Tag Archives: the Third Intifada

Is this the start of Israel’s first Jewish-Arab civil war?

Palestinian Israelis refuse to acknowledge the dilemma they put Jewish Israelis in when they choose to align themselves with the enemies of the Jewish state.

FIREFIGHTERS EXTINGUISH a police car in Lod that was torched along with shops and other property by Arab residents rioting in the city last Wednesday. (photo credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)

 In 2003 at the height of the Second Intifada, I tagged along with a group of American Conservative Rabbis who went to Israel to show solidarity with the Jewish state. We were brought to the King David Hotel to hear from then-foreign minister Shimon Peres, and the event was covered by Israeli television. During the Q&A, I asked Mr. Peres if there was a fifth column brewing in Israel among Israeli Arab citizens, “fifth column” being a term used for citizens who sympathize and support an external enemy.

Peres looked at me with an angry stare, and I will never forget what he said to me. “I do not like that expression. I do not like that term.” He then proceeded to march off the stage.

The point in telling this story is that for generations, Israeli leaders have not been willing to contemplate the possibility of a painful truth of what Palestinian Citizens of Israel (PCI) truly believe about living as citizens in the State of Israel. Suppose that the most Israel can offer PCIs (Israeli Arabs) – full rights, recognition of their Arab identity and economic empowerment, while simultaneously accepting the responsibilities of living as minority citizens in a Jewish state – doesn’t meet the minimum they can accept, namely the eradication of the Jewish nature of the State of Israel?

Too many PCIs and anti-Israel activists believe Judaism is only a religion, not a legitimate national movement of a people or a civilization. Despite having freedom of speech, religion and the press, and elected Muslim members in the Knesset, and being freer than any other Arabs in the region, Israel to them will never be a democracy so long as it retains the Jewish nature of the state and the Jewish right of return for Jews living in the Diaspora.

In 2018 I wrote an article titled, “What Do Palestinian Citizens of Israel Want?” This was based on a MEPIN/Keshet seminar I helped organize in which we met with Arab academics and school children and Israeli Arab mayors, and visited Arab colleges, teachers and human rights organizations. That was just the beginning. To deny that PCIs have faced discrimination in allocating government funding, infrastructure and employment opportunities would be to deny reality. As Yossi Klein Halevi said, “Palestinian Israelis have a profound sense of dislocation, humiliation and grievance going back to 1948. Palestinian Israelis are conflicted, as the country they reside in is at war” with their brothers over the Green Line.

But then I asked Palestinian Israelis, if all the economic inequities were magically erased, would they then accept living in a Jewish state assuming the responsibilities of minority citizens? None said yes, proving this is an existential, not an economic issue. They do not believe Israel ever had a right to be created on land that was once Islamic or was their ancestral home.

The current Gaza war between Israel and Hamas may not differ from the three previous military actions (2008, 2012 and 2014) between Israel and the terrorists in Gaza. Israel will not risk the lives of its soldiers or innocent civilians embedded within Hamas military assets in an attempt to replace Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), and then having to take charge of civil services for the Gazan people. It will “mow the grass” and hopefully buy a few years of deterrence.

What is different about this war is that the Palestinian Arab street in the West Bank and Palestinian citizens of Israel are openly cheering on Hamas. Hamas told PCIs to “rise up” against “our enemy and yours.” And a not too insignificant number of Israeli Arab citizens responded by lynching Jews, burning synagogues and fomenting pogroms. This is of existential importance, especially when 21% of your population empathizes with an enemy who wants to end your existence. Far-right Jewish nationalists attacking Arabs in retaliation have fanned the flames of violence. They also need to be condemned and incarcerated – one standard of justice and the rule of law for all.

So does Israel have a civil war on its hands? Are the Abraham Accords in danger of collapsing because of the allegation that Israeli security entered al-Aqsa Mosque for no reason? Can’t the world see that Hamas has exploited a land dispute involving just a few Arab families to weaken the Palestinian Authority and prevent a groundbreaking possibility of an Israeli Arab party joining a coalition as a full stakeholder?

