Last Sunday evening, I got back from visiting Udi in Israel. The trip back and forth is always exhausting, but I got lucky and the second flight from Lisbon to Chicago was only about half full. I was able to lay down and actually slept for about five hours, which might be a record. Usually I can’t sleep at all and end up alternating between reading and playing Sudoku with one eye open.
Every time I leave Udi and Israel behind, it gets harder. Besides the obvious aspect of getting to finally be with my best friend, I love visiting because Udi makes a point out of taking me to see the best parts of Israel. This time, we drove up to visit the Kineret (the Sea of Galilee) and the tomb of Nachmanides, and walked through several beautiful parks. We visited the hot springs near the kineret and I got a taste of winter in Israel, which seems balmy in comparison to the 25 degree highs of Chicago January.
Because this trip was my first time on the highway up to northern Israel, we passed sections of the West Bank that are cordoned off with a tall, cement security fence topped with barbed wire and I spent a lot of time thinking about the Palestinians. It’s one thing to study the geopolitics from a zoomed-out United States perspective, but it’s a different thing to be right there, seeing the minaret towers and plain square housing just beyond the fence. Security towers are strategically positioned all along the fence, and it’s hard not to feel somber looking at the wall, regardless of how critical it is for Israel’s safety.
I recently read a great think piece about how, even though Israel has no choice but to maintain its own security, there’s just no getting around the fact that the constant Israeli security presence and military occupation is bad for the Palestinians and the Israelis. The problem moves beyond the stereotypical oversimplified about Israelis as the evil-settler-colonial occupying power that you read on the news. That stuff is bullshit and its promoters have no idea how their ongoing infantilization of the Palestinians fails to help and probably makes the situation even worse.
The fact is that Israeli would love to not be in Palestinian territory, fearing that the patrolling foot soldiers might be crushed at any moment by an angry Palestinian driver, or kept constantly on the alert within their own territory for suicide bombings and incendiary kites. But although Israel is quick to discipline IDF youth who mock or belittle Palestinians at border crossings or in publicly patrolled areas, it is a war, fought mostly by young adults who nearly all know someone who has died in the protection of their country. There’s no question that juvenile or vengeful behavior takes place. But the fact also remains that the Palestinians reject out of hand any deal that has been presented to them. Even as their Arab neighbors abandon them to the geopolitical realities of Israel’s presence and staying power, Hamas, Fatah, and the PA remain astutely disinterested in any peace negotiations that are grounded in reality.
While I was in Israel, Trump and Kushner’s Middle Eastern Peace Plan was released. I love geopolitics, and of course I have a self-interest in understanding the global reception to the Peace Plan. I wanted to know what people were saying about the plan and I couldn’t stay off of Twitter and Middle Eastern policy blogs. Udi also loves politics, and we constantly send each other articles back and forth, reading them out loud and discussing them. I find that the best information about Middle Eastern current events is not to be found in the specious political commentary on CNN or NPR or the BBC. I listen to podcasts, watch interviews, and read analysis from think tanks that lean both left and right, and look for opinion pieces from a smattering of bigger news outlets from a variety of political orientations (if you have any recommendations about where to read such pieces, please leave a comment).
Once you get past the political noise, the general opinion of the plan seems to be this: Not only is this the best the Palestinians are going to get, but the world in general – and especially the Arab world, whose opinion matters the most – is tired of Palestinians rejecting everything outright and refusing to negotiate. The Arab states only cared about the Palestinians when it suited their PR interests to do so, particularly when it allowed them to make Israel look bad. Now they know Israel is here to stay, and that working with Israel is often to their benefit. So most Arab countries have dropped the attempt to threaten Israel’s existential existence, and as Israel increasingly becomes a strategic economic and military partner in the fight against Iran, the most important Arab states (besides Iran and its proxies) are aligning themselves with Israel – even if they only do so below the surface. Anti-semitic literature sells well in Egypt, but Egypt is working closely with Israel, as is Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Oman, and Bahrain (these last two being present for the announcement of the Middle East plan).
As Arab states lose interest, and the U.S. pulls funding from the UNRWA due to the Palestinian leadership’s incompetence and corruption, such as those revolting payments to Islamic “martyrs” who kill and injure Israelis, Palestinian options are dwindling. Mahmoud Abbas can say no as many times as he wants, but international opinion from anyone who is removed from political influence and antisemitism is basically that Palestinian leadership are shooting themselves in the foot. Again.
It’s hard to balance the mix of compassion and disgust that I feel for the Palestinians. Yes, the circumstances that led to them fleeing their homes (or voluntarily leaving in the hope that their Arab neighbors would destroy the nascent Israel) were complicated and often out of their control. Certainly many innocent Palestinians today are suffering. But when you hold that up against the fact that Israel is full of the equivalent number of Middle Eastern Jews who were kicked out of their homes (and nobody is talking about their right of return), and when you consider that Palestinian terrorists have been hell-bent on denying Israelis a safe existence and kill and maim and terrify whenever possible, including sacrificing their own children if it looks good on TV, that they reject every peace plan offered to them, that Palestinian education is rife with virulent anti-semitism, and that Hamas members defect because they are treated better in Israeli prisons than they are by their own leadership, you begin to wonder what exactly these people are expecting to achieve.
I don’t think anyone with a conscience can avoid feeling compassion for the average Palestinian who just wants a decent life for themselves and their family, but the international outrage at the Middle East plan and at Israel’s general treatment of the Palestinians is so obviously fabricated that it’s moved beyond infuriating – it’s just hard to take seriously at this point. That the Palestinians can engage in whatever horribly corrupt and violent behavior they want with no international condemnation is gross enough. That Israel, which is held to military and social behavioral standards that not a single country around it could meet, is regularly condemned in the U.N. and in media across that world is a farce. Hillel Neuer’s U.N. Watch group does a great job of detailing the hypocrisy and ineptitude in the U.N.’s Human Rights council and their obvious disinterest in actual human rights. I highly recommend his Twitter account and webpage.
Here are a couple of examples of such blindness towards the ill behavior of the Palestinian leadership and their advocates, one of which happened while I was in Israel. An 8-year-old Palestinian boy was walking to the store for his parents when he slipped and fell into a rainwater pond. He drowned. The first media repots, which were shared on Twitter by U.S. Representative Rashida Tlaib, accused Israeli settlers of kidnapping and drowning the boy – this despite the fact that the first responders who tried to resuscitate the child were Israeli. Tlaib removed the tweet, but did not apologize, leading Jewish leaders to make comparisons between age-old blood libels of Jews and their supposed treachery with non-Jewish children. Shortly before this incident, there was a flareup in tensions between Palestine and Israel, and a rocket hit a building in the West Bank that contained a human rights NGO. Several news outlets, including Amnesty International, condemned Israel for shooting civilian buildings – this, while remaining oddly silent as Hamas truly was firing rockets indiscriminately into civilian territory – and several hours later, it was revealed that the errant rocket actually came from the West Bank. One has to wonder whether the rocket was deliberately fired into that building for the optics. Hamas has certainly done worse.
I can’t wait to live in Israel with Udi and to raise our children there, but in the next 20 years, before our children go to serve in the IDF, I sincerely hope the Palestinians will decide that, in the words of Golda Meir, they love their children more than they hate the Jews. And I hope that those Israeli Jews who turn up their noses at the military because of their supposed commitment to peace will seriously consider how glad their neighbors would be to see them dead. But based on their behavior now, and the continued behavior of the Palestinians – I doubt it.
Let me know your thoughts in the comment. Shavuah tov.
Image: The Sea of Galilee. Credit: Israeladvantagetours.com