Skip to main content

Failed Leadership: The Obstacle to Peace in the Middle East

It is a “pretense” to think that “terrorism represents a failure, rather than a core element, of Palestinian governance,” as Boston Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby recently put it. The question thus becomes: If terrorism is at the center of Palestinian leadership, what is at the center of Palestinian desires — for Palestinians, for Israel, and for America?
The question of what Palestinians want and think is important, because creating a new state is fraught with difficulty and rightful skepticism — especially in the Middle East, where the new Palestinian state would be the Arab world’s 22nd. And not one of those states, with the exception of the new Iraq, is a democracy. Indeed, outside of Iraq, the two most prominent “moderate” Arab states — Jordan and Saudi Arabia — do not even allow basic civil or political rights for non-Muslims. In Jordan, Jews cannot be citizens; in Saudi Arabia, the prohibition applies to Jews as well as Christians.
To be sure, double standards are rife in the Middle East: Israel is the first object of blame, and yet Israel is the only country in the Middle East where Jews, Christians, and Muslims have such rights as citizenship, voting, and serving in political office. Indeed, the Israeli parliament has ten Arab members. One struggles to imagine a day when Jordan or Saudi Arabia would allow a person of Jewish descent even to run for office in the Jordanian national assembly or the Saudi municipal elections.
It is long past time to forgo the notion that Israel is the obstacle to peace in the Middle East or the cause of terrorism there or here. Quite simply, democracies do not start wars with other democracies — nor do democracies support terrorism. When democracy takes hold in the nascent Palestinian state there will be peace; until then, there will be terrorism, and we should not be complicit in the creation of another terrorist state. By democracy, we do not mean one man, one vote, one time, but, rather, democracy defined by the rule of law, and by freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and freedom to be educated in schools that are not devoted to anti-Jewish and anti-Western propaganda. There is no need for another Syria or Iran — the world is surfeited with the difficulties they have wrought already.
A new poll, just conducted and published by Public Opinion Marketing Research of Israel (PORI) for Palestinian Media Watch brings into sharp relief the reasons for caution in moving forward with the creation of that 22nd state. According to the PORI poll, 40 percent of Israeli Arabs and 36 percent of Palestinians believe the United States is “the single greatest threat to world peace.” In the war to liberate Iraq, 50 percent of Palestinians “strongly” supported Saddam Hussein and another 24 percent “mostly” supported him — a combined score of 74 percent support for one of the greatest thugs of our age, compared with 95 percent support for the United States by Israeli Jews. Finally, 79 percent of Palestinians do not consider “bombings of Israeli buses and restaurants to be acts of terrorism”; neither do 31 percent of Israeli Arabs. In a separate poll recently conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, 75 percent of Palestinians support the recent suicide bombing at a restaurant in Haifa that killed 20 Israelis.
With these numbers, and this sense of popular sentiment from those seeking a Palestinian state, the U.S. and Israel need to move at a very deliberate pace — democracy, forswearing of terrorism, and willingness to live with (rather than eliminate) Israel will need to be the first conditions of any further movement toward the creation of that state.
To create a new state under the current conditions would be to reward terrorism. Yasser Arafat and the terrorism he has brought to the modern world have wreaked enough havoc. In the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, Arafat taught the world the “benefits” of hijacking civilian airliners — he was rewarded with U.N. resolutions, U.N. speaking engagements, and U.N. status. From the U.S. he received respectability, including multiple White House visits and meetings with President Clinton. Over the past several years, just as Israel was moving toward implementing full Palestinian statehood, suicide bombings began in Israel.
Arafat and his followers looked at their past generation of success and believed that if terrorism worked toward getting the Palestinians international credibility and attention, an escalation like suicide bombings could only push toward the finish line. Just over two years ago, however, we Americans suffered what Israel has for too long, and a new age of fighting terrorism was thrust upon us.
It would be both imprudent and morally wrong to reward Palestinian terrorism by creating a Baathist-Taliban state coterminous with our efforts to defeat terrorism elsewhere. Palestinian statehood may come, but not under these conditions — not if the war on terrorism is to have any meaning, and not if democracy is to be supported not just at home, but in the Middle East as well.
William J. Bennett is a co-director of Empower America and the author of Why We Fight: Moral Clarity and the War on Terrorism. Seth Leibsohn is the vice president for policy of Empower America.