During my journey into Islam in Gaza, I met General Nasser Youssef (who at the time of our meeting was head of one of the Palestinian security forces and is now the PA Interior Minister). At one point during our conversation, I asked the general to describe his vision of the relations between a Jewish state and a Palestinian state after we signed a peace agreement.
Let's assume, I said, that Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders, uproots the settlements and redivides Jerusalem: What then? He replied that, once the refugees begin returning to the area, so many would gravitate to those areas in Israel where their families once lived, that eventually we would realize there was no need for an artificial border between Israel and Palestine.
The next step, continued the general, was that the two states would merge. "And then we'll invite Jordan to join our federation. And Iraq and Syria. Why not? We'll show the whole world what a beautiful country Jews and Arabs can create together."
But, I asked the general, aren't we negotiating today over a two-state solution? Yes, he replied, as an interim step. And then he added, "You aren't separate from us; you are part of us. Just as there are Muslim Arabs and Christian Arabs, you are Jewish Arabs."
This story is particularly relevant because General Youssef is widely known as a moderate, deeply opposed to terror as counter-productive to the Palestinian cause. And so what I learned in my journeys into your society is that moderation means one thing on the Israeli side and quite another on the Palestinian side.
AN ISRAELI moderate recognizes the Palestinian-Israeli conflict as a struggle between two legitimate national narratives.
A Palestinian moderate, by contrast, tends to disagree with the extremists about method, not goal: He opposes the destruction of Israel through terror and war, perhaps because that option isn't realistic; yet he advocates the disappearance of Israel through more gradualist means, like demographic subversion. Like General Yusuf, he sees a two state solution as an interim agreement, a step toward Greater Palestine. When your moderates speak of peace and justice, then, they usually mean a one-state solution.
My journey into the faiths of my neighbors was part of a much broader attempt among Israelis, begun during the first intifada, to understand your narrative, how the conflict looks through your eyes.
Your society, on the other hand, has made virtually no effort to understand our narrative.
Instead, you have developed what can be called a "culture of denial," that denies the most basic truths of the Jewish story. According to this culture of denial, which is widespread not only among your people but throughout the Arab world, there was no Temple in Jerusalem, no ancient Jewish presence in the land, no Holocaust.
Nowhere is The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as popular as in the Arab world, which has also become the international center for Holocaust denial.
The real problem, then, is not terrorism, which is only a symptom for a deeper affront: your assault on my history and identity, your refusal to allow me to define myself, which is a form of intellectual terror.
IN YOUR society's official embrace, through media and schools and mosques, of the culture of denial, you have tried to reinvent us, to redefine us out of our national existence.
Your political and spiritual leadership routinely insists that there is no Jewish people – only a Jewish faith, or an invented identity like General Yusuf's "Arab Jews," or an ersatz people descended from the Khazars. In so doing, you ignore how Jews have always defined themselves: as a people with a faith.
Your inability to understand who we are has been a disaster not only for us but also for you, because it has repeatedly led you to underestimate our vitality and ability to persevere. And now, it seems, you are once again about to disastrously misread the Israeli public.
According to polls, a majority of Palestinians believe that the decision to withdraw from Gaza was prompted by terror. And that conclusion may well lead you to the next round of terror.
In fact, we are leaving Gaza because a majority of Israelis concluded – already in the first intifada – that it is in our existential interest to minimize the demographic threat to a Jewish majority and the moral threat of permanent occupation to our souls. At the same time, we are strengthening our hold on those areas that we believe are essential for our well-being: the settlement blocs and greater Jerusalem.
Here, then, is the irony of what you call Al-Aksa Intifada: In choosing terror, you lost the Jerusalem capital you could have gained through negotiations.
The key to understanding the meaning of unilateral withdrawal – a point missed not only by your people but by the Israeli Right as well – is that "unilateral" is no less important than "withdrawal." Most Israelis have concluded that our Left was correct in its warnings against the moral and demographic dangers of occupation, and our Right was correct in its warnings that the Palestinian national movement had no intention of living in peace with a Jewish state in any borders. And so, if we cannot occupy you and we cannot make peace with you, the only option left to us is unilateral withdrawal and the fence – that is, determining our own borders in the absence of a negotiated peace.
The new Israeli determination to stop waiting for a nonexistent Palestinian partner and take our fate in our own hands is an Israeli, not a Palestinian, victory.
The Terror War has given Israeli society another crucial victory: a restored faith in the justness of our position. Aside from a vocal but fringe Left, most Israelis know that, at every crucial historic juncture in the last 70 years, when an offer to end the conflict was placed on the table, our side said yes and your side said no. That has given us the strength to withstand the current jihadist assault.
During the Oslo process, leaders of the Israeli peace camp assured the Israeli public, increasingly anxious over Palestinian incitement against our existence, that legitimacy would follow reconciliation – that is, first the occupation needed to end and the formal mechanics of peace implemented, and then the Palestinians would gradually accept Israel's right to exist. We now realize that the reverse is true: Legitimacy is the precondition for reconciliation.
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