Last week’s signing of a law cutting American funding to the Palestinian Authority unless it stops paying families of Palestinians who murder Israelis marked the latest rude awakening for the Palestinian leadership, which has grown comfortable believing that it can do whatever it wants without facing any consequences. The bipartisan Taylor Force Act, named after an American killed in a terrorist attack in Israel two years ago, was directed at what has been called the Palestinians’ “pay-to-slay” program, rewarding the killers of Israelis by paying thousands of dollars to their families.
This is a refinement of a Palestinian policy of naming schools and sports tournaments after those who have “succeeded” in massacring Israelis, thereby paying tribute to those doing the massacring and encouraging other Palestinians to follow suit.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas reacted angrily to the legislation, outraged that the US would interfere with what he regards as his government’s right to support those he calls Palestinian “martyrs.” It is a measure of just how entitled the Palestinians have become that they take it as an obligation on the part of American taxpayers to subsidize killing.
This is the second jolt to the Palestinian leadership’s sense of entitlement in recent months. Despite its threats that doing so would lead to “days of rage” that would spill over to the Arab Street across the Mideast, the US announced its intention to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Israel’s longtime capital. The Arab Street has been largely silent, as have been Arab governments, many of which have been cooperating closely, albeit discreetly, with the Israeli government on common security and economic matters for years.
These are not happy times for Palestinian rejectionists. The bitter split between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas shows no sign of healing. The 82-year-old Abbas, now in year 13 of a four-year term, faces widespread calls for his resignation, and his furious denunciations of America and threats to boycott it suggest that he may be imploding. Palestinian-fueled efforts to generate boycotts of Israel are not succeeding; tourism to Israel breaks new records each year, and countries like India and China are focused like lasers on signing deals to secure the benefits of Israeli technologies.
Bad news for the Palestinians, however, is hardly the same as good news for Israel. The lethal combination of Iranian occupation of Lebanon and Syria, accompanied by tens of thousands of Hezbollah rockets pointed at Israel and backed by an Iranian regime flush with tens of billions of dollars delivered to it courtesy of the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal, poses a massive threat to Israel, one which could shift from theoretical to existential overnight.
Domestically, Israel’s politics, habitually turbulent, are roiled by the prospect of yet another Israeli leader facing criminal indictment. Its government depends for its survival on obeisance to ultra- religious elements that disgust not only many Israelis, but increasing numbers of American Jews.
As for American political support for Israel, there is likewise no cause for hubris on Israel’s part. While recent polls show that Americans continue by overwhelming margins to regard Israel favorably, there has been indisputable softening among Democratic Party constituencies, and here President Trump’s warm embrace of Israel does not help.
“If any country in the Middle East continues to merit across-the-board American support,” notes American Jewish Committee head David Harris, “it’s Israel.” He is right. But Israel and its supporters would be wise to resist the false sense that having a pro-Israel president, especially this one, buys them the right to be smug. If the 2016 election illustrates anything, it is that things can change dramatically in American politics. Israel had better be prepared when those changes come.
Boston attorney Jeff Robbins was a US delegate to the United Nations Human Rights Commission for the Clinton administration.
The above post was previously published on The Boston Herald.