[As part of the Herzilya conference, I will post either the papers of those who give me permission or the abstracts we have received here, then link their presentations. I hope to be able to post the audio of each session as a podcast in the coming week. This is the first of the papers. This paper was delivered at the heavily criticized panel on Paradigm Shifts.]
Text of Paper Read at the Conference: The Media as Theater of War, the Blogosphere, and the Global Battle for Civil Society, IDC Herzliya, Monday, 18.12.06
At last January’s Herzliya Conference, Prof. Paul Bracken of Yale, stated that the objective of the systems analyst was to identify a range of outcomes for a given situation. In this spirit, I would like to point out a new and highly interesting addition to the range of potential outcomes of the present conflict. There are some signs of a readiness, both in Israel and abroad, to place the responsibility on the Palestinian side for the continuation of the war against Israel. The evolution of this paradigm shift must be monitored, because it may present new advantages to Israel.
Because the facts are not conclusive, I must present my observations with due caution. Nevertheless, it is still possible to identify certain tendencies which may result in a major change of widely held perceptions concerning the Palestinians, their claims against Israel, and the widely accepted proposition that world justice depends on the satisfaction of their absolute demands. In short, their standing and prospects for the future may be declining.
If one views the subject in historical perspective, it becomes clear that a change has taken place. What a change has taken place since the early nineties when American academics predicted that there would be a “Palestinian Exception!” They optimistically speculated that the PA would be the first real Arab democracy and it would have a vibrant civil society [Martin Kramer, Ivory Towers on Sand (Washington, 2001), 70-76; editor's note: a reference to the work of people like John Esposito and Augustus Richard Norton]. Since then, they are bogged down in corruption, lawlessness, and civil war. One could say that their image is returning to what it once was in the seventies – that of an outlaw terrorist group. They are no longer considered to be a potential peace partner, and their cause has lost the glow of historical inevitability. The clock has struck midnight for the Palestinian Cinderella, and her coach is turning back into a pumpkin.
There are several reasons why this happened. The first is the shakeout following the Mearsheimer and Walt Report, the Baker-Hamilton Report, and Jimmy Carter’s new book. The intention of these individuals has been to discredit Israel, its advocates in America, and destroy the special relationship between Israel and the United States, a vital relationship of strategic importance. These challenges also threaten the status of American Jewry. If such views prevail, American Jewry will be forced back into the status of second class citizens, as was the case before the Second World War. Feeling threatened, American Jewish thinkers have joined this battle and are fighting vigorously. In order to win, they have to discredit the authors of these reports hard and make the Palestinians look bad. If one reads their arguments, it is clear that the gloves are off. They are bringing up historical arguments – the kind that the well-meaning friends of the Palestinians have tried to suppress. They are targeting the Palestinian cause frontally and advancing Jewish claims dating from Biblical times and recalling the British Mandate.
In a related development, Prime Minister Olmert has spoken with world leaders abroad and attacked Iran verbally because of its genocidal intentions combined with a nuclear program, state-sponsored antisemitism, and Holocaust denial. These efforts to draw attention on Iran have raised the long-ignored issue of state-sponsored Arab antisemitism, and, indirectly, have raised other serious questions. What makes the Palestinians different from the Iranians? Why should Mahmoud Abbas, an unrepentant Holocaust denier, enjoy respectability? And what about the well-documented stream of antisemitic incitement which the PA officially sponsors and broadcasts?
Further, one of the after effects of the second war in Lebanon has been a gradual shift of perception in the ranks of Israel’s political class. A consensus has silently emerged that Oslo failed and that the proposition, “land for peace,” is wrong. This has resulted in a reexamination of the articles of faith which, for more than a decade determined official Israel’s view of its place in the world. For example, Chairman of the Knesset, Dalia Itzik, articulately revealed her discomfort an interview with Ma’ariv (1 October 2006) when she declared: “All these years, I thought that all that keeps us apart from them [the Arabs] was territory. If we returned the territories, there would be peace. This equation ended. What reason do they have to continue to fire [on us]? And we left from Lebanon. Where does all this hatred come from?”
Similarly, Deputy Defense Minister, Ephraim Sneh in a debate at the Knesset on the subject of civilian casualties at Beth Hanoun told the Arab MKs that “There is a cultural gap between us….” (ynet, 13 November 2006). And at the beginning of December, Major General Uzi Dayan told a small group at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs that the Oslo accords did not benefit Israel and that the PA cannot deliver the goods.
On the level of international affairs, there appears to be an incipient awareness that the Palestinian Authority will not be a partner in a peace settlement with the State of Israel. In fact, Prime Minister Tony Blair stated at a White House press Conference of December 7, 2006 that “The major difficulty is that the Palestinians don’t accept Israel’s right to exist.” (Jerusalem Post, 8 December 2006). This public acknowledgment of the Palestinians’ real intentions represents a change of perception which is immensely important, because Prime Minister Blair directed the world’s attention to the fact that it is the Palestinians who are unprepared for a political settlement based on compromise. According to Yehoshefat Harkabi, who wrote in the seventies, the “adherence to politicide is the Arab’s main ideological weakness.” [ASIR, p. 106]. Here is their point of greatest vulnerability.
There are some indications that a new more realistic perception of what the Palestinians stand for may replace the rosy image which their indulgent and well-meaning friends have conferred upon them. The time has come for the world to learn about their reality of unfulfilled expectations, violence, corruption, and intimidation. This change of perception could take place suddenly or as a result of a gradual process of erosion, but there is a clear need for a catalyst. In order to win the media war against the Palestinians, it will be necessary to expose their true intentions, shift the discussion to their genocidal aspirations, draw attention to their sick society, and place the burden of proof on them.
What I have described are the first signs of a new opportunity. Israel and its advocates should make the most of it.
Dr. Joel Fishman is a Fellow of the Jerusalem Center of Public Affairs.
Literature by Dr. Fishman: “Israel’s Information Policy and the Challenge of of Ideological Warfare,” Nativ Vol. 15, no 6 (November 2002): 58-64. (in Hebrew); “Information Policy and National Identity: Israel’s Ideological WarA,” Ariel Center for Policy Research Paper No. 142 (January 2003).; “Ten Years Since Oslo: The PLO’s ‘People’s War’ Strategy and Israel ‘s Inadequate Response,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Jerusalem Viewpoints No. 503, 1 September 2003. “The Cold-War Origins of Contemporary Anti-Semitic Terminology,” Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, Jerusalem Viewpoints No. 517, 2-16 May 2004. La Guerre d’Oslo (with co-author Prof. Ephraim Karsh), Paris: Editions de Passy, 2005.