Analysis from Israel

Last week, I wrote about a Palestinian author who refused to participate in a panel discussion with an Israeli at a French literary conference. But it turns out this wasn’t the author’s private initiative: Boycotting all Israelis, even those most opposed to the Netanyahu government, is now official Palestinian Authority policy – even as the PA tells the world its problem isn’t with Israel, but only with Benjamin Netanyahu’s “right-wing” policies.

The new policy was announced this weekend by Hatem Abdel Kader, a senior official in PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party. “We will try to thwart any Palestinian-Israeli meeting,” he said. “In Fatah we have officially decided to ban such gatherings.” And it’s already being implemented in practice, as The Jerusalem Post reported: Organized mobs of Palestinian protesters recently forced the cancellation of two Israeli-Palestinian conferences sponsored by a civil-society group. And Sari Nusseibeh, who was supposed to speak at one, didn’t even show up due to threats from the anti-normalization thugs.

I can’t dispute Abdel Kader’s assertion that most such conferences are a waste of time, because participants usually represent neither the Israeli nor the Palestinian mainstream. But that’s a far cry from banning them – especially if the PA were being truthful when it claims its only problem is the Netanyahu government. After all, the Israelis who attend such conferences are generally Netanyahu’s most vociferous critics, and vocal advocates of greater Israeli concessions to the Palestinians. If the PA isn’t even willing to countenance dialogue with them, which Israelis would it be willing to talk to?

Moreover, how is such a boycott supposed to persuade mainstream Israelis to favor the concessions the PA claims to want? Granted, Israeli activists’ enthusiastic reports of Palestinian “moderation” at such meetings have thus far had little impact; to most Israelis, Palestinian actions – from the rampant terror that followed Israeli withdrawals in the West Bank and Gaza to the PA’s serial rejection of statehood offers – speak louder than words. But is a refusal to talk to any Israeli at all a more convincing demonstration of Palestinian moderation?

Finally, the official reason given for the ban is bizarre: Fatah reportedly “fears that the Israeli government would exploit such meetings to tell the world that there is some kind of dialogue going on between Israelis and Palestinians and that the only problem is with the PA leadership, which is refusing to return to the negotiating table.” Given that the entire world has publicly blamed Israel for the impasse, why would Fatah fear any such thing?

One can only conclude that Fatah, unlike the rest of the world, knows the truth: The PA is the one that has steadfastly refused to negotiate, first imposing new conditions like a settlement freeze and then refusing to talk even if Israel accedes, as it did by declaring an unprecedented 10-month construction moratorium. And Fatah is desperately afraid Westerners will finally catch on.

So far, they haven’t. But they should. Because a Palestinian government that bans dialogue even with Israel’s far left is patently unready to make peace with Israel.

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Your ‘Historical Detail,’ Our Real Life

A review of a comedy of manners set in England in the 1920s wouldn’t seem the obvious place to look to understand why the average Westerner really has no business trying to tell Israelis how to run their country. But two sentences in this New York Times book review encapsulate the problem perfectly: “Historical details, which abound, are often fascinating. (Who knew that beards interfere with gas masks?)”

I’m sure most New York Times readers don’t know that. But virtually every adult Israeli does, other than a few recent immigrants. That’s because almost every adult Israeli either has a gas mask or did at one time (mine still lives in my closet), and many of us have actually worn them. They were distributed nationwide before the 1991 Gulf War, out of fear that Saddam Hussein would put chemical warheads on the missiles he launched at Israel during the war. Israel, incidentally, was one of only two countries Saddam launched missiles at, even though it wasn’t one of the 39 countries actually waging war on Iraq at the time.

Since then, Israel has run several nationwide campaigns to get people to exchange their old gas masks for new ones. That gas masks have an expiration date is another fascinating “historical” detail most Westerners probably don’t know (the campaigns ended a few years ago, after the implosion of both Iraq and Syria reduced the risk of a chemical attack). Israel also passed a law requiring every new house to include a bomb shelter capable of doubling as a sealed room, since ordinary bomb shelters offer no protection against chemical attacks (yet another little-known “historical” detail). That’s one of many factors contributing to the country’s sky-high housing costs, but not one Israelis complain about. In-house bomb shelters are even more necessary today, given the thousands of rockets launched at Israel by both Hezbollah and Hamas over the last 10 to 15 years.

Even Israelis who were children in 1991 undoubtedly remember being woken by sirens in the middle of the night, rushing to makeshift sealed rooms (heavy-duty plastic wrap, tape and damp towels), putting on their masks and sitting for hours waiting for the all-clear. The adults also remember being unable to fall asleep at night while awaiting that siren. The chronic sleep deprivation experienced by people under missile bombardment is another little-known historical detail (somehow, it never seems to interest human rights organizations as much as the sleep deprivation of captured terrorists during interrogations).

As for beards, this being Israel, a public battle raged for months in 1990-91 over whether Haredi men, who normally don’t shave for religious reasons, should be given special, more expensive masks that can accommodate beards, or whether they could reasonably be expected to shave, given that in Jewish law, saving a life trumps most other religious precepts. There was even a high-profile court case by a secular bearded man charging discrimination because Haredim got the special masks while he did not (he won).

Of course, there’s no reason why reviewer Susan Coll or any other Westerner should know any of these “historical details.” Thankfully, no Western country has faced the threat of bombardment with chemical warheads, or even conventional rockets, in more than 70 years. The problem is that so many Westerners who share her ignorance feel fully qualified to tell Israel what it should do, despite not knowing the most basic facts about the security challenges it faces.

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