The Unbearable Lightness of Mainstream Thinking on Israel-Palestinian Issues

By Barry Rubin

Recently I appeared on a panel. I gave what I thought was a devastating and detailed analysis on why there wouldn’t be an Israel-Palestinian peace: the PA wasn’t ready Fatah was led by radicals; the Palestinian people hadn’t been prepared for peace (and had been prepared to see any compromise as treason); Hamas might take over or would use any PA compromises to attack and defeat its rival; there were too many problems with what would happen after a two-state solution was implemented.

Afterward, another participant was asked what he thought of my presentation. He said that, of course, peace wouldn’t be easy but it was really important to make peace, that time was against Israel, and that we should keep trying. Five things struck me about the response.

First, he made no attempt to refute a single point I made. In other words, the we-must-make-peace-right-away types never tell you about these problems. Why? Because they cannot answer this analysis since it is accurate. If they honestly presented these things to an audience, the audience would be convinced that there isn’t going to be any peace.

I call this “lying for peace.” Yasir Arafat once said something like this: “If I’m willing to die for Palestine I’m certainly willing to lie for Palestine.” Thus, instead of being an analyst one who twists the facts to “help the cause of peace” becomes an activist, deliberately withholding information because it undermines what one wants to happen. In addition, of course, this becomes an “analysis” based on wishful thinking.

But lying doesn’t bring peace, just like distorting any situation achieves a goal that is otherwise unachievable. Lying about the economy doesn’t help solve the problems of the economy. Lying about health care isn’t going to improve health care. Pretending that Communism (or Islamism today) was not so bad neither ended the conflict with that ideology nor spread the cause of freedom.

Israelis aren’t going to take risks and make concessions on the basis of lies. They prefer peace but don’t start out by saying that peace—meaning a piece of paper--is the only goal and nothing else matters. The goal is national survival, the country’s flourishing, and individual benefit.

Second, the person in question withheld in the later remarks what he had said before: that the two sides were very close and that PA leader Mahmoud Abbas was eager for peace. In essence, these statements were—according to the later position—lies told in order to help the cause of peace, supposedly. Either you have to admit that the PA does not want a compromise peace with Israel or prove that the PA leadership really wants peace and is eager to obtain it. You can’t have it both ways.

Third, there’s nothing more ridiculous than the notion that Israel must make peace before the situation gets worse. It’s like saying that the British and French should make concessions to Hitler because he’s about to go to war. If we know Egypt is turning radical, Lebanon has a Hizballah-dominated government, that Hamas is getting stronger, and that the current U.S. government cannot be trusted those are all arguments against Israel making concessions at this time!

Fourth, he had said that Mahmoud Abbas, the PA leader, really wants peace. Near the end of his career, he seeks to leave a legacy of having created a Palestine state for his people. That’s what they used to say about Arafat. Precisely. And it wasn’t true then either.

But if peace is desperately needed then Israel must be forced to bring about peace “for its own good” and whether it wants to accept the terms or not. In other words, ignorant people who aren’t telling the truth want to press Israel into a situation that suits neither its interests nor the will of its people.

And if peace is desperately needed and the PA really wants peace, then Israel must be at fault for the lack of peace. Therefore Israel must be pressured and possibly punished.