While Arabs throughout the Middle East engage in a largely nonviolent effort to overthrow the dictatorial regimes that have enslaved them for decades, the Palestinians have watched helplessly as their plight has fallen off the media’s radar.
The longstanding claim that the “Palestinian question” is the crux of all problems in the Middle East has once again been exposed as a fallacy as the Arabs in Libya, Egypt, Bahrain and elsewhere have shown no interest in them or Israel. The Palestinians now are responding to the lack of attention by launching new terror attacks, which may garner headlines but also remind Israelis and the rest of the world they are not interested in peace.
We do not know yet if the bombing of a bus in Jerusalem is the start of a new wave of terror patterned after the war instigated by the Palestinians from 2000 to 2005 that claimed the lives of more than 1,000 Israelis, but this atrocity, combined with the escalation of rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli cities from Gaza, is going to force Israel to respond.
As is so often the case, Israel is facing the impossible choice of how to protect its citizens without playing into the terrorists’ hands and bringing them more attention.
Israel knows that Hamas will use civilians as shields in the hope they will become casualties in Israeli counterstrikes, which will then arouse international ire against Israel. Israel will, as it always does, try to carefully target the terrorists, but as happened this week, despite their best efforts, innocents are sometimes injured. Israelis also know that while the world shows no interest in the inadvertent killing of innocents by U.S. drone strikes in Afghanistan or the civilians who may die in the current campaign in Libya, any Palestinian bystanders injured by their forces will provoke global condemnation and kangaroo court investigations by the U.N.
Recall that it was the wave of suicide bombings during the Palestinian War of 2000-2005 that prompted Israel to construct a security fence. That barrier has proven successful in reducing the number of attacks; nevertheless, Israel was pilloried for that act of self-defense by the U.N.
It is ironic that Arabs are fighting for freedom across the region, but the Palestinians continue to tolerate a leadership that denies them freedom of speech, religion, assembly, and the press and denies rights to women and gays. Rather than demanding that these leaders negotiate peace with an Israeli government that has repeatedly called for talks without preconditions, the Palestinian people support hapless figureheads who still believe they can bomb Israel out of existence or who think they can win independence by asking the international community to recognize a non-existent state in lieu of negotiations.
The Obama administration continues to support a Palestinian regime that is no less ruthless and undemocratic than those we are now opposing throughout the region. Those Palestinians, and it is perhaps the majority, who still prefer a brighter future for themselves and their children based on coexistence with Israel and a two state solution no doubt feel much like the Egyptian protestors who asked where the administration and its predecessors were during the decades of oppression.
It is time for the United States to demand that the Palestinians implement democratic reforms and put an end to the culture of incitement that leads to the horrific murder of Jewish children and their parents in their beds, attacks on public buses and rocket attacks on playgrounds and kindergartens.
International tolerance of this behavior over the years has given Palestinians reason to believe terror is the way to achieve their goals. Israel, however, will not capitulate to terror or international pressure. Israelis will defend themselves, knowing they will pay a price in the court of public opinion because it is better to be alive and unpopular than dead and beloved.
The Palestinians want attention; they should get it. The president should be clear and unequivocal, something he has had trouble doing both with the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the turmoil in the rest of the region. He should declare that the obstacle to peace is a Palestinian leadership that is undemocratic and represses its people, that refuses to compromise or negotiate, that is unwilling to recognize Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish democratic state and that engages in incitement and terror that is perpetuating the conflict. Like the other despotic leaders in the region, they must either change or they must go.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign policy analyst whose latest book is "The Arab Lobby: The Invisible Alliance That Undermines America's Interests in the Middle East" (HarperCollins Publishers).