The Palestinian Gambit
The Palestinians are at war. But their war is not only against Israel. The two most prominent Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, continue to battle on the streets of Gaza and the West Bank.
But the war does not end there. There is also a war for the soul of the Palestinian people, notes the prolific Hebrew University Prof. Raphael Israeli, in his newest book, Palestinians Between Nationalism and Islam.
Unfortunately, the Islamists are winning. They are exhorted to violence by the bulk of the Muslim world, which is steeped in the muck of radical Islam and the ossified ideas of authoritarian rule.
Only very slowly have moderates emerged from the shadows in Tunisia, Qatar, Iran and elsewhere to challenge this culture of violence. In some cases, these moderates are imprisoned for their courage. The courage of outspoken Palestinians, such as Nabil Amr, can result in life-threatening injury (he was shot by gunmen in Ramallah in 2004), or even death (many Palestinians have been summarily killed on charges of “collaboration”).
The result is that the violence continues. “Islamikaze” violence, as Israeli terms it, is a virus that spreads quickly throughout the Muslim world. However, criticism is slowly seeping in, and challenging a system of ideas that the West hopes is doomed to fail.
Drawing from previously published essays, Israeli’s book explores the dueling rhetoric between Hamas and Fatah leaders in the Palestinian territories. Even before the collapse of the Oslo peace process, the language of Islamism had become a tool to garner support on the Palestinian street. Indeed, Yasser Arafat found that even while he negotiated peace with Israel, he needed to wield the vitriolic language of his Islamist foes as a means to maintain legitimacy in a violent culture, thus blurring the line between state and religion in the still-forming Palestinian identity. Even Palestinian women have wielded this rhetoric in their bid to play a role in the “liberation of Palestine.”
The author, a noted expert on the disaffected yet demographically significant Arab Israelis, observes that this population of some one million is undergoing a similar process. Their citizenship in the Jewish state makes their struggle even more complex.
Israeli explores several ways in which the Palestinians have failed to advance toward statehood, and still other roads this embattled people may yet take.
Notably, he states that “exactly as there are many Arab settlements within Israel proper, there is no reason that Jewish settlements cannot exist within the densely populated Arab areas.” Such compromises will not be made, however, so long as the intransigent language of Islamism dominates the public square.
The writer, a former US Treasury intelligence analyst, is director of policy for the Jewish Policy Center and author of the forthcoming book Hamas vs Fatah: The Struggle for Palestine (Palgrave, November 2008).