Why doesn’t it surprise me that a senior editor for The New Republic has written a piece defending Israel’s incursions into Palestinian territory under the common rubric shared among Israel’s unconditional supporters that Palestinian terror does not arise from Israel’s treatment of Palestinians? They accuse their opponents of wishful thinking and oversimplification, but they’re doing exactly the same thing on the opposite side.
The common argument is that Palestinians simply hate the Israelis, and thus Israel has to crush them rather than working with them because the Palestinians engaging in terrorism aren’t going to change. To a certain extent, this analysis is spot on. There’s a substantial number of Palestinians who don’t want peace with Israel at all, they want Israel to disappear. Israel, on its own, will never be able to justify its existence to these people. However, this doesn’t leave us with any plausible exit strategy. Israel will never be able to round them all up, nor will it ever be able to disarm all of them. Sure, Israel can cause the frequency of terrorist attacks to fluctuate, but I’d like to think that we can hope for better than that.
What this analysis ignores is the social infrastructure that supports terrorism. Hamas and Islamic Jihad benefit greatly from the fact that there’s a large percentage of Palestinians that tacitly or actively support them, but who would be just as willing to live in peace (if not friendship) with Israel if there were something to gain by doing so. The fact that they undergo daily humiliations at the hands of Israelis (even if those humiliations are brought on by Palestinian terrorism) and the fact that they have no recourse under the law against mistreatment by Israel radicalizes the larger population and generally makes the occupied territories an ecosystem in which radical groups can prosper.
As long as Israel causes suffering for all of the Palestinians in the West Bank, or at least a huge chunk of them, they’re never going to see the more widespread support for radical groups erode. Israel’s goal should be to engineer a situation in which these radical groups are marginalized to the largest degree possible. For example, if Israel were to pull out the settlers and cut loose the occupied territories, the onus would truly be upon the Palestinians to rein in terrorists. Then the choice for the Palestinian leadership would be simple — enforce the laws and crack down on terror, or go to war with Israel. That’s a system of incentives and penalties that I think even the most jaded Palestinian could respect.