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Monday, September 1, 2014

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Delegitimization of Israel threatens peace hopes

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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas went to Doha, Qatar, and declared a Jerusalem jihad at the end of February. He was a tad more subtle than that, “moderate” that he is. All he did was accuse Israel of trying to replace the Al-Aqsa mosque with a Third Temple while “Judaizing” the city.

He, of course, would bear no responsibility if anyone turned violent based on those words at an international conference discussing the fate of the Holy City.

This is the modern Arab version of Jerusalem syndrome, that medical condition that makes some pilgrims to the Holy City just a little bit crazy. The need to turn demagogic when talking about the “city of peace,” the need to exaggerate how bleak things are there, reflects a deeper pathology. The status quo should be the Palestinians’ best friend. The more things are stable, the less violence there is, the better chance there is of a territorial compromise, as security concerns fade. But radical Palestinians, including, apparently the PA president, fear the status quo will freeze in the “occupation” forever. They believe that the only way to make progress is to fight, thereby playing into Israeli insecurities about Palestinian violence, of course.

For too long the threat of violence and the rejection of Israel’s right to exist has terrorized the region. Since the Oslo accords of the early 1990s, the mainstream Israeli consensus has acknowledged the legitimate national rights of Palestinians, and accepted the notion of territorial compromise. But the optimism of the 1990s soured, as the terrorism of the early 2000s emerged, reflecting a conscious strategy on the part of former PA president Yasser Arafat and others.

When the Palestinians turned from the negotiating table to suicide bombings and sniping, many on the Israeli left and even more in the Israeli centre were terrorized and traumatized. They need reassurance now that new compromises will not lead to a new round of killing. They need to see a Palestinian commitment to building their own society that is greater than the long-held Palestinian desire to destroy all that their neighbours have built.

In this context, the Gaza Disengagement of 2005 hovers in the air like a bad smell. Israel withdrew, hoping for peace, and ended up with a rain of rockets. In the ultimate symbol of Palestinian dysfunction, well-meaning, mostly Jewish, philanthropists, raised $14 million to purchase the settlers’ greenhouses. They then donated the greenhouses, only to see them thoroughly trashed within days of the transfer.

It is hard enough for both Palestinians and Israelis to manage their own emotions, their own extremists, their own narratives. The situation is worsened by a different version of Jerusalem syndrome, that is epidemic on too many campuses and in too many corners of the radical left. Too many radicals have declared their own Jerusalem jihad against Israel.

 They sloganeer here and there, about Zionism being racism and Israel being an apartheid state. Filled with self-righteousness, drunk on their own rhetoric, reassured by their small circle of mutually reinforcing yes men and women, these laptop warriors have launched a full-scale war against the State of Israel, not realizing how much harm they do. The more they delegitimize Israel, the more difficult it becomes for Israelis to trust, to make peace.

The caustic attacks from abroad cannot damage the modern State of Israel as an economic powerhouse, a military power, a thriving society. But they can – and they do – threaten the fragile hopes for peace. Just as lawyers teach that you cannot suck and blow, in relationships between people and between country, you can not hug and go into a defensive crouch simultaneously. Israel cannot be expected to make the necessary, painful compromises for any kind of peace amid a relentless campaign questioning Israel’s very right to exist.

This June will mark the 45th anniversary since the Six Day War. In many ways, the settlement strategy worked. In the Middle East, rather than negotiating about Israel’s existence, most of the focus is on Israel’s borders, specifically some of the West Bank bargaining chips won in 1967. How odd that many of those closest to the conflict are so far ahead of their supposed supporters further away. The war of delegitimization against Israel should end – not only for the sake of the Jews but also for the sake of the Palestinians.

This column will appear in the March 8 issue of The CJN

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