No excuses: Palestinian leaders must be held accountable for disastrous choices

February 21st, 2020

The following article has been published in The Mercury by Peter Wertheim. Image of Palestinian leader Hajj Amin al-Husseini meets with Adolf Hitler, November 1941.

It is not unusual for anyone with a dogmatically one-sided view of any public issue to blame the media for the lack of support for their view among the general public.  That is what Greg Barnes has done in his latest anti-Israel diatribe, “Palestinians cop unfair media treatment as nameless, faceless as Arabs”, Mercury, 17.2.2020.

According to Barnes, the only reason Australians don’t’ share his ludicrously skewed take on the Israel-Palestinian conflict is because we see the Palestinians as “the other”, and only recognise the unique identity of Israelis, who are seen as “living among the savage “others” in an inhospitable land”.

That’s a roundabout way of calling Australians racists.

In the process, Barnes ironically indulges in a bit of stereotyping of his own. Australian attitudes are shaped by the media, he tells us, and Israel is “a rich nation with a large diaspora that knows how to influence politicians — they are master lobbyists — and use the media”.   Elsewhere he refers to “the Israel lobby and its media friends”.

That “large diaspora” apparently means Jews living outside of Israel, specifically the vast majority of Jews who feel a sense of responsibility to ensure that the State of Israel continues to exist.   According to a 2017 survey, 88% of Australian Jews fall into that category.

The juxtaposition of Israel, Jews, supposed wealth and alleged control of the media is all too familiar.

According to the Working Definition of Antisemitism of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, of which Australia is a member, when criticism of Israel is couched in terms which employ or appeal to negative stereotypes of Jewish people generally, or deny the Jewish people their right to self-determination, or apply double standards by