There are four main misconceptions that diplomats bring with them to Israel.
Primary among them is the idea that solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a prerequisite for stability in the Mideast.
The truth is that the region is riven by clashes that have nothing to do with Israel. For instance, the Jewish state plays no role in the conflict between Shi’ites and Sunnis, between Persians and Arabs or between Arab nationalists and Arab Islamists.
The second misconception is that Israeli territorial concessions are the key to progress.
The reality is that an ascendant jihadist Islam believes that it is leading the battle against Israel and the rest of the West. Given this dynamic, Israeli territorial or other concessions simply fill the jihadists’ sails, reinforcing their belief that Israel and the West are weak and can be militarily defeated.
The Mideast’s central conflict is not territorial but ideological. And ideology cannot be defeated by concessions.
Emissaries also still believe that “the occupation” blocks agreement between Israelis and Palestinians. In the West, the term usually means the territories Israel conquered in the Six-Day War in 1967. If the problem between Israelis and Palestinians were just the 1967 territories, and the solution were dividing those lands between the two sides (as proposed, most recently, in 2000 by former prime minister Ehud Barak), the conflict would have ended long ago.
Instead, the heart of the problem is that many Palestinians – Fatah and Hamas in particular – and even some Israeli Arabs use “occupation” to refer to all of Israel.
Finally, the well-intentioned visiting diplomats believe that the Palestinians want – and have the ability – to establish a state that will live in peace alongside Israel. But they are not being clear-eyed. Yasser Arafat established a thugocracy that never improved the basic living conditions of his people.
A corollary of this fourth misconception is the belief that economic development can neutralize extreme nationalism and religious fanaticism, thus clearing the way toward peace and security.
Those who fit this description should demand that the Palestinians explain what they did with the $7 billion in international aid they received over the years. Seven billion reasons for economic progress – and yet, why did Palestinian mobs destroy the Erez industrial zone, where Palestinians worked and ran businesses for decades, on the Gaza border? Why is the Palestinian economy in shambles?
So what should be done?
For starters, Western governments and their emissaries must refrain from pressuring Israel for territorial or security concessions. Instead, they should try to persuade the Palestinian leaders to commit to a long-term strategy premised on educational, political and economic reforms that would lead to the establishment of a civil society that cherishes life, not death; values human rights and freedom; and develops a middle class, not a corrupt, rich elite.
For the sake of Palestinian society, Hamas and its ideology must be defeated. The Israeli-Palestinian is not the most significant conflict today; it’s the battle between jihadist Islam and the West, of which Israel is merely one theater. To defeat jihadist Islam, the West must overcome the regimes, organizations and ideologies that support and feed it – and Hamas is foremost among them.
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