Why can’t we make peace? Because Palestinian elites have no interest in doing so
Book excerpt

Why can’t we make peace? Because Palestinian elites have no interest in doing so

Enjoying the good life themselves, Palestinian leaders have created a misrepresentation of their people as 'the wretched on earth.' It's a recipe for endless conflict

Ben-Dror Yemini
Jordan's King Abdullah II (right) speaks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas upon his arrival in the West Bank city of Ramallah on August 7, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)
Jordan's King Abdullah II (right) speaks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas upon his arrival in the West Bank city of Ramallah on August 7, 2017. (AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI)

This article is excerpted from Ben-Dror Yemini’s new book, Industry of Lies: Media, Academia, and the Israeli-Arab Conflict, published by ISGAP.

We must admit that there is no chance for peace in the foreseeable future.

It’s not that the solution is complicated. Despite the disagreements, despite the fantasy of mass Return, and despite the isolated settlements, there are clear parameters for peace. Bill Clinton presented them in late 2000; the Geneva plan presented a similar plan in 2002; Ehud Olmert repeated it, with semantic changes, in 2008; John Kerry introduced two versions with almost the same parameters in 2014. Even the Arab initiative, if we take away the fantasy of mass Return, could have been the basis for an agreement.

Although the parameters are known, peace cannot be achieved.

In the past century there have been many conflicts. Almost every actualization of the right to self-determination created a bloody conflict, years of struggle, and the expulsion of populations. Yet, eventually, agreements were reached. Enemies have become neighbors. Peace agreements have also been signed between Israel and two Arab states — Egypt and Jordan, and Israel maintains cooperation with many other Arab states.

So why this should not have happened in the Israeli Palestinian conflict? Because it has another dimension, which was absent in other conflicts. The Palestinian elites have reached a status that no elite had before. The Palestinian struggle is not one more struggle.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, then-US President George Bush, and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in Annapolis, Maryland in 2007. (Courtesy Ian Black)

It became the most famous, most celebrated, and the most prestigious of all — the crown jewel of causes. The Palestinian refusal to accept any peace proposal is not only due to historical reasons or a sense of injustice. It is not about more or less concessions. It stems from the fact that the Palestinian elites only benefit from the continuation of the conflict. The Palestinians have become not only the ultimate global symbol of a “victim” and an “oppressed people,” who are supposedly fighting against colonialism and occupation. They have become global celebrities.

On the one hand, members of the Palestinian elite come and leave the capitals of the world dressed in the most tailored and fashionable of men’s apparel. They enjoy the good life. On the other hand, they succeed in creating a misrepresentation of “the wretched on earth.”

According to any objective measure of life expectancy, infant mortality, natural increase, education, and so forth, the Palestinians are not in the worst shape among the world’s needy populations. Just the opposite. Most people in the world live in much worse circumstances. But they are not in the headlines. No one is demonstrating for them. The claim that those who identify with the Palestinians are concerned with human rights is one of the most ridiculous claims of the present era; supporters of the Palestinian struggle are, after all, not bothered by the tens of millions who suffer from internal or external oppression.

* * *

Let’s imagine a student from northern Nigeria on an American campus. He represents one of the most miserable communities in the world, suffering from non-stop Jihadist terrorism of Boko Haram: thousands have been massacred; 1.4 million children have become refugees, 100,000 of them on the verge of starvation. But nobody cares about them. There are no demonstrations. No global protest. No conferences. Nigeria is not included in the latest buzz words about oppression. Yet, for many, Israel has become representative of all other injustices in the world, in addition to one’s own as an African-American, woman, or homosexual, as illustrated by the phenomenon of intersectionality.

An image taken from a video released on August 14, 2014 by the Nigerian jihadist group Boko Haram purportedly shows dozens of girls kidnapped by the group in 2014. (screen capture: YouTube)

In any case, the world stage is dominated by the Palestinians. Couple this with intersectionality, and it ensures that countless opponents of injustice half way across the world will be aligning themselves against “the oppressor Israel.” It doesn’t help that “colonialism,” one of the magic words in post modern discourse, can, through selective interpretation and a web of lies, be used to tag Israel as an oppressor. It is a little difficult to use the word “colonialist” against the Jihadists even if they have extreme imperialist ambitions.

Not only is there no worldwide protest against the Jihad affiliates, there is even support for those who champion an anti-Semitic, fascist, and murderous ideology. Italian philosopher Gianni Vattimo displayed his stripes in the middle of the 2014 Gaza War, declaring “shoot those bastard Zionists,” encouraging the Europeans to buy weapons for Hamas, and arguing that “Israel is worse than the Nazis.” The feminist organization Code Pink organized no less than seven solidarity missions to Gaza, meeting with Hamas members (never mind that the mufti of Gaza tells male viewers how to beat their wives without leaving scars that would make them ugly or alert the police).

Then there are high-profile entertainers, such as the aging British rocker and lead singer from Pink Floyd, Roger Waters, who compares Israel to Nazi Germany and supports BDS, or British film director Ken Loach, who called for a cultural boycott of Israel. Even if they don’t convince their fellow artists, who keep on coming to Israel, they still encourage the Palestinian elites to keep on with the struggle against Israel instead of fighting for peace.

British Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks during a meeting of the Party of European Socialists in Brussels, on October 19, 2017. (AFP Photo/John Thys)

There is a whole chapter in the work at hand about major producers in the industry of lies, such as academic Noam Chomsky, who made a pilgrimage to visit Hezbollah leader Nasrallah in Lebanon; UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who embraced Hamas and Hezbollah as his “friends”; Judith Butler, who turned them into progressive bodies; and Canadian writer Naomi Klein, who cuts Hamas out of the equation when attacking Israel as the aggressor in the 2014 Gaza War.

British musician Roger Waters of Pink Floyd. (AFP PHOTO / LEON NEAL)

There are even some academics who have turned their anti Israel positions into a career— such as Norman Finkelstein, a highly visible figure on the lecture circuit, as well as a talented and highly entertaining speaker who attracts droves of students on campuses around the world, and elsewhere.

Individual academics are not the only ones who participate in the industry of lies, and MESA (the Middle East Studies Association in the United States) presidents are not the only supporters of BDS. The same evil spirit extends to campus life — awash in anti Israel “academic gatherings.”

With all the big bucks flowing in, with no strings attached, what are the chances that Palestinian activists will give up this abundance of status, honor, prestige and jobs?

For example, at University College Cork Ireland in April 2017, a three-day academic conference was held under the heading “International Law and the State of Israel: Legitimacy Exceptionalism and Responsibility.” Speakers pilloried Israel as an exception to the world order (as if it was the only nation state) in order to deliberate whether Israel could legitimately exist as such an exception. The keynote speaker was Richard Falk, who used the occasion to charge that the foundation of Israel was “the most successful terror campaign in history.” There was actually a conference slated to take place in the UK at the University of Southampton (but prohibited at the last-minute by campus authorities on “health and safety concerns”) devoted to the question “does Israel have the right to exist.” No such conference was contemplated to discuss England’s right to exist, of course.

UN Special Rapporteur Richard Falk (photo credit: UN Watch)
Richard Falk (photo credit: UN Watch)

Some Israel bashing gatherings take place under a cloak of polite respectability such as a July 2017 two-day conference at the University of Sydney in Australia, called “BDS: Driving Global Justice for Palestine,” hosted by none other than the Department for Peace and Conflict Studies. The use of benign language is disarming: the objective of the gathering was to promote “greater public understanding of the BDS campaign,” which, the organizers stressed, would be devoted to “harness rational argument to support a more peaceful and more just world.” (One needs to understand the subtext of “a just world”: it includes a Palestinian right of return, demanded by Students for Justice in Palestine, in order to rectify Israel’s alleged ethnic cleansing.)

This intellectual disease extends to the American political arena, where anti Israel currents have gained a foothold within the Democratic Party, reflected in a one-sided amendment to the Middle East plank of the Democratic platform, suggested by Bernie Sanders’ people, that was rejected by a narrow margin of 95 to 73, as well as the rising popularity of movers and shakers with strong anti Israel orientations, such as Keith Ellison and Linda Sarsour.

The problem is that the Palestinians read such undercurrents as proof that they are on a winning streak, at least in terms of the Democratic Party, giving them no reason to rethink their positions or seek reconciliation.

The limelight as a livelihood

Palestinians are riding a wave of support from celebrities in a host of professions, including academia, with few, if any, strings attached.

It is not only the Palestinian leadership that enjoys ideological and moral support. Dozens of Palestinian or pro Palestinian organizations receive extensive financial support from dozens of celebrated foundations and political structures: the Rockefeller Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Open Society Foundation (George Soros), the European Union, individual European countries, and church funds. Then, of course, there is UNRWA and other United Nations funding entities.

With all the big bucks flowing in, with no strings attached, what are the chances that Palestinian activists will give up this abundance of status, honor, prestige and jobs? Is it at all surprising that Palestinian activists of such well-funded NGOs are against reconciliation and peace?

The Palestinians’ special status as the blue-eyed boy everyone embraces creates some very strange anomalies. Palestinian activists stand shoulder to shoulder with LGBT activists, although everyone knows — or should know — that members of the LGBT community in the Palestinian territories are at severe risk, facing persecution and often mortal danger. As a result, many prefer to flee to Israel.

Too many Palestinians have a huge vested interest in intransigence and violence

These are the facts, but anti Israel demonstrations are also held under the charge of “pink washing” — the idiotic theory stating that Israel grants freedom and rights to people of different sexual orientations only as a mask to conceal the horrors of the occupation. Thus, members of the Palestinian and anti Israel elites have succeed not only in disseminating ridiculous theories, but also in obtaining an exemption from violations of basic human rights for Palestinian authorities. This is another expression of racism of low expectations.

