Did you hear about the two policemen who stopped to help a driver stuck with a flat--and were shot to death in the head at point-blank range?
Did you know about the 120-kilogram bomb planted in a parking lot adjacent to a shopping mall where thousands of people were milling about the stores, restaurants, and movie theaters?
No, of course, you didn't. These are just two everyday incidents of the ordeal confronted by people in Israel while the world and the political leaders look away. Outrages like these do not make it into the Western media, which exhibit the familiar phenomenon of monitoring only the conflicts that are the flavor of the month. And when they do turn to Israel, sporadically, it is with the excitement of thinking they can expose Israeli wrongdoing: the New York Times just drummed up a front-page story alleging the deliberate murder of innocent civilians by Israeli soldiers during the Gaza war, a poorly investigated report that turned out to be yet another urban myth and then was shamefully corrected by the Times only on the inside pages and only by blaming Israel for the false report. (Remember another urban myth alleging thousands of citizens massacred in the battle against terrorism in Jenin in 2002 when it turned out no more than 54 died, most of them combatants?)
Ordinary Israelis despair of the cruel bias. The policemen died because Israel eased restrictions on movement in the Nablus area of the West Bank. Hundreds survived in the attack on the mall near Haifa only because a woman reported hearing an explosion. Security found it was a detonator that expired without setting off a car bomb that would have lacerated the crowds with sharp metal and ball bearings.
The willingness to give a free pass to terrorism was, of course, manifest most luridly in the Gaza war. Hamas fired thousands of rockets with the short-term aim of murdering as many innocent civilians as possible in the service of the longer-term ambition to terrorize Israel.
Then, when Israel finally responded (with military restraint and humanitarian aid), it was faced with world demands for an unconditional cease-fire. Ironically, the fiercest criticism in the Arab world about Israel's conduct in Gaza stems from Israel's failure to achieve a decisive victory, for the Arab world rightly perceives not Israel but Hamas as a threat: It knows full well that Hamas is a fifth column for Iranian influence.
Once the cease-fire was achieved, the world lost interest in Israel. Except that now, in a fit of selectively lethal amnesia, it is on the verge of providing the selfsame murderous Hamas with a huge influx of funding that will rebuild the authority of a terrorist organization dedicated to killing Jews.
The tragedy for the Palestinians as much as the Israelis is that they do not have leadership strong enough to make peace. Hamas wants perpetual war: No one can doubt that it aims not to have a two-state solution but to have a "no state" solution--that is, to have the State of Israel stop existing. For its part, "moderate" Fatah is hopelessly corrupt and weak and seemingly incapable of reform or of enforcing law and order on its people. That is why an Israeli-Palestinian peace remains a dream today and why what Israel can offer the Palestinians is less than what any Palestinian politician is willing or able to attempt.
Even the language of peace is eroding. The Palestinians say they support two states for two peoples but refrain from saying that one of those is the Jewish people. Most recently, a major Palestine Liberation Organization figure, Mohammed Dahlan, asserted that the Fatah movement hasn't even recognized Israel thus far and that the Palestinian Authority's apparent "recognition" of Israel is to make the PA "acceptable" to the international community, in order to bring in international aid. Who can trust that?
There is justification for the widespread Israeli concern that if a Palestinian state were established, power in Gaza, and then in the West Bank, would soon fall into the hands of Hamas. After all, Hamas won 44 percent of the vote and the mayoralty in several major cities in the last West Bank election. Another unreported fact that reflects on what would happen if Hamas won: The most credible of the Palestinian-run news operations, the Ma'an News Agency, has posted three listings involving a total of 181 persons--all Fatah people--shot by Hamas in Gaza since December 2008.
The Fatah party is facing an election within a year, which may well be won by Hamas. If the Iranian-supported Hamas ultimately succeeds in its 20-year effort to be the principal voice of Palestinian nationalism, Israel will have a neighbor that truly speaks for Iran's goal of seeing Israel "wiped off the face of the Earth."
In a "unity" government, Hamas would undoubtedly be integrated in the security services, which would end Palestinian-Israeli security cooperation covering the majority of the West Bank cities. Hamas wants Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to stop negotiations with Israel and to embrace the political program that allows for "resistance" -- in other words, violence.
No wonder the Palestinian Reconciliation Conference in Cairo ended in failure. Even the lure of billions of dollars in aid has not brought Fatah Sunnis in Judea and Samaria, i.e., the West Bank, any closer to Shiite supporters of Hamas in Gaza. These are two parallel lines that cannot meet, and this division will persist.
