By Yossi Klein Halevi, July 8, 2004.
The tragedy of the International Court’s ruling on the security fence isn’t only
its depressing predictability, a politicization that undermines the hope for a
global system of justice. Nor is the tragedy only that Israel’s right to
self-defense has been branded illegitimate, while the criminals remain
Perhaps the worst consequence of the ruling is that it will reinforce
Palestinians’ faith in their own innocence and victimization, and preclude a
self-examination of their responsibility in maintaining the conflict.
That suicidal self-pity has led Palestinians from one historic calamity to
another, and is precisely the reason why Israel is now building the fence.
Palestinian political history follows a depressingly predicable pattern.
First, a peace offer is presented by the international community, to
which the mainstream Zionist leadership says yes, while all factions of the
Palestinian leadership say no.
Then the Palestinians opt for war and pay a bitter price for their failed
attempt at politicide.
Finally, the Palestinians protest the injustice of their defeat which, after
all, was supposed to be the fate of the Jews.
From the Palestinian perspective, there have always been compelling reasons
for rejecting each of the compromises that could have resolved this conflict in a
two-state solution. The UN partition plan, Palestinians still argue, offered the
Jews a state on a majority of territory though they were only a minority of the
The argument ignores the fact that 62 percent of the Jewish state
envisioned by partition would have consisted of desert, while the Palestinians
were offered the most fertile land. The argument is even more absurd because
the Palestinians, and the Arab world generally, would have rejected Jewish
statehood in any form.
As for the Camp David offer, Palestinians argue that it would have left them
with a series of non-contiguous cantons, not a real state. Yet a few months
after Camp David, Palestinians rejected the offer of a contiguous West Bank
under the Clinton Proposal and at Taba.
The reason for that Palestinian rejection was, and remains, their refusal
to waive the demand for refugee return to pre-67 Israel – that is, to accept the
Israeli offer to cede the results of the 1967 war in exchange for a Palestinian
acceptance of the results of the 1948 war.
The end result of each Palestinian rejection was that history moved on, and the
map of potential Palestine that remained to be negotiated invariably shrank.
Under the Peel Commission, the Palestinians would have received 80%
of the territory between the river and the sea; under the 1947 UN partition
plan, 45%; under Camp David, around 20%.
And now, thanks to the latest Palestinian miscalculation, the fence is
establishing a new border, in which a future Palestine will lose at least 10% of
the West Bank, including east Jerusalem – all territories it could have possessed
had the Palestinian leadership negotiated in good faith.
ONLY A people convinced it can do no wrong because all right is on its side
can fail to ask itself why it repeatedly brings disaster on itself.
Where are the anguished Palestinian voices demanding an accounting
from their leadership for the self-imposed wound of the fence? Where is the
debate about whether four years of suicide bombings were a wise response to
the Israeli offer of Palestinian statehood – let alone a debate about the moral
and spiritual consequences of turning Palestinian Islam into a satanic cult?
During the first intifada, Israeli society underwent a profound, and necessary,
For the first time, non-leftist Israelis conceded that the Palestinians have
a grievance and a case, and that, by not offering the Palestinians any option
besides continued occupation, we shared at least partial responsibility for the
The result was that a majority of Israelis came to see the conflict as a
struggle between two legitimate national movements, and that partition wasn’t
only politically necessary but morally compelling.
Rather than undergoing a similar process, though, Palestinian society has
regressed even further into a culture of denial that rejects the most minimal
truths of Jewish history and Jewish rights to this land.
This intifada should have been the Palestinians’ moment of self-confrontation.
Yet Palestinians still refuse to take the most minimal responsibility for their
share of the disaster.
In almost every political conversation I’ve had with Palestinians who aren’t
political leaders, I’ve heard a variation of the following: “You and me, we’re
little people. We could make peace, but the ‘big ones’ on both sides don’t want
it. The leaders only care about their seats.”
I used to be charmed by those words, imagining they contained hope for
reconciliation. In fact, they explain why reconciliation eludes us. By passing the
blame to others, Palestinians absolve themselves of responsibility for change,
incapable of challenging those who speak in their name.
If Palestinians continue to replace self-examination with self-pity, it’s because
their avoidance mechanisms are reinforced by the international community,
whose sympathy for Palestinian suffering becomes support for Palestinian
I had hoped that the fence would force the Palestinians to finally face some
painful truths about the conflict. The fence, after all, confronts Palestinians with
a constant, tangible reminder of the consequences of rejectionism. It marks the
literal limits of the politics of terror.
Yet in choosing to judge Israel rather than the Palestinian leadership, the
International Court legitimizes Palestinian self-pity and sabotages the possibility
of change. That is a disaster for the moral health of Palestinian society, and for
the possibility of reconciliation in the Middle East.