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Why the anti-Israel narrative is winning, and why that matters

Regardless of whose fault it is, Palestinian suffering garners sympathy and it's in Israeli interests to keep trying for a resolution
Picture: A show of support for US President Donald Trump near the US embassy in Jerusalem.
Picture: A show of support for US President Donald Trump near the US embassy in Jerusalem.

The pro-Palestinian narrative is strong and its support is growing fast in the West. It has become mainstream on the left, and it is making inroads on the center and even on the moderate right.

The pro-Palestinian narrative is extremely powerful at the emotional level because it uses three simple facts that have a strong emotional resonance:

  • The large number of Palestinian refugees who are stateless and vulnerable, and who live in camps with only limited rights.
  • The military presence of Israel in Judea and Samaria resulting in lack of self-determination for the Palestinians and their dependency on Israel.
  • The conflict with Gaza that results in high unemployment, poverty, and frequent casualties among Gazans.

If one understands the history and the facts on the ground, as I have explained in many previous articles, for example Debunking 25 left-wing and Arab myths from a left-wing Arab perspective, there is very little fault to be placed on Israel, while the Arab world and the Palestinian leadership hold practically all the responsibility for the current situation of the Palestinians. Israel has done practically everything that is humanly possible to resolve these three issues, but it has been rebuffed at every turn. At an emotional level, however, rational explanations do not matter much.

The reason that they do not matter is that Israel is powerful while the Palestinians are powerless.

Israel’s military is more powerful than any other nation in the Middle East, and in fact more powerful than any credible combination of enemies. Israel is also powerful economically, and its trade relationships are growing and expanding. Israel is even making strong inroads diplomatically within the Arab world.

The Palestinians, on the other hand, depend on hand-outs. Their leadership is divided and corrupt. They live in camps at the whim of the countries where they reside. The Arab world is abandoning them. Their prospect for an independent state is more remote than ever.

The Palestinians win the sympathy factor pretty much all the time.

Despite all its economic strength, Israel is and has always been one lost war away from extinction. Israel cannot afford to lose any war, it cannot afford to appear weak to its enemies, and it cannot afford to relax its constant state of military preparedness. Yet Israel is tiny and cannot maintain this level of military success without external support. Only one country has the capability and so far the willingness to fill that role, and that is the United States of America.

If Israel loses the US as an ally, Israel’s very survival will be at risk, and losing the US as an ally is no longer improbable. The US could even become Israel’s enemy.

Pro-Israel activists know this. Many have reacted by cozying up to the right and demonizing the left. This has worked nicely with the election of Donald Trump as president, but it is not a long-term strategy. Pro-Israel activists also often use language that is seen as insensitive and triumphalist, and that only makes their narrative harder to sell, for example the claim that Palestinians do not exist, that Jordan is Palestine, or that Palestinians are better off living under Israeli administration than in their own state.

Pro-Israel activists who are not keen on this approach are engaged in a fight that often seems hopeless, the attempt to keep the center and left on side with Israel.

Although it is possible that the Trump administration may present a plan to credibly resolve the Israel-Arab conflict, as I previously speculated, it is unlikely that the plan will be good enough and that the carry-through will be thorough enough to make the plan work. The most likely possibility is that the plan will fail and that the Trump presidency will end while the three facts that are exploited by the pro-Palestinian narrative will remain.

A future US administration that is hostile to Israel can use a number of relatively passive means to weaken Israel, such as:

  • Allow anti-Israel UN Security Council resolutions to pass.
  • Reduce or eliminate military and intelligence cooperation.
  • Re-establish the Iran deal, and ignore Iran’s support for terrorist groups.
  • Refuse to boycott or place pressure on countries that threaten Israel.

An even more hostile US regime could go further:

  • Introduce and lobby for UN Security Council resolutions against Israel.
  • Supply weapons to Israel’s enemies.
  • Threaten Israel militarily.
  • Boycott Israel and countries that trade with it.

Of course, it is possible that Trump-style Republicans will be in power until the end of times. It is also possible that President Bernie Sanders and Secretary of State Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez or Ilhan Omar will turn out to be great friends of Israel. Finally, it is also possible that Palestinians will suddenly decide to give up their fight against Israel and move to Kazakhstan.

But we live in the real world, and there is not much that pro-Israel activists in the West can do about the rise of the pro-Palestinian movement. As long as the three facts remain, pro-Palestinian activists will have the wind in their sails and will reach their goal sooner or later, and their goal is the destruction of Israel.

Despite Israel’s rebuffed efforts in the past to resolve the three issues, it is very much in its own interest to try again, but sadly, the Likud government seems to have no such interest. It is happy to continue hoping for the best, with no plan other than the wish that Donald Trump will be president forever. In fact, the Likud government’s apparent indifference to the plight of the Palestinians, and its alliance with the extremely unpopular Trump administration, further increase support for the pro-Palestinian narrative.

Unless there is a major change of approach by the Israeli government, which seems unlikely considering the results of the recent election, the anti-Israel narrative will keep gaining momentum in the West, with potentially dramatic results for Israel.

About the Author
Fred Maroun is a Canadian of Arab origin who lived in Lebanon until 1984, including during 10 years of civil war. Fred supports Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state, and he supports a liberal and democratic Middle East where all religions and nationalities, including Palestinians, can co-exist in peace with each other and with Israel, and where human rights are respected. Fred is an atheist, a social liberal, and an advocate of equal rights for LGBT people everywhere. Fred Maroun writes for Gatestone Institute.
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