Secretary of State John Kerry is eager to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. He asserts, as peace processors often do, that “time is running out.” President Barack Obama recently echoed that thought, saying “the window for opportunity is growing smaller by the day.”
But this sense of urgency and dread ignores an insurmountable obstacle to quick solutions: While the Palestinians should have their own state, they aren’t ready for it yet.
Although of recent vintage, Palestinian nationalism is real, and therefore so is Palestinian nationhood. Their right to national self-determination has become no less real than the right of the Jewish people to their own state.
But that is precisely the problem. The Palestinians as a whole still have not internalized the legitimacy of Jewish nationalism. As a result, Palestinian nationalism has been and remains essentially negative. It is more concerned with destroying the Jewish state than building a Palestinian state alongside it.
Aside from unending violence and terrorism, the prime example is the demand for the so-called Palestinian right of return. Too many Palestinians insist that the “refugees” (actually, mostly children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of genuine refugees) be allowed to “return” not to the Palestinian state, but to Israel. This influx would overwhelm Israel, making the Jews a minority in their own country. So it turns out that when Palestinians say they want a two-state solution while at the same time demanding the right of return, they mean the eventual creation of two Palestinian states and the negation of Jewish national rights.
Thus, even the majority of Israelis who favor “two states for two peoples” (including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu) understand that it can’t be implemented now. The Palestinian leadership may pretend, but won’t really agree to it. And simply evacuating the West Bank would make matters much worse. We know that, because Israel already tried it in Gaza, with disastrous results.
As long as Palestinian nationalism is dangerous, even genocidal, toward Israel, Israel is justified in protecting itself by maintaining security control of the West Bank, and a cordon around Gaza.
Of course, there are things Israel must do beside reiterate its willingness to negotiate. It must dismantle settlements that are illegal according to Israeli law, and prevent the establishment of new illegal communities. Israel must prosecute the Jewish thugs who, under the “price tag” banner, terrorize Palestinians—acting with the same cold determination with which it hunts Palestinian terrorists.
But the decisive, peace-preventing fact remains: the majority of Israelis have accepted the legitimacy of Palestinian national and territorial claims, but the reverse is not true.
Thus, the key to Palestinian statehood is Palestinian acceptance of Israel’s permanence and legitimacy. The key is in their hands. When Palestinians stop killing Israelis and trying to eliminate their country, Israel will help them establish their state.
Palestinians must be helped to understand this. They’re not getting the help they need. International political and thought leaders generally ignore, explain away or justify Palestinian outrages, while remaining fixated on the existence of Jewish towns and villages in the West Bank. Palestinians therefore have insufficient incentive to change their culture of hate and rejection.
This must change, and the Obama administration should lead the way. By consistently calling attention to counterproductive Palestinian actions, instead of sweeping them under the rug, the administration would make it harder for the Palestinians to avoid making the hard choices that are keeping them stateless.
Every time a Palestinian rocket is fired at Israel, President Obama should address the Palestinians and tell them: “This is why you don’t have your own state.”
Every time a Palestinian “collaborator” is murdered fellow Palestinians, the State Department should say: “This shows that the Palestinians are not prepared for peaceful coexistence with Israel.”
Each school year that opens with Palestinian children learning from textbooks that denigrate Israel and Jews, Kerry should announce: “Until the Palestinians stop teaching their sons and daughters to hate, they will never have a country.”
When the Palestinian Authority names a town square, school or summer camp after a murderer of Jews, Obama should explain: “Honoring terrorists and murderers is incompatible with moving toward Palestinian statehood.”
Whenever official Palestinian media feature government ministers, sheikhs or professors denying that there was a Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount; or denying the deep bonds of love and loyalty between the Jews and the Land; or denying the Holocaust; or denying the Jews’ humanity by calling them “the sons of pigs and apes;” the administration should clearly state: “As long as Palestinians systematically lie about Israel, distort its history and insult its people, they are holding themselves back and delaying Palestinian sovereignty.”
Consistent application of this policy of candid truth-telling would do the Palestinians more good than all the anti-Israel resolutions and boycott campaigns—and peace conferences—combined.
A version of this piece previously appeared in the Jewish Journal.