So, where do we go from here?

Palestinian Israelis complain about job discrimination because employers favor Israelis who served in the military. But when presented with the option of compulsory non-military civil service to match fellow Jewish citizens, leveling the playing field for employment opportunities, they overwhelmingly reject that option. There is almost no acknowledgment that they, too, have the responsibilities of citizenship.

You can’t complain you aren’t getting your fair share when you refuse to do compulsory civil service to match the time young Jewish citizens give to the nation. Palestinian Israelis refuse to acknowledge the dilemma they put Jewish Israelis in when they choose to align themselves with the enemies of the Jewish state.

Israeli Arab politicians elected to the Knesset, except for Mansour Abbas’s Ra’am party – who seemingly prioritized the PCIs he represents and who wants to work with the Israeli government – have bordered on treason for years. Mansour Abbas’s pragmatism is a significant reason that Hamas wanted to fight a war at this time, lest Arab citizens in Israel look towards a new path that could reconcile them with the Jewish majority.

The Middle East is in flux, and Israel may be facing one of the most critical tipping points in its history. How Israel deals with its Arab minority over the coming years may rival in importance the threat of 150,000 Hezbollah missiles and Iranian nuclear weapons capabilities. As Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz said, the internal Jewish-Arab violence is “no less dangerous than the Hamas rockets…. We must not win the Gaza battle and lose at home.”

Does Mahmoud Abbas Want His Legacy to be the Third Intifada?

(Previously published in The Jerusalem Post) 

He decided years ago that he cannot, or will not, accept any realistic two-state parameters that could offer Israel reasonable security.

‘America is the land of solutions. In the Middle East, sometimes there are no solutions.”

A headline in The Jerusalem Post last week read, “Abbas may halt security cooperation with Israel unless Palestine is created.” Conventional wisdom says Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ threat to end security cooperation with the IDF is simply empty rhetoric, because Abbas knows very well that without an Israel’s military presence in the West Bank, his PA security forces would be overthrown in short order.

He knows that they would likely follow the infamous path of their comrades in Gaza in 2005 after the Israeli disengagement, and be thrown off 10-story buildings by their “unity partner” Hamas. Both Israel and the PA know that the West Bank would likely become “Hamastan on the Jordan,” a security nightmare for Israel.

President Abbas knows that within a few weeks, or at most a few months, this would become a reality. But what if – this time – something is truly different, and President Abbas really is contemplating ending the security cooperation? Could Abbas have concluded that he needs to start thinking about his legacy and his place in Palestinian folklore?

He decided years ago that he cannot, or will not, accept any realistic two-state parameters that could offer Israel reasonable security, an end to the “Right of Return,” or any shared status on the Temple Mount. We know this because he never responded to prime minister Ehud Olmert’s 2007 offer of 96-98% of the West Bank, land swaps, east Jerusalem and control of the Temple Mount.

Yet America and the West, which continually pressure Israel and claim that the conflict is all about the settlements and borders, pretend that this offer never occurred. Unfortunately, not even the most critical analysis sees Abbas – or any Palestinian leader – as giving up the right of return, acquiescing to Israel’s minimum security concerns in the Jordan River Valley, or signing any end-of-conflict agreement.

So what options does Abbas really have? In America today, we debate the foreign policy legacy of President Barack Obama. Why? The president wants to be remembered for some foreign policy achievement. President Abbas also wants a legacy. His dream is not to be remembered as the man who gave up Muslim land (dar al-Islam) to the Jews, i.e. any of the land of Israel within the 1949 armistice line.

Perhaps his dream is to emulate his mentor, Yasser Arafat, and be remembered by the Palestinian people as a “freedom fighter.” He may feel he can rewrite history before his time passes, and be remembered as a hero, not as the man who presided over the failed Oslo accords and led a corrupt government that stole hundreds of millions of shekels from his own people.

