Israel’s election campaign has only just begun, but one key issue is already notable by its absence: peace with the Palestinians. To many Americans—especially American Jews, who overwhelmingly consider this the most important issue facing Israel—the fact that almost none of the candidates are talking about the peace process may seem surprising. But several recent incidents help explain why it’s a very low priority for most Israeli voters.
Not so long ago, of course, the peace process was Israel’s top voting issue, almost its only one. But in a poll published last month, self-identified centrists and rightists both ranked the peace process dead last among six suggested issues of concern. Even self-identified leftists ranked it only third, below corruption and closing socioeconomic gaps.
There are many well-known reasons why Israelis have stopped believing peace is possible anytime soon. They range from the failure of every previous round of negotiations, to Palestinians’ refusal to negotiate at all for most of the last decade, to the fact that every bit of land Israel has so far turned over to the Palestinians—both in Gaza and the West Bank—has become a hotbed of anti-Israel terror. Yet the root cause of all the above receives far too little attention overseas: Israel’s ostensible peace partner, the Palestinian Authority, educates its people to an almost pathological hatred of Israel.
I’ve discussed the way this plays out in Palestinian textbooks and the Palestinian media many times. But nothing better illustrates the problem than three incidents over the past two months.
The most shocking occurred in November when a Palestinian accused of selling real estate to Jews in eastern Jerusalem was denied a Muslim burial by order of the imams of Jerusalem’s Muslim cemetery, religious officials at Al-Aqsa Mosque and Jerusalem’s PA-appointed grand mufti. He was finally buried, with approval from Jerusalem’s chief rabbi, in the non-Jewish section of a Jewish cemetery.
Of course, selling land to Jews is a crime in the PA, for which the maximum penalty is death. Just last month, a Palestinian-American was sentenced to life in prison for it. But in Islam, like in Judaism, proper burial is a religious commandment. Consequently, even the most heinous crime—for instance, killing fellow Muslims—does not preclude someone from burial in a Muslim cemetery, just as Jewish criminals are entitled to Jewish burial.
Thus, PA clerics effectively ruled that a major religious commandment was less important than opposing a Jewish presence in Judaism’s holiest city (to which, not coincidentally, the PA adamantly denies any Jewish connection). Grand Mufti Ekrima Sabri even justified his decision by saying that “whoever sells to the Jews of Jerusalem is not a member of the Muslim nation.” But if PA-appointed clerics claim that selling even a single plot of land to Jews makes one an apostate, how exactly is the PA supposed to sign a peace deal that formally grants the Jews even pre-1967 Israel, which Muslims consider to be no less a part of “historic Palestine” than Jerusalem?
That same month, the PA suspended Hebron’s police chief after social media posts showed him trying to help Israeli soldiers fix a stalled jeep (the original posts said he changed the jeep’s tire, but Palestinian sources denied that, and it’s highly unlikely that none of the soldiers could change a tire). Col. Ahmed Abu al-Rub was just doing his job: The jeep was stalled on a Palestinian road and blocking Palestinian traffic so, as a policeman, it was his duty to try to remove the obstacle and get traffic moving again.
But ordinary human interaction with Israelis, aka “normalization,” is anathema to many Palestinians, including many PA officials. Though the PA will (usually) cooperate with Israel on hunting down Hamas terrorists, since it views Hamas as an existential threat to itself, preventing person-to-person contact with Israelis has been official PA policy for over seven years. So how exactly is Israel to make peace when the PA’s hatred runs so deep that a normal neighborly act like helping Israelis with car trouble—for the sake of unsnarling a Palestinian traffic jam—can endanger a policeman’s job?
Finally, there’s the story of the new mall slated to open in east Jerusalem later this month. The mall, located in an industrial park adjoining several Arab neighborhoods, serves the city’s Palestinian residents in two ways. First, 35 percent of the businesses in it are Arab-owned, and some of the others are Palestinian franchises of Israeli chains, so it’s providing income and jobs to Palestinians. Second, for residents of many Arab neighborhoods, it offers more convenient shopping than malls in Jewish neighborhoods.
In short, it improves both the economy and the quality of life of the city’s Palestinian areas, which the PA claims to want for its future capital. Thus, you might think the PA would welcome it.
Instead, the PA’s ruling Fatah party, led by PA president and ostensible Israeli peace partner Mahmoud Abbas, urged Palestinians to boycott the mall, declaring that “buying, renting or shopping” there is a “betrayal of the homeland.” Why? Because the mall’s owner is Jewish. And boycotting Jews is more important to the PA than promoting the welfare of Palestinian residents of its ostensible future capital.
Peace can be made with people who want peace. But it can’t be made with people who think that working with Jews to improve the Palestinian economy is a “betrayal of the homeland,” that helping Israelis with a stalled vehicle could justify being fired, or that selling land to Jews is a sin so heinous the sinner can no longer be considered Muslim. And as the above incidents show, that’s exactly what the official PA leadership does think.
As long as this is true, prospects for peace will remain nonexistent, and the peace process will remain at the bottom of Israelis’ order of priorities. There are too many issues where government policy really matters for Israelis to waste their votes on something beyond the government’s power to change.
Originally published in Commentary on January 10, 2019