TEL-AVIV – “I have all the money I need for the rest of my life—as long as I die tonight!” exclaimed the 25-year-old Israeli man, the humor of the “joke” lost on this American columnist.
Morbid death-related jokes have long been common in Israel, and many Israelis believe that the number being told at any given time can serve as a rough barometer for the mood of the Israeli people. If true, the Israeli people have finally ditched the attitudes that made possible the Oslo Accords a decade ago.
Talking to Israelis in both Tel Aviv and Jerusalem—places as different culturally and politically as California and Alabama—these past two weeks, one theme is increasingly clear: “we will not give in to terrorism.” Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon may be attempting to follow the “roadmap,” but his constituents seem fiercely unwilling to make the concessions they readily offered in the past.
Contrary to reports about a “cease fire” (which has since been called off), Palestinian terrorists have hardly relented: Hizbollah killed a 16-year-old boy walking near the Lebanese border three weeks ago, Hamas murdered 23 and wounded more than 100 in a Jerusalem bus bombing two weeks ago, and less than a week ago, Yasser Arafat’s “mainstream” Fatah pumped 25 bullets into the car of a young man and his seven-month-pregnant wife. (The mother and child miraculously survived).
If anything, the continued bloodshed has strengthened the resolve of the Israeli people to reject so-called “peace initiatives.” The feeling is certainly stronger than three months ago, when the general sentiment was one of ambivalence mixed with pessimism.
But it’s not as if Israelis are antagonistic to the plight of the Palestinian people. One cab driver, a man likely in his mid-30’s, asked, “What about the Palestinians? Don’t they deserve a state of their own?” This from someone who, moments earlier, was expressing fierce opposition to any negotiations with terrorist groups like Hamas and Islamic Jihad—and, as he saw it, the Palestinian Authority. Talking with him seemed to verify a semi-sarcastic comment made to me by an Israeli academic last week: “All the smartest people are driving cabs.”
With all the attention on Arafat as well as on Hamas and Islamic Jihad leaders who have fallen victim to Israel’s recently restarted policy of targeted killings, the Palestinian people have been lost in the mix. Used as political pawns by the rest of the Arab world for the past half-century, Palestinians live in a land dominated by thugs and terrorists and are surrounded by “refugee camps” that could have been replaced with real housing long ago if Arafat had not focused his efforts on diverting billions to his numbered bank accounts.
Much like the cab driver, the majority of Israelis in the shopping centers and cafes are sympathetic to the desire of Palestinians to have their own “normal life.” As one Israeli, who works with many leading government officials, noted, “We need to stop thinking in terms of punishing the Palestinian people and focus instead on punishing the leaders who (commit or allow) terrorism.”
The question of a Palestinian state is a vexing one, even in the best of circumstances. But if fundamental reform does not materialize, it is easy: a Palestinian state would be a terrorist state poised to emulate the Taliban’s Afghanistan.
The post-Oslo generation of Palestinians has been indoctrinated into Arafat’s culture of death—and deprived of marketable business skills normally taught in schools—positioning them for little else than a life of killing innocent Israelis.
It is a fundamental problem, one that the current leadership seems unlikely to solve. The so-called “moderate” Prime Minister, Mahmoud Abbas, does not seem to believe that killing innocent Israelis is wrong. His stated reason for opposing suicide bombings is that they are “counterproductive.” But stopping new attacks is akin to taking two pills of aspirin after breaking your leg.
Under Arafat’s leadership, terrorists are given free reign and new terrorists are churned out faster than Hamas and Islamic Jihad can absorb them. Until the swamp is completely drained—something the “roadmap” does not mandate—Palestinian society will remain a permanent incubator for terrorism.
Israelis and Palestinians no doubt want peace, but the “roadmap” does not lead there.