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Statehood For Barbarians
Bret Stephens writes in The Wall Street Journal of those poor "prisoners of freedom," the Palestinians:

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas paid George Bush a friendly visit Thursday in the Oval Office. At the Rose Garden press conference that followed, Mr. Bush stressed Mr. Abbas's responsibility to "end terror attacks, dismantle terrorist infrastructure, maintain law and order and one day provide security for their own state." Mr. Abbas himself made no mention of the words "terrorism" or "terrorists." But he did demand the release of those he called "prisoners of freedom," now being held in Israeli jails.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict no longer rivets world attention the way it did a few years ago. Still it rolls along, as it has for decades and as it probably will for decades to come. And the reason for this is well-captured by Mr. Abbas's use of the term "prisoners of freedom."

Who are some of these prisoners? One is Ibrahim Ighnamat, a Hamas leader arrested last week by Israel in connection to his role in organizing a March 1997 suicide bombing at the Apropos cafe in Tel Aviv, which killed three and wounded 48. Another is Jamal Tirawi of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades: Mr. Tirawi had bullied a 14-year-old boy into becoming a suicide bomber by threatening to denounce him as a "collaborator," which in Palestinian society frequently amounts to a death sentence.

And then there is 21-year-old Wafa Samir al-Bis, who was detained in June after the explosives she was carrying failed to detonate at an Israeli checkpoint on the border with Gaza. As Ms. Bis later testified, her target was an Israeli hospital where she had previously been treated--as a humanitarian gesture--for burns suffered in a kitchen accident. "I wanted to kill 20, 50 Jews," she explained at a press conference after her arraignment.

Many explanations have been given to account for the almost matchless barbarism into which Palestinian society has descended in recent years. One is the effect of Israeli occupation and all that has, in recent years, gone with it: the checkpoints, the closures, the petty harassments, the targeted assassinations of terrorist leaders. I witnessed much of this personally when I lived in Israel, and there can be no discounting the embittering effect that a weeks-long, 18-hour daily military curfew has on the ordinary Palestinians living under it.

Yet the checkpoints and curfews are not gratuitous acts of unkindness by Israel, nor are they artifacts of occupation. On the contrary, in the years when Israel was in full control of the territories there were no checkpoints or curfews, and Palestinians could move freely (and find employment) throughout the country. It was only with the start of the peace process in 1993 and the creation of autonomous Palestinian areas under the control of the late Yasser Arafat that terrorism became a commonplace fact of Israeli life. And it was only then that the checkpoints went up and the clampdowns began in earnest.

In other words, while Palestinian actions go far to explain Israeli behavior, the reverse doesn't hold. How, then, are the Ighnamats, Tirawis and Bises of Palestinian society to be explained?

Consider a statistic: In the first nine months of 2005 more Palestinians were killed by other Palestinians than by Israelis--219 to 218, according to the Palestinian Authority's Ministry of Interior, although the former figure is probably in truth much higher. In the Gaza Strip, the departure of Israeli troops and settlers has brought anarchy, not freedom. Members of Hamas routinely fight gun battles with members of Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas's ruling political party. Just as often, the killing takes place between clans, or hamullas. So-called collaborators are put to the gun by street mobs, their "guilt" sometimes nothing more than being the object of a neighbor's spite. Palestinian social outsiders are also at mortal risk: Honor killings of "loose" women are common, as is the torture and murder of homosexuals.

...Talk to Palestinians, and you will often hear it said, like a mantra, that Palestinian dignity requires Palestinian statehood. This is either a conceit or a lie. Should a Palestinian state ever come into existence in Gaza and the West Bank, it will be a small place, mostly poor, culturally marginal, most of it desert, rock, slums and dust. One can well understand why Arafat, a man of terrible vices but impressive vanities, spurned the offer of it--and why his people cheered wildly when he did. Their dignity has always rested upon their violence, their struggle, their "prisoners of freedom."

For Mr. Abbas, the problem is that statehood and dignity are not a package. They are a choice. And if history is any guide, the choice he must make is not one he is likely to survive.

Posted by aalkon at October 23, 2005 9:29 AM

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Comments

I have no sympathy for the Palestinians. Anything they get at this point they've done to themselves. But it seems to me that creating a viable state out of the West Bank and Gaza is impossible. There's no industry, no tourism, no natural resources. It would be like walling off South Central LA from the rest of the U.S. and calling it a state.

Posted by: nash at October 23, 2005 9:14 AM

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