Palestinian women chant slogans as they hold Palestinian flags during a sit-in in the Bourj al-Barajneh Palestinian refugee camp, in Beirut, Lebanon, December 6, 2017. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

There are Palestinians who suffer. These are mainly those in Lebanon, who experience apartheid (subject to separate laws) with all its implications, or those in Syria who suffer, together with the rest of the Syrian population, from terrible bloodshed. They can only dream to live under Israeli rule. Yet, they do not interest anyone because they are not under Israeli control.

Under Israeli rule, on the other hand, the Palestinians in the territories enjoy the highest rate of higher education in the Arab world. In fact, the rise in the level of education has led to the emigration of tens of thousands of young Palestinians to Europe and the United States, subsequently eligible for graduate studies in the most prestigious universities (hundreds of them subsequently became faculty).

Industry of Lies, by Ben-Dror Yemini

In an era dominated by a postcolonial school of thought, the Palestinians have become the icon for struggle against colonialism. If the symbol in the 1960s was Che Guevara, the contemporary symbol is to sport a Palestinian keffiyeh scarf.

There are a thousand and one rivalries between student organizations that represent different groups, but they are united about one subject: their support for the Palestinians, with no knowledge about the conflict. Instead of focusing their efforts on the rights of African-Americans, the Black Lives Matter movement has become fixated on Israel, even accusing the Jewish state of the events in Ferguson. There will always be Jews and Israelis to tell them that Israel is the source of their troubles. In the past, it was said that Jews were the source of global evil. Today, it is said that Zionists are the source of every evil.

This is the madness consuming the free and academic world. This distortion does not support peace, reconciliation, or compromise. The common denominator of these bodies, which are supported by academia and funded by the EU and various other foreign governments, is usually their opposition to the very existence of Israel. It is doubtful whether there is one body among them that supports peace and reconciliation and that is funded by the same sources.

Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli troops following protests against U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

Does this encourage the Palestinian elites towards reconciliation with Israel, or does it encourage them to perpetuate the struggle? And if this is the position of the progressive elites of the free world, why would a rational Palestinian change direction and support reconciliation and compromise? Why should any of the Palestinians give up the special status they now enjoy that bundles together victimhood, prestige, legitimacy for all their actions, economic benefit and a comfortable livelihood?

A peace agreement would undermine this special status. Instead of talking about racism and colonialism, instead of being the stars of academia and the darlings of the progressive elites, and instead of enjoying generous funding as activists against oppression, the Palestinians will have to worry about welfare, sewage systems, and building a state. They will have to take responsibility for themselves and their fate. They will stop receiving tens of millions of dollars each year for political struggle. They will not be the stars of the campuses. That is the last thing they want.

They have succeeded in convincing many intellectual circles in the world that BDS is a “nonviolent movement” against racism and for equal rights. There is no greater lie than that. The BDS movement is fighting to deny the right of self-determination of one state among all the countries of the world: Israel.

What should rational and decent people do?

What can rational and decent people do against this mind-boggling phenomenon?

First, expose the absurdities. Do not give in to the thought police. Maintain independent and critical thinking, connected to reality. Make a hierarchy of global injustices. The Alice in Wonderland-like lunacy that is taking place in significant sectors of the academic and media elites is not a problem for Israel. It is a problem of the free world. This is fake knowledge that produces fake realities.

The attention, top priority, aide and grants underwrites an entire sector of the economy and society that “makes a living from the conflict” — from elite Palestinian leaders flying around the world in first class and elegant suits to academics paid to write a flood of studies on the feasibility of the right of return, to tunnel operators in Gaza, and families who depend on stipends for sons killed in terrorist attacks (shahids).

Palestinian women take part in a protest in Gaza City on January 29, 2018, against the US move to freeze funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA. (MOHAMMED ABED / AFP)

The Palestinian public sector is gigantic, and the bonanza of cheap money as the world’s favorite humanitarian cause is reflected on the landscape in the West Bank — glass clad skyscrapers and public institutions, private villas, and virtual mansions that Westerners rarely see. The Pan-Arab paper Asharq al Awsat in London investigated the phenomenon and concluded that there are 600 millionaires in Gaza! Too many Palestinians have a huge vested interest in intransigence and violence.

There is a conflict of interest between rewarded Palestinian elites who want to perpetuate the conflict, and the Palestinian masses who suffer from the conflict. Reaching a peace agreement would lead, for example, to reducing the distress of the Palestinians in Lebanon who are legally, socially and geographically marginalized. They will not be able to return to Israel because Israel has no plans to commit demographic suicide, but they will receive new options, such as an international compensation fund, naturalization in some countries, options for returning to the Palestinian entity, and more. When the elites perpetuate the fantasy of the right of return, they perpetuate the continuation of suffering and plight.

It is possible and necessary to resolve the Israeli Palestinian conflict. The outlines are known. There is not much to innovate. For this to happen, it is permissible and, indeed, necessary to criticize Israeli policy. But this will not happen as long as a widespread and well oiled academic and political apparatus provides the Palestinian elites with honor, money and prestige that perpetuate the conflict.

This march of folly must be stopped. Not to harm the Palestinians, but to give them hope and to save them.

Ben-Dror Yemini is a senior journalist with the Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth who lectures about the spread and impact of anti-Israel propaganda.

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