Alex Benjamin

Palestinian leadership need to have ‘that’ Santa conversation

It's a tricky thing, selling a people the notion that Israel is a flash in a pan -- and it sure gets in the way of peace

It can’t be easy for a parent to tell their child that, after years of excitement, that in fact there’s no rotund, white-bearded man who lives in the North Pole, who flies around the world on a sleigh with supersonic reindeer, comes down the chimney of your house, drinks milk, eats a cookie, and then leaves you presents. The news must be devastating, and, at least for a while, there must be a distinct lack of trust between parent and child. That’s presumably why most parents put off telling their children for as long as possible.

I’m not comparing the Palestinian population to children, but certainly their leadership is selling their own version of the Santa story to them.

“The problem for Palestinians is that we are surrounded by Israel,” said a Palestinian commentator on radio this week. This throwaway remark, amid a series of rehearsed and anodyne platitudes about Palestinian national unity flowing from the rapprochement of Hamas and Fatah in Gaza and the West Bank, revealed the real motives of this entente.

Let’s think about that opening sentence for a minute. That’s a bit like saying that the problem with the Czech Republic is that it is “surrounded by Germany and Poland.” Does the Palestinian commentator regard a future Palestinian state as an island like Tristan de Cunha, devoid of neighbors? A blissfully isolated utopia? Sadly, the answer is much less fanciful, but just as absurd.

The Palestinian leadership, and by proxy the population as a whole, can not get their heads around the fact that the “Nakbah” (the disaster, as they refer to the creation if the State of Israel) is not a flash in the pan, and that, some 70 years later, Israel exists, is flourishing, and isn’t going anywhere.

This is not just isolationist thinking, or populist nationalism, it’s much more sinister. It’s a direct consequence of decades of being fed a narrative that armed resistance will drive the pesky Jews back into the sea, that Tel Aviv will be in sovereign Palestinian territory, and that everything that was done can be undone, that every battle lost can in fact be won. In short, Palestinian thought is the equivalent of an ostrich burying one’s head in the hand: “If I refuse to see it, then it’s not there.” Or that Santa is in fact real, if you prefer.

These are amusing metaphors, are they not? Yes, but also very scary ones. And world leaders, who seek to influence and promote peace, are in on the act, allowing this delusion to go unchecked and uncorrected.

This much-vaunted rapprochement between rival Palestinian factions is not about preparing the base for any new peace Initiative. Quite the opposite: it’s about trying to find another way of perpetuating this delusional thinking in the face of reality. Admitting that the “Nakbah” is irreversible would be an admission of failure, that somehow the struggle can and will bear fruit.

This week, Hamas’ chief in Gaza, Yahya Sinwar, said that the Palestinian Liberation Organization, the internationally recognized body responsible for representing Palestinians abroad, should control Palestinians’ weapons.

“We, as a people, are still in the stage of national liberation. We cannot forgo our weapons…our weapons certainly should be under a unifying national umbrella in which every Palestinian participates. That umbrella is the Palestine Liberation Organization.”

“We absolutely will not give up on the rights of the Palestinian people and resistance. Any understanding or reconciliation will not affect the resistance weapons and their program,” Hamas Deputy Chief Salah Arouri added from,Tehran.

Ahmad Majdalani, a senior PLO official and close confidante of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, said on Wednesday that Sinwar’s comments were “important and positive,” despite the fact that the PA is supposed to recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel.

So, there you have it. The Palestinian leadership will continue their delusional thinking, and the international community of peace makers will continue to allow them to do so. And that is why we are all stuck in a rut, when it comes to peace-making.

The truth hurts, as millions of kids around the world find out eventually, but it also sets you free to move into adulthood and begin using rationality and common sense as your tools. The moment that the Palestinian Leadership set their people free from the false narratives that perpetuate their entrapment in delusional thinking is the moment that peace talks can really begin.

Until we get to this point, everything else under discussion when it comes to peace, and every initiative, however well-intentioned on the part of international actors, is just Ho, Ho and more Ho.

About the Author
Alex Benjamin is the director of EIPA, a multi-disciplined pro-Israel advocacy Group based in Brussels, with offices in Paris and Berlin. He is also the Director of Public Affairs for EJA: European Jewish Association, a Brussels based NGO which represents and acts on behalf of Jewish communities across the EU and wider European continent, at the heart of the European Institutions and at bilateral level with Member States.
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