By Daniel Pipes, August 31, 2001
Accusations fly rapidly back and forth: Israelis complain about suicide bombers,
Arabs protest the occupation of their lands. No wonder a recent poll finds 78%
of Americans blaming both sides for the crisis in the Middle East.
But ‘a plague on both your houses’ makes for poor understanding and yet
weaker policy. To understand the Arab-Israeli conflict and the proper U.S. role
toward it requires stepping back from the daily rush of details and looking at the
That picture is surprisingly simple, for since the birth of Israel in 1948, the core
issue has remained remarkable unchanged: Should Israel exist?
In reply, most Arabs at most times have emphatically replied with a “no.” This
attitude – what I call rejectionism – stubbornly holds that the Jewish state must
be destroyed, with its inhabitants either subjugated, exiled or killed.
Rejectionism has varied in strength from one period to another. It reached a low
point in 1993 when the Israeli and Palestinian leaders shook hands on the
White House lawn. Since last September it has again peaked, returning with a
terrible fury and spewing forth ubiquitously from political speeches, the media,
mosque sermons, poetry, school textbooks, and even crossword puzzle clues.
Some examples: The Syrian vice president portrays the current Palestinian
violence as the “countdown for the destruction of Israel” and a Lebanese leader
claims that the present time offers “an exceptional historic opportunity to finish
off the entire cancerous Zionist project.”
“We were forced to leave Jaffa, Haifa and Tel Aviv,” says a leader of Hamas,
the Palestinian fundamentalist organization, “and recovering from that can only
be achieved when war returns and forces the invaders out.”
A childrens poem in a Palestinian magazine addresses Israelis; “You can choose
the sea like cowards, or you can choose us, and we will rip you to shreds.”
Rejectionist sentiments are sometimes expressed by Arabs in the West too,
even if softened. The Guardian, a London newspaper, recently carried an
opinion piece declaring that Israel “has no moral right to exist.”
The revival of Arab rejectionism is a clearly a tragic development for Israel,
whose people are being constantly murdered and where a Western, democratic,
liberal, and affluent country finds itself reluctantly and repeatedly forced to
assert its own existence through military force.
But Arabs, ironically, are even more harmed by their own rejectionism, for the
obsession with destroying Israel obstructs skilled and dignified peoples from
modernizing. Dictatorship, poverty, and backwardness are the wretched results.
Release will come only when Arabs accept the permanent existence of a
sovereign Jewish state in the Middle East. Then the Arab-Israeli conflict can
end and the former combatants be liberated to achieve their potentials.
Understanding the central role of Arab rejectionism offers important insights
into the current dispute. So long as rejectionism prevails:
All other Arab-Israeli issues are unsolvable. Israels control of the lands it
occupied in 1967, the Jews living on those lands, Arab refugees, the final
borders of Israel, water, and Jerusalemnone can be addressed until Arabs
Arab-Israeli diplomacy cannot work. How can there be negotiations over
the details of a settlement when the Arabs are planning to eradicate Israel?
Israel should make no concessions. Recent experience shows that
prematurely made concessions are not just useless but actually
counterproductive. Arabs interpret them as a sign of weakness, which causes
rejectionism to surge.
The demise of Arab rejectionism would reverse all these points. Then the
parties will no longer have irreconcilable differences, Arab-Israeli diplomacy
could fruitfully begin, details could be hammered out, and Israeli magnanimity
would become useful.
When rejectionism expires, a settlement is possible.
How, then, to end Arab rejectionism? Perhaps one day the Arabs themselves
will shuck off this cursed legacy, but in the meantime, Israel and the U.S. must
take the lead roles. Israels burden was eloquently described already in 1923,
when the Zionist leader Zev Jabotinsky explained that “So long as the Arabs
have a glimmer of hope to rid themselves of our presence, they will not give it
up for all the sweet words and far-reaching promises in the world.”
Israels burden, then, is to be strong and to persevere, until Arabs eventually
recognize the futility of rejectionism and give it up.
For Americans, the equation is simple: The more we stand by Israel, the
stronger it is and the sooner the Arabs will abandon rejectionism in favor of
more constructive ventures.