In a keynote speech last month to the American Task Force on Palestine, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice sounded very unlike President Bush on the Middle East, lavishing praise on Palestinians and implicitly attacking Israel.
While the words she chose have invited criticism, much more concerning is that the top U.S. diplomat has the same fundamental misunderstanding of the Middle East that most do, namely that Palestinians are ready to coexist peacefully next to a Jewish state. This conventional diplomatic wisdom, however, ignores the history of the region since the Oslo accords in 1993: The once largely secular Palestinian society has become increasingly Islamic—and deeply radicalized.
Comparing the Palestinian cause to her own civil rights struggle growing up in “segregated Birmingham, Alabama,” Rice reminded the activist audience that if she could overcome such tremendous odds to become Secretary of State, Palestinians could achieve their dream of statehood. She based this belief on “the commitment of the Palestinian people to a better future.”
Where does President Bush’s most loyal and trusted aide find evidence of this “commitment”? She offered none in her speech. Even if she had wanted to, though, such proof is in short supply. Poll after poll has indicated majority Palestinian support for suicide bombings. Even the term used for bombers, “shahids,” is one of glorification, the equivalent of calling someone a saint. And whereas children across the world have posters in their room of sports stars or famous artists, Palestinian youths decorate their living space with posters celebrating “shahids.”
In view of the radicalization of Palestinian society, the election this year of Hamas seems far less a vote against corruption—as the State Department explained it—and far more a statement of principle. Yet Rice not only defended the election of Hamas but characterized it as an opportunity since “the Palestinian people and the international community can hold Hamas accountable. And Hamas now faces a hard choice that it has always sought to avoid: Either you are a peaceful political party, or a violent terrorist group—but you cannot be both.”But what about the very real possibility, or even likelihood, that the Palestinian people elected Hamas precisely because it’s a “violent terrorist group”? One thing Palestinians are not is stupid. Is it even possible that Palestinians didn’t understand that they were electing a “violent terrorist group” with the stated goal of eliminating the Jewish state?
Then again, the only other viable option on the ballot, Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party, has actually been responsible for killing almost as many Israelis as Hamas. Fatah was the preferred party of the U.S. and Israel, though, because its leader at least was willing to continue “talking” with the Jewish state. So the main difference separating the parties was whether to focus solely on killing Jews, or to do so while also negotiating with them. Immoral clarity won.
Palestinian society was Islamicized by none than famously secular Yasser Arafat. Once he was given the reins following the 1993 Oslo accords, Arafat instituted an aggressive program of Islamic indoctrination, primarily through the schools and the media. Palestinian Authority-run schools placed far greater emphasis on Islam than ever before, and every Friday PA television still broadcasts sermons of fiery and bitterly anti-Semitic imams.
The indoctrination worked. In a March 2005 poll by the Palestinian Center for Research and Cultural Dialogue, almost 70% of Palestinians expressed preference for living under Islamic law. And a 2003 poll by Birzeit University revealed that nearly 80% support the notion of punishing a thief by amputating his hand.
Most observers, including many in the Israeli establishment, refuse to acknowledge the increasing Islamic nature of Palestinian society in large part because they cannot believe that a secular Arab nationalist could have implemented Islamic indoctrination. But Arafat did so out of necessity. The original Palestinian Liberation Organization terrorists had an inherent limitation, as the prospect of their own deaths was a deterrent. Arafat thus turned to Islam, which enabled him to breed a new generation of terrorists, who were far more effective than their wiser and better-trained predecessors for one simple reason: Not only were they not afraid to die, but they actually desired death.
Rice was right on at least one count: Palestinians “have suffered too long.” It is sadly simplistic, however, to lay blame squarely on Israel, as she implicitly did. The “daily humiliation of occupation” referenced by Rice is something most Israelis were ready to end through the creation of a Palestinian state. It has been unrelenting terrorism that has made that impossible.
And with the Islamic indoctrination that continues largely unabated, the sad reality is that Palestinians are likely to move further and further away from accepting peaceful coexistence with the Jewish state.