By Daniel Pipes, December 3, 2001
In June of this year, Palestinian television broadcast a sermon in a Gaza
mosque in which the imam, Ibrahim Madi, made the following statement:
“God willing, this unjust state Israel, will be erased; this unjust state
the United States will be erased; this unjust state Britain will be erased.”
The sheik’s gentle homily came to mind this weekend, when Palestinian suicide
bombers launched nearly simultaneous attacks on Israeli civilians in Jerusalem,
Haifa, and Gaza, killing 26 and wounding nearly 200.
If a reminder were needed that the war on terrorism goes beyond Sept.
11 and the campaign in Afghanistan, the Palestinians provided a powerful
mnemonic. Even as U.S. and British forces respond to the World Trade Center
atrocity by closing in on Kandahar, the last city under militant Islamic rule in
Afghanistan, Israeli forces began preparing a response to the Jerusalem atrocity
with a ‘frontal attack’ against the Palestinian Authority.
The American and Israeli situations seem very different to some, but Sheik
Madi’s remarks show they are not. In both cases, the forces of militant Islam
are targeting a Western country with the intention of destroying it.
Osama bin Laden years ago declared a jihad against all Christians and
Jews while his friend Mullah Omar, the Taliban dictator, provided more
specifics in mid-November: “The current situation in Afghanistan is related to a
bigger cause-that is the destruction of America. If God’s help is with us, this
will happen within a short period of time-keep in mind this prediction. The real
matter is the extinction of America, and God willing, it will fall to the ground.”
Likewise, with an almost numbing routineness, militant Islamic leaders call for
the destruction of Israel. The most powerful of them all, Iran’s supreme leader
Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called sometime ago for “this cancerous tumor of a
state be removed from the region.”
There are differences, to be sure. The battle against the United States is newer,
far less advanced, and less supported by nonmilitant Islamic elements.
Ironically, however, the U.S. government has declared a “war on terrorism,”
while its Israeli counterpart is still (with U.S. encouragement) trying to hammer
out a deal with its enemies. These differences aside, the drive to destroy the
United States and Israel are at base similar.
The latest attacks on Israel serve to remind us of something else too: that the
attempt to destroy the Jewish state has gone on since it came into existence in
1948. For over a half century, the majority of Arabs have persisted in seeing
Israel as no more than a temporary irritant, one they eventually expect to
dispense with, at best permitting Israelis to live in ‘Palestine’ as a subject
people and at worst massacring them.
This destructive impulse has waxed and waned since 1948. When a seemingly
weak Israel first came into existence, it started very high. Then 45 years of
steadily losing to a tough and determined Israel left the Arabs reeling by 1993
and partially open to the possibility of accepting it. Rather than pushing this
advantage to achieve full acceptance, the Israelis made the historic mistake of
easing up and offering their two main enemies, the Syrians and Palestinians, an
These offers completely backfired: rather than understood as far-sighted
strategic concessions intended to close the conflict, Arabs interpreted them as
signs of Israel’s demoralization.
The result was an upsurge in violence and renewed Arab hopes of
destroying Israel through force of arms. For the first time since the 1960s,
politicians, civil servants, religious leaders, journalists, and intellectuals routinely
called for Israel’s elimination.
Obviously, this wall of rejection harms Israel, denying its bid to live as a normal
nation, subjecting its population to homicidal attacks, and compelling it to take
tough steps against neighbors. But Israel is prospering despite these attacks,
boasting of a high standard of living, a democratic body politic, and a vibrant
In fact, the real harm is felt primarily by Arabs. The destructive urge
prevents talented and venerable peoples from achieving their potential. Arabs
are focused on harming Israelis rather than improving their standards of living,
opening the political process to all, and insuring the rule of law. The result is
plain: Arabs are among the world leaders in percentages of dictatorships, rogue
states, violent conflicts, and military spending.
A solution is easy to propose though much harder to implement: the Arabs
must reconcile themselves to Israel’s existence. Only that will close down the
century-old conflict, permit Israel to attain normality, and launch Arabs on the
path to modernity.
This interpretation of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which puts the onus on Arabs,
differs profoundly from the usual one. Even Israelis, not to speak of Arabs and
everyone else, tend to think that the Arab acceptance of Israel is already done
and now it is up to Israel to do its part by making a series of concessions
(handing over the Golan Heights, Jerusalem, etc.).
If it was possible to believe in the Arab acceptance of Israel in 1993, surely
today’s inflamed rhetoric and the drumbeat of Palestinian violence proves that it
was a mirage. Israel has the unenviable task of convincing its enemies that their
dreams of its destruction will fail; translated into action, this means it must
show resolve and toughness. How can it be otherwise?
Such lethal intentions as one finds widely in the Arabic-speaking
countries can only be defeated with strength. This will not be pleasant; Israel
will incur both foreign condemnation and domestic discontent, but it has no
Understanding the conflict this new way has profound implications for the
West. It means that Europe and the United States, always eager to solve the
Arab-Israeli conflict, can most helpfully do their part by offering fewer clever
plans and making a greater effort to comprehend its basic truths.
It means coming to terms with the basic fact of continued Arab rejection
of Israel, with all its destructive implications. It means seeing the Israeli
predicament, tolerating its need to be tough, and pressing the Arabs to make a
drastic change in course.
For many governments, even the American one, this approach requires a
reversal from current policy (which is to press Israel). Such as shift will not
come easily, but it is a near-prerequisite for anyone truly serious about closing
down the Arab-Israeli conflict.