Perhaps Abbas has come to the realization that even though he is in the 10th year of his four-year term, he is also entering the ninth decade of his life, and will not remain the Palestinian president forever.

Perhaps he would like to be revered in the Mukata in Ramallah, where Arafat lies. To the American Progressive organizations, and President Obama, Abbas is “moderate” and the best peacemaker Israel will ever have. As President Obama said in March of 2013: “Of course, Israel cannot be expected to negotiate with anyone who is dedicated to its destruction. But while I know you have had differences with the Palestinian Authority, I believe that you do have a true partner in President Abbas.”

It is inconceivable to these progressives that if the right deal were offered with enough territorial concessions, Abbas would not accept it. (Of course, this ignores the 2007 Olmert offer.) They say it is all about the settlements, not the destruction of Israel. They are convinced that there must be a Western- style “solution,” and it simply means removing all the settlements and ending the “oppressive occupation.”

This reveals the schizophrenia of American foreign policy. On one hand, they see the Palestinians as part of the Arab world, where Islamism is on the rise, pushing the West’s “moderate” PA to join a unity government with the Hamas terrorists. On the other hand, America expects Israel to treat the Palestinians as if they were negotiating with Canada, and to trust a Palestinian culture that sees compromise with the West as weakness, or, at best, a strategic choice.

Unfortunately, Abbas lives not in North America, but in the Muslim world, and his predisposition clearly reflects that he is not prepared to accept a Jewish presence in any part of the Levant. The West refuses to acknowledge that in 2015, “secular” Arab leaders like Abbas never will accept the concept of compromise. A good part of the reason why American foreign policy is such a disaster in the Middle East is because it fails to acknowledge that most modern Islamic analysis cannot be reconciled with our Western perspective.

American is the land of solutions. In the Middle East sometimes there are no solutions, or no solutions right now. It is Israel that pays the price because only Israel can be pressured by the United States and the West, i.e. the threat of cutting off diplomatic protection in the international arena. This is a lethal threat for a tiny nation.

Could it be that America’s foreign policy analysts are the ones who are getting it wrong? Do they fail to acknowledge that the motivation of the Palestinians and Arab peoples may be based more on their Islamic religious outlook, and not on resolving centuries- old conflicts between clans and tribes, where nation-states identity is secondary? Despite Abbas wearing a western suit and tie, his words and his people’s actions are more aligned with the unyielding Islamist demands, than with the idea of Western compromise. We are blind to the fact that over the last 20 years Muslim religiosity has replaced a more moderate secular perspective. The result is that American and many Israeli leaders can’t explain the longevity of the conflict because they are married to the idea of compromise, a value embedded in the Western world order.

If you were President Abbas and you knew that you couldn’t bring peace to your people, would you want to be remembered as the impotent corrupt leader of the PA, or would you erase your past and become known as the leader of the glorious third intifada? All of this may be moot as the Palestinian Authority may not be able to dictate events. As the Jerusalem Post reported: “The army has told the government that at any given moment the Palestinian Authority can collapse…

In one of the scenarios that the IDF presented, a small localized security incident, like an altercation between settlers and Palestinians, or the throwing of a Molotov cocktail could quickly escalate to rioting in the Galilee and the Triangle area. With the weakened Palestinian Authority a situation like this is liable to lead to terrorist organizations taking control of the West Bank.”

What should America do? Understand that the chaos of the Middle East and the weakness of the PA make this an inopportune time for final status negotiations.

America’s goal should be to convince Abbas not to start a third intifada and to help the Palestinians build the foundations of a future democracy, with rule of law, tolerance, freedom of the press, and freedom of speech.

In short, America should lead conflict management, not impose solutions where none exist.

The author is the director of MEPIN (Middle East Political and Information Network), a Middle East research analysis read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisors, members of the Knesset, journalists and organizational leaders.