West Bank town of Qalqilya. The reason? It has to do with the third letter of the organisation’s abbreviated title – C for Christian.
The presence of a non-Muslim institution such as the YMCA is intolerable to Hamas leaders in Qalqilya on the grounds that it will “spread dissension”. Sheikh Salahadin Sabri, the local mufti, expressed his support for the closure initiative, asking rhetorically: “How can there be such an organisation in a city that does not even have one Christian living in it?”
Dr Maria Khoury, a Christian teacher from the West Bank town of Taibeh, has taken to wearing a scarf since the Palestinian elections in January. “Since Hamas took over, I cover my head in Ramallah. I don’t feel comfortable,” she said in The Jerusalem Post. And Reuters recently reported that Christians in Bethlehem appealed to their denominational leaders abroad for help in the face of growing Muslim repression.
If that’s how Hamas treats Palestinian Christians, you can just imagine how they would deal with Jews. But then, imagination is not really required. One only has to remember the torn skeletons of Jerusalem commuter buses left behind by Hamas suicide bombers to understand the jihadist attitude on that score.
Yet despite all this, Palestinian-American academic Jamal Nassar is in Melbourne on a speaking tour to argue that Israel must recognise the Hamas Government. Nassar advanced the view (Opinion, 2/5) that the Israeli-Palestinian war is not about recognition, but rather about occupation.
It’s a politically convenient narrative that might seem plausible until it is set against a timeline of the conflict. In fact, Arab anti-Zionist violence long predates the 1967 defensive war during which Israel captured Gaza and the West Bank. The Palestinians have been rejecting any peace plan that would recognise Jewish national self-determination for the past 70 years.
It’s hard to imagine a better deal than the one offered in 1937 by the British Peel Commission. Yet, the Arabs refused to accept this plan that would have given them 85 per cent of Palestine. Why?
Because the proposal also encompassed the establishment of a small Jewish state in the remaining 15 per cent of the country.
Ten years later, the Palestinian Arabs brought catastrophe by opting for war instead of a 50/50 compromise, triggering Israel’s 1947 war of independence.
Each time the Palestinians have decided to shoot rather than talk has brought a subsequent reduction in the slice of the pie that is on offer in later negotiations. That proves that repeatedly trying to annihilate someone isn’t much of an incentive for reciprocal generosity.
Thus the jihadist victory in the Palestinian parliamentary elections should be seen within a historical context of consistent Arab rejectionism. And since its election, the Hamas Government has done nothing to indicate a break in this self-destructive pattern.
“The only solution to the Palestinian problem is jihad and resistance,” declared Hamas chairman Khaled Mashaal two weeks ago during a visit to Tehran. And he then went on to blow Professor Nassar’s thesis out of the water, stating baldly that “the Palestinians will never recognise Israel”.
The war between Israel and its neighbours remains an existential conflict because the Palestinians insist on making it so. An independent poll by the Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research in mid-March revealed a more than 60 per cent rejection rate of the Jewish state’s right to exist. If the inhabitants of the West Bank and Gaza lack the means to erase Israel, it is not for want of any desire on their part.
It is difficult to negotiate peace if the guy on the other side of the table is insistent on cutting your throat. Genuine peace between Arabs and Jews will remain elusive until the Palestinians finally cure themselves of their hallucination that Israel can be destroyed.
Until that time, the Jewish state will have no choice but to act unilaterally to keep suicide bombers off the streets of its cities.
Ted Lapkin is director of policy analysis for the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council.