Actions speak louder than words, or at least they should. Giving words more weight than actions leads to disproportionate judgements, even injustice.
That was the case with two incidents last week: U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman’s interview with the New York Times, in which he was soft on Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank, and Fatah’s firing of a Palestinian West Bank council head because four Jewish settlers attended his son’s wedding.
The latter, an act of prejudice in the real world, should have elicited condemnations by left-wing politicians and the liberal media, yet only the former - words - did. In doing so, the left make a wrong judgement call, symptomatic of its reluctance to engage with a critical obstacle to Israeli-Palestinian peace.
The reasons for the substantially different treatment of the two incidents may be understandable - but they are not forgivable.
The fury over Friedman comes as no surprise. The left is ready to pounce on every word the settlement-cheerleader-turned-U.S.-ambassador to Israel says. In this case, however, the liberal media exaggerated how far his statements strayed from traditional U.S. policy, which has always backed Israel's right to retain some of the West Bank, as Alan Dershowitz pointed out last week (Trump's Ambassador Is Right on Israel's Annexation. His Posturing, pro-Palestinian Critics Are Wrong).
We can debate the implications of what Friedman said and how his statements reflect the attitude of the Trump administration. But his words changed neither lives nor U.S. policy in the Middle East, which only his bosses can do. Were his statements consistent with Resolution 242, as Dershowitz argues? I’d say mostly. After all, 242 doesn’t mandate the return of "all" territories occupied in the 1967 war.
If anything, Friedman was guilty of omissions. When he said the Americans "really don’t have a view until" they understand the context of any such annexation by Israel, he neglected to mention that previous administrations clearly opposed unilateral annexation, period. Yet when he said that "under circumstances" he believed Israel "has the right to retain some, but unlikely, not all of the West Bank," he can only be referring to an agreement.
At the end of the day, we are talking about an interview with The New York Times, by an undiplomatic ambassador with explicit sympathies for the settlement movement. His rhetoric changes little of substance. The Trump administration’s alleged "Deal of the Century" is dead before its arrival; another window of opportunity will open with the next administration.
The left is thus blowing out of proportion the ambassador’s statements, which are problematic but not as egregious as a full-blown endorsement of unilateral annexation, and thereby distracting us from engaging with more important issues concerning Israeli-Palestinian relations.
In contrast, the firing of Radi Nasser as council head of a Palestinian West Bank village and his removal from his position in the PA Education Ministry because some settlers attended his son’s wedding is a far more serious blow to peace.
Again, the reasons for the left’s silence are understandable - but ultimately unforgivable.
The left doesn’t want to tell the Palestinian Authority how to handle its internal affairs, and the left may be reticent to defend settlers it sees as illegitimate. But silence in the face of any injustice is complicity with that injustice.
And this is a major injustice with serious implications. Not only was one man’s career derailed, a list of all guests at the celebration was passed on to Palestinian security officials, and who knows what trouble will follow.
The enforcement of anti-normalization dates back to the inception of the Palestinian Authority. In the settlement of Efrat, Rabbi Shlomo Riskin initiated a clinic that treated Palestinians for free in the pre-Oslo days. After he came to power, Yasser Arafat forbade Palestinians from accepting medical treatment there. I know of a Palestinian who lost his job just in part for speaking on behalf of the pro-dialogue Combatants for Peace.
Consider these statements about the wedding. "This is a scathing violation of all of our national values and an affront to the position of every Palestinian," the Palestinian Education Ministry stated. Fatah spokesman Osama Qawassmeh called the Jewish guests "terrorist settlers" and deemed their participation a "cowardly, condemnable, despicable and reprehensible act."
These nefarious anti-normalization policies by design create a chilling effect on relationships between Jewish Israelis and Palestinians. Moreover, they are meant to dehumanize the settlers. Nothing contradicts the Palestinian narrative of racist, terrorist settlers than settlers attending a Palestinian wedding to wish "mazel tov" to the bride and groom.
When Palestinian elites enforce anti-normalization and dehumanize Israelis, they contribute to an atmosphere that is hostile to any compromise for peace, and in turn create their own pretexts for rebuffing Israeli peace proposals, as happened between Arafat and Barak in 2000 and Abbas and Olmert in 2008.
If four Jewish settlers cannot attend a Palestinian wedding without the PA retaliating against the hosts and other guests, then we are much farther from peace than any scenario that Ambassador Friedman could possibly impact.
Mahatma Gandhi always advocated non-violent non-cooperation with British authorities. But he never condemned nor discouraged relations between Indians and their British rulers, who had deprived countless innocent Indians of their rights and lives. He is noted for saying, "We want the British to leave, but we want them to leave as friends."
It is time for the Israeli left to acknowledge that if it wants there to be any hope of non-hostile relations between Israelis and Palestinians in a two-state era, or a two-state era at all, it can no longer tolerate anti-normalization as Palestinian public policy. It must condemn the firing of Radi Nasser and advocate an end to this policy, which is a bigger obstacle to peace than David Friedman.
Steven Klein is an editor at Haaretz and adjunct professor at Tel Aviv University’s International Program in Conflict Resolution and Mediation. Twitter: @stevekhaaretz
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