Wall Street Journal..
01 December '16..
Emergency services in Israel combated brush fires across the country for a week beginning Nov. 22, ranging from Haifa to the Galilee to Jerusalem. Hundreds of homes burned down and nearly 16 square miles of forest land were damaged before the fires were contained this week. Dozens of people suffered smoke inhalation, and some 70,000 had to be evacuated.
It was an almost perfect metaphor for the Palestinian national movement.
Of the 39 largest fires—there were 1,700 separate events in all—29 were ignited by Palestinian arsonists. “We have also identified an additional 10 sites where arson was attempted but didn’t succeed,” Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told me in a phone interview Thursday. “In some cases we were able to catch the suspects by camera or drone. In others we found Molotov cocktails at the scene.”
He added: “All the big fires were in Israel or in Jewish towns or near Jewish towns. There was no Arab city where there was a big fire inside.”
Police have arrested 35 suspects on arson and incitement charges so far, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to “prosecute anyone committing these acts so that all can see that anyone who tries to burn down the State of Israel will face the fullest punishment.”
Having tried and failed to destroy Israel through violent rioting, all-out invasion, suicide bombings, campus boycotts, and random stabbing and vehicular attacks, Palestinians are now literally setting the Holy Land on fire. The message, evident to all but their friends in Washington and Brussels, is that they would sooner see the land go up in flames than coexist with a Jewish state.
The Palestinian leadership remains Janus-faced as ever. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas dispatched 40 firefighters and eight firetrucks to help extinguish the fires, earning justified praise and gratitude from Mr. Netanyahu and the Israeli political establishment. Without PA assistance and support from the likes of Egypt, Greece, Jordan, Russia, Spain and Turkey, among many others, the fires could have raged for much longer.
Yet Mr. Abbas’s Fatah movement also accused Jerusalem of “exploiting the fire” to blame the Palestinian people. And during a three-hour stemwinder at a Fatah conference on Wednesday, Mr. Abbas lauded the 1980s “intifada of stones” and once more called for unity with Hamas, the Gaza-based terrorist movement constitutionally committed to destroying Israel.
“Our national unity is our safety valve, and I call on Hamas to end the division,” Mr. Abbas said. He also assailed Britain for the 1917 Balfour Declaration that paved the way for Israel’s creation in Mandatory Palestine, demanding that Her Majesty’s Government “declare its apology for making such a promise and repair the damage done to our people, resources and our nation.”
Then there’s the wider atmosphere of online incitement. Arab social-media users cheerfully shared the hashtag #IsraelIsBurning throughout the crisis. They were “happy and supporting it and calling on others to do it,” said Mr. Erdan, the public-security minister. “It’s all based on spreading a culture of hatred in a social network. You don’t need a mosque or school anymore to spread lies and hatred. You can spread your lies globally, 24/7, without effective monitoring.”
There’s a useful lesson here for the incoming Trump administration about the perils of diving into Israeli-Arab peace-processing. Judging by most of his statements, Donald Trump’s instincts are pro-Israel in the conventional sense. But the president-elect is also tempted by the peace-deal El Dorado.
“I would love to be able to be the one that made peace with Israel and the Palestinians,” he told the New York Times in an interview last week, echoing campaign rhetoric. “Now a lot of people tell me, really great people tell me, that it’s impossible, you can’t do it. I’ve had a lot of, actually, great Israeli businesspeople tell me, you can’t do that, it’s impossible. I disagree, I think you can make peace.”
Maybe. But in the current transition Mr. Trump would do better to warn off Barack Obama from taking any steps, at the United Nations or the Rose Garden, intended to tie his hands and punish the Israelis for resisting the outgoing president’s various diplomatic brainstorms. It is also important to read the mood in Arab capitals, where amid a heightened Iranian threat there is little appetite for peace processing beyond the minimum required to pacify domestic audiences.
The bigger error would be to treat Arab-Israeli peace like a real-estate deal. An avid deal maker would be inclined to see the conflict as a matter of offering just the right inducements to the parties. But that’s precisely the failed approach that has disappointed successive American presidents for half a century, since it doesn’t take the Palestinian ideology into account.
Such bargaining leads nowhere with a people willing to risk burning down the land their future state would inherit.
Sohrab Ahmari is an editorial page writer at The Wall Street Journal, based in London, where he writes editorials and commissions and edits op-eds for the Journal's European edition. He co-edited the 2012 book Arab Spring Dreams, an anthology of essays by young Mideast dissidents.
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