The tragic events that took place on the Israeli-Gaza border in recent weeks were only the latest manifestation of a decades-long pattern: the Palestinians take extreme actions, the Israelis react and the international community and media come down hard on Israel.
The result is always the same: Israel’s image is hurt, but the Palestinians ultimately suffer far more.
How is this so? In the name of standing up for the Palestinians, those who place all the blame for current tensions on Israel – whether diplomats or media – reinforcing the mindset that Palestinians can achieve their goals through violent and extreme action, and without engaging or reconciling with Israel.
Over the years, the Palestinians have employed a series of approaches, all of which have reinforced this way of thinking and which have been too often encouraged by the international community. Examples of this range from engaging in terrorist campaigns, calling for boycotts of Israel, pursuing one-sided anti-Israel UN Resolutions and intervention, and general media grandstanding.
In each case, the Palestinian leadership believed that they were making progress in isolating Israel and opening up a path to its ultimate dissolution and all they had to do was continue on its path to reach its goal.
This, of course, was an illusion. Even if Israeli policies are criticized internationally, the continuing existence of the Jewish state is not in question.
Those in the international community and the media who claim that they are merely supporting the Palestinians as the underdog and victims of injustice ought finally to reexamine their posture and ask themselves, in their unquestioned and knee-jerk condemnations of Israel, whether they are in fact, helping or harming the Palestinians.
The answer should be obvious: they have done as much to hurt the Palestinians as anyone. By taking the posture that they do, they incentivize the Palestinians to continue on the path of illusions that they can achieve their goals without compromise and without engagement with Israel. The Palestinians, in effect, tell themselves, one more boycott, one more UN resolution, one more terrorist attack, one more anti-Israel media story and victory is theirs.
The recent events on the Israel-Gaza border is the latest incarnation of this pattern. Hamas encouraged demonstrators – some peaceful, some armed – into marching and breaching the border fence despite Israel’s warnings that approaching the barrier could not be tolerated. Israel felt it had no choice but to defend the border and the Israeli civilians on the other side of the fence, and Hamas goaded the marchers on knowing full well that there would be Palestinian casualties for the world to see. The fact that the action was not about bringing more goods and services to the people of Gaza or even about protesting US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but as a march “to return” to Israel (in Hamas language this about subverting and destroying the Jewish state) was largely lost on the world.
This is not to say that Israel should never be criticized over its policies and actions. Israel – like any country in the world – can be criticized and questioned. And, to be sure, Israel can do more and work with the international community to take every step possible to alleviate the misery with which the Palestinians live.
But once again, in this latest chapter, whether intended or not, the world, in its harsh condemnation of Israel, found itself encouraging Palestinian illusions.
What should the international community be doing instead?
They should help the Palestinians come into the real world. The Jewish state is here to stay and Palestinians – leaders and street – need to recognize that and proceed from there. The message from the outside world needs to be strong and consistent: anything you do to promote a two-state solution on the basis of recognizing the legitimacy and existence of the State of Israel, we will be with you, politically and economically. But if you continue on this path of negating Israel, of taking actions that are intended to hurt, demonize and delegitimize the Jewish state, you will not be backed by us because those efforts are wrong and ultimately hurt you and your people.
History has shown that when Arab partners speak of recognition and reconciliation with Israel, the Israeli public in turn overwhelmingly supports peace initiatives. The issues to be resolved remain complex: Jerusalem, borders, security, refugees and settlements. But addressing them through a prism of thinking about how the lives of Palestinians and Israelis could both be improved rather than through the lens of a zero sum game would accrue to the benefit of both peoples.
The world needs to make a decision. If the goal is to finally to change the dynamic of the conflict, a conflict that has hurt the Israelis but hurt the Palestinians far, far more, then ridding Palestinians of those deeply embedded illusions should be priority number one.
Ken Jacobson is Deputy National Director of the Anti-Defamation League.