The human face of conflict. war, political threat, Intifada, struggle for the good life, women and their loved ones searching for the "good life" under war. Israel, the Israel Palestinian conflict.
The geographic and political reality of the Middle East does not smile on the Palestinians. The countries that, until the Arab Spring, exerted the most pressure on Israel to negotiate with us have become weak. Some of them are disintegrating and others, in this world of strange bedfellows, consider the Israelis partners in the struggle against their common enemy, Iran.
Our Arab brothers now consider us a nuisance, marginal to their struggle to survive in the face of the threats from the Ayatollahs' increasing nuclear power in Iran and radical Islamists such as ISIS.
We Palestinians do not understand the enormous changes in the region. We do not know how to turn them to our own advantage. Until now, every time the Israelis offered us an attractive proposition, the leaders of the Arab League vetoed it. That happened at Camp David, when Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat unprecedented concessions, including some in Jerusalem. The Arab leaders opposed the deal, mired us in our current misery, and we gained nothing. While the current regional chaos has weakened both the Arab states and the Palestinians, there might also be opportunities for compromise with Israel.
Saudi Arabia has recently revived the Arab initiative of 2002. Such a move means the Arabs are now prepared to allow Palestinians to compromise on painful issues, among them Jerusalem, borders and refugees.
The problem is that we still refuse to relinquish the demand to return all the refugees to the Palestine of 1948 or to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.
Our obstinacy has made the Israelis turn a cold shoulder to the Saudi initiative yet again. Since the Jews unsurprisingly seem unwilling to sign their own death warrants, it is only rational that they refuse to agree to any arrangement that would include the demand of the refugees' "right of return" to Palestine as dangerously overwhelming Israel's demography.
Furthermore, both the Jews and many Palestinians worry that another Hamas or ISIS state will be established in the West Bank. Both already have a "nose under the tent" there and are trying for more.
It was not fair of us to try to have the Israelis suspended from FIFA simply on the grounds that they inspect athletes leaving or entering the Gaza Strip, which is controlled by Hamas. Only recently, Ms. Sanaa Muhammad Hussein Hafi from Nuseirat in the Gaza Strip was caught smuggling funds from the Gaza Strip to the West Bank for Hamas prisoners. In addition, the Palestinian athlete, Sameh Fares from Qalqiliya, was caught carrying money from Qatar to finance Hamas activity there as well.
When ISIS operatives in the Gaza Strip continue to attack Israel with sporadic rocket fire, Hamas does nothing to prevent them. If you look at the current escalation, the conduct of the Palestinian Authority (PA) must seem hypocritical, at best: On the one hand, the PA cooperates with Israel to keep terrorist weapons and funds from abroad out of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip; and on the other, it attempts to have Israel boycotted internationally because Israel has tightened its inspections of athletes for security reasons.
Then the PA accuses Israel of mixing sports with politics, even as the Palestinians mix sports with politics all time, and throw in terrorism. It was the Palestinians who killed 11 Israeli athletes in Munich. Ever since, the PA routinely has organized sporting events to glorify the Palestinian terrorist "heroes" who blew themselves up in suicide bombing attacks, killing hundreds of Israelis.
If we were honest with ourselves, we would realize that while we fuss with boycotts and taking petty jabs at Israel, the Israelis continue to become stronger.
Under our very noses, Israel has become an energy, high-tech, industrial and agricultural power. In our foolishness, we try to inflict minor damage, yap at their heels and annoy them. We delude ourselves into thinking that a boycott and international political extortion will change their positions on any given issue. The boycott only makes them more efficient. They simply find other markets for their goods, such as microchips, scientific innovations, medical devices and pharmaceuticals, most of which the world can no longer do without. They will no doubt win the next battles as they defeated the attempt to suspend them from FIFA.
Most importantly, we have not yet understood that our efforts to harm Israel do not improve our own situation; they make it worse. Our efforts to bring about a boycott only make us look petty, like peevish children who would cut off our noses to spite our faces. We keep trying to hurt them in ways that only hurt us. And we do it while neglecting the most important issue: negotiations for peace, which would actually improve our lives.
Our inability to better our future is fueled by disinformation. We think that because the West hates the Jews, it therefore supports us. We take comfort in minor successes, such as hurting Israel occasionally in the UN and other international institutions, but are we really willing to poke out both our own eyes if we think the Jews will lose just one? Will their pain make us feel better even if we are blind?
For the Israelis, not only does life go on, but also continues to improve. Our current miserable situation is an illustration of the old Arabic proverb: "When the camel falls, he will be set upon with many knives."
During the first and second intifadas, the Palestinian leadership called for a boycott of Israeli products and for Palestinians not to go to work in Israel. The result was that we continued to buy Israeli products on the black market at double the ordinary price; on top of that, tens of thousands of Palestinians, who worked in construction and other fields, followed the PA's instructions and lost their jobs in Israel forever. Since then, some of them have infiltrated back in illegally, and work for half the salary.
It was we who hurt ourselves: When the Israelis found themselves without Palestinian workers, they simply turned to foreign workers, prefabricated construction and other industrial innovations. Thus, we were responsible for tens of thousands of Palestinian families going hungry and staying hungry. That is exactly the kind of catastrophe we Palestinians will visit upon ourselves again if the boycott of goods made in the settlements is successful. Thousands, if not tens of thousands of Palestinians, will find themselves unemployed, hungry, and ripe for radicalizing. We are again carried away by the fantasy that the vengeful West will support us to harm the Jews, but again, it is the Palestinian workers in the settlement factories who will be fired. The Israelis will continue to prosper. They have already found other markets.
The occasional response to the Palestinian call for boycotts is fooling us yet again into thinking that we have backed a winning horse. In reality, there is no basis in fact for our satisfaction: the world will never turn its back on Israeli products and innovations, from flash drives to Waze to cardiac artery-enlarging spirals and the rest of the ingenious inventions that are the fruit of not only Israel within the 1967 boundaries, but of the West Bank settlements as well. We should stop being naïve. The world will never give up its computing, medical, agricultural and start-up products for us.
The only people who will be satisfied with our call for a boycott are the Islamists in Europe. Since geopolitical policies are based on interests, the Arab-Muslim world secretly collaborates with Israel on sensitive security issues, while behind our backs laugh at us and our ineffective boycotts. Israel has trade agreements with Arab countries worth tens of millions of dollars. It pastes fake stickers on its products, the Arab countries know it and do not care; the merchandise is good, they buy it, smile and keep quiet.
By stubbornly adhering to our positions, we are playing into Israel's hands and enabling it to avoid genuine peace negotiations with us -- negotiations that would commit Israel to making concessions and establishing a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
The Israeli prime minister is currently riding a wave of popularity because he has invited Mahmoud Abbas to return to the negotiating table, while the Palestinian leader refuses and, acting out of pettiness and thinking he will hurt Israel, gives Netanyahu what he wants.
Mahmoud Abbas is fully aware that beyond causing minor tactical damage, he has no chance of changing Israel's positions and transparent political maneuvering.
Mahmoud Abbas is afraid to enter the Gaza Strip and afraid of Hamas. As a result of the rumors that Hamas was working privately to reach a ceasefire agreement with Israel, Abbas is now threatening to dissolve the national consensus government.
In March 2015, Abbas's advisor, Mahmoud Habbash, called on the Arabs and Muslims to attack Hamas the way the Saudis and their allies had attacked the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen. In the meantime, senior Hamas official Salah al-Bardawil accused the Palestinian Authority of responsibility for a car bomb targeting the head of Hamas, Ismail Haniyeh.
Let's agree not to try to kill each other...
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (right) shakes hands with Hamas's leader in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh, during negotiations in 2007 for a short-lived unity government. (Image source: Palestinian Press Office)
This is no way to build a Palestinian state. While we twiddle our thumbs, ISIS gains power in the Gaza Strip and fires rockets into Israeli territory. There are now pockets of ISIS operatives in the West Bank as well. As the threat of radical Islam looms large over the Middle East, we continue to dither and tread water, and make impossible demands that reduce to zero the possibility of establishing a Palestinian state at any time in the future, and miss yet another opportunity.
Bassam Tawil is a scholar based in the Middle East.
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