And what of Israeli leadership? Now Israel has Binyamin Netanyhu trying to form a cabinet. The world may be skeptical about the will and political ability of a more conservative Likud government to make historic and dramatic decisions that involve painful concessions to the Palestinians in the interest of a two-state solution, but history suggests otherwise. It was Menachem Begin's Likud government that brought about the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty. It was Yitzhak Shamir's Likud government that began the peace process at the Madrid Conference in October of 1991. Netanyahu's Likud party and its reservations should not be dismissed lightly, for it was Netanyahu who predicted way back in 1994 that handing over territories to Palestinians would lead to the creation of a fundamental Islamic terrorist base adjacent to Israel.
Israel has taken many risks for peace. The response has been rocket fire, terrorism, more incitement, more vilification, more shedding of Israeli blood, and less security, not to mention an ongoing historic campaign to defame, denounce, denigrate, and delegitimize Israel in every international forum.
Contrary to many reports, Netanyahu has asserted that he is not opposed to a two-state solution, provided it does not put at risk the national security of the Jewish state. The key component would be a record of Palestinian determination and ability to fight terrorism and to live in peace with Israel. Like so many experts, Netanyahu feels that the chances of an enforceable, comprehensive arrangement are low to negligible. In the meantime, as a matter of law and order, he intends to oppose illegal settlements, be they in the West Bank or among Bedouins in Sinai. His major priority would be to promote prosperity on the West Bank, creating an incentive for the Palestinians to make a commitment to peace. He notes that Palestinians in the West Bank remained calm during the fighting in Gaza and didn't engage in mass protests.
Therefore, Netanyahu will focus on improving Palestinian life by lifting roadblocks (100 so far) and reducing checkpoints (they have gone down from 50 to 15) and making other improvements on the ground for the Palestinian community. In this he is supported by dovish Israeli President Shimon Peres, who now has doubts about Israel's unilateral withdrawal from Gaza without first having established a peaceful and democratic Palestinian party to which it could hand the territory. That Palestinian party does not yet exist.
A Palestinian state cannot be created by terrorism. It can be created through the reformation of political and economic institutions so that they reflect democracy, market economics, and real actions to confront terrorism. When there is an effective, Palestinian-based security force with counterterrorism capability in the West Bank, the Israelis will then be prepared to withdraw their defense forces and the Shin Bet from operating there. Hence the importance of the U.S. effort, led by Lt. Gen. Keith Dayton, to develop a decent Palestinian security force. The new units have been enforcing order in the cities of Jenin and Hebron, which had been basically lawless. But it is not enough to target car thieves and robbers. The critical counterterrorism ability of the Palestinian security forces is still limited; above all, they must have the will to target terrorist cells and their networks.
Two modest paramilitary forces have been trained to police crime and enforce public order, but not to uproot terror groups. In fact, the PA has increasingly offered safe haven to terror groups. Brig.-Gen. Radhi Assida, the PA National Security Forces (NSF) commander in Jenin, revealed to the Palestinian website Ma'an on January 24, 2009, that PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad's NSF had agreed to provide protection to four senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) terrorists wanted by Israel. Assida also confirmed that PIJ operatives continue to receive monthly salaries from the PA Interior Ministry, just like their colleagues in the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigades.
In the interim, Israel must not wait on events. Israel would be wise (despite the risks) to allow even freer movement in the West Bank; it should help to create more jobs and a better standard of living. Yes, the West must press Israel on these issues, but it must also press the Arab states. They should underwrite the training of PA security forces and invest sensibly in housing and agriculture.
Peace will come only when the Palestinians are liberated from their age-old hatred of Israel and Jews. As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called for many times, there must be teaching, preaching, and celebrating, from childhood on, that hatred, disrespect, violence, terrorism, anti-Semitism, and war against Israelis and Zionists are unacceptable. Today, it is exactly the opposite.
A great Middle East authority, Prof. Bernard Lewis, recently pointed out in Foreign Affairs how easily the West is misled. In contrast to reports in English, he writes, "the discourse in Arabic--in broadcasts, sermons, speeches, and school textbooks--is far less conciliatory, portraying Israel as an illegitimate invader that must be destroyed." Israel cannot make peace with those whose first priority is to blow up Israeli women and children and who deny the nation's right to exist. As Lewis puts it, "There is no compromise position between existence and nonexistence."
The sad but realistic fact is that we are much closer to the establishment of two Palestinian states, one in the West Bank and one in Gaza, than to reaching a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians.