a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Palestinian opinions, Israeli settlements: neither help

Posted by Thomas Nephew on February 2nd, 2002

On Tuesday, I briefly noted some of the results of a survey by a Palestinian polling group. Gary Farber (“Amygdala”) picked up on that; yesterday, he wrote in far more detail about that survey than I did. He broke up his comments in to three parts; have a look. Farber itemizes findings like these:


  • An overwhelming majority, ranging between 91%-98%, views all Israeli violent acts against Palestinians as acts of terror.
  • An overwhelming majority, ranging between 81%-87%, does not view Palestinian violent acts against Israelis as acts of terrorism.
  • While 94% would view as an act of terrorism a future use by Israel of chemical and biological weapons against Palestinians, only 26% would view the same act as terrorism if carried out by Palestinians against Israelis.

Now, the final item above is just ugly; the 74% of Palestinians who accord themselves the unbridled right to use heinous weapons are evidence of a population in a vicious frame of mind. Many of the other poll findings are equally unsettling; yet settlements, checkpoints, and all the rest of the real grievances of occupied Palestinian (or, if you prefer, occupied Jordanian) life can not be excuses for contemplating chemical attacks, or for carrying out suicide bombings and other mass attacks on civilian targets.

But as Farber points out, polls like these are snapshots; I would add that this one is a wartime snapshot. Americans themselves are in the grip of wartime thinking; “and rightly so,” we think and I agree. But not so long ago, we weren’t; we now contemplate wars (plural) each of which Americans would have rejected out of hand prior to September 11. Similarly, not so long ago, Palestinian polling numbers looked very different, too; indeed, this point is developed within the polling director’s article in Foreign Affairs which I also mentioned on Tuesday. Substantial majorities supported the peace process, radical Islamist groups were much less popular; in July, 2000 the level of support for violence was around half of the roughly 60% figure it would be one year later.

What has changed is that an an Oslo peace accord was derailed by Palestinian radicals — but also by Israeli ones. Remember the 1994 Hebron mosque massacre? At least 39 people died in a hail of bullets — and the perpetrator’s grave has been turned into a shrine by radical Israelis. Remember who killed Rabin? But mainly, remember that since the 1993 Oslo accord, over 20,000 housing units — over half financed with public funds — were started in the occupied areas.* A self-respecting, patriotic Palestinian would be about as fed up with Israel now as many Americans are about Al Qaeda, and that can make for a lot of ugly opinions, especially if you’re losing. And so an uprising began, one that is morphing into a war before our eyes. The Palestininan Authority fans the flames with its school curricula, its media and information policy, and its attitude towards violence — whether that attitude amounts to “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” or direct support for weapons shipments, bombings, riots, and the rest of it. I believe that Arafat and the Palestinians made a dreadful miscalculation in turning down the Barak proposals at the 2000 Camp David summit. But Israel has arguably pursued a miscalculated, two-faced strategy of its own since Oslo as well, a strategy that even Barak shared in.

I don’t for a second hold with suicide bombings of civilian targets. That, more than anything else, is why I have been closing my eyes to the settlements issue; the people who do such things are not seeking real negotiations, in my view. If Israel dismantled every settlement and retreated to pre-1967 borders, such people would continue their war; to them, Israel itself is the provocation, not the settlements. Such people must be defeated no matter what; at the end of the day, Israel’s right to defend its citizens against such criminality is paramount and undeniable, by any means necessary.

But in the long run, and in fact even in the middle and short run, Israel’s right to occupy Palestinian(/Jordanian) land and provoke, humiliate, and sometimes abuse its inhabitants is not paramount and is eminently deniable**. I should think even the most fiery “warbloggers” over here (in fact, especially the most fiery ones) might well find themselves ardent Palestinian nationalists if they were to walk a mile in Palestinian shoes, and would find themselves sorely tempted to split hairs, set aside scruples, and lie, cheat, steal and kill generally in the fight against their enemies.

Under the current circumstances, a unilateral Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories may be the best outcome we can realistically hope for. But that outcome will be fought tooth and nail by many settlers, a sizeable number of whom have come to view their settlements as part of God’s plan, more than some return to their literal ancestors’ homeland. That can’t be good enough for the rest of us; any old Tom, Menachem, or Mohammed can come along claiming he’s doing Yahweh’s, the Lord’s, or Allah’s will. Americans owe it to themselves and their Israeli friends to resume urging Israel to cease settlement construction, and ultimately to find a way to end the occupation. That doesn’t amount to “letting the terrorists win”; it amounts to being honest with ourselves and our friends.

*The Oslo accord took no specific position on the settlements issue. The chief ongoing argument against the settlements is that they violate the Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention stating that “The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies.” Israel’s supporters argue that the settlements are not illegal under international law. But the very double-edged argument is that Jews and Israelis have a “right of return” to the lands they were expelled from after 1948; this very assertion by Palestinians to land within Israel’s pre-1967 borders that they were just as arguably expelled from after 1948 is considered the deal-killer sine qua non by many Israel supporters. The legalities of the matter may be in dispute; but the Israeli position seems intransigent, and based on the calculation that the settlements can be defended by force, just as Israel’s pre-1967 borders can be defended by force. That’s no better a basis for negotiations than the Palestinian one many Israelis suspect, bent on pushing Israel back into the sea.

**Even by soldiers in its own army, it seems: the New York Times reports “Reservists Balk at Occupation, Roiling Israel“.

Update: Jim Henley and Charles Johnson respond (+/- favorably, +/- skeptically). Read their comments for yourself, of course; summarizing, Henley points out that the Barak proposal wasn’t all that great, and left settlements in place. Johnson points out that there will still be lots of Arab troublemakers egging Palestinians on to continue the fight, even if Israel withdraws. I join in a discussion of Johnson’s post.

One Response to “Palestinian opinions, Israeli settlements: neither help”

  1. » Blog Archive » The State Palestinians Are In Says:

    […] that complements the pieces I’ve posted about Palestinian polling data, politics, and the settlement issue below, and which I mentioned in an ensuing discussion on Charles Johnson’s “little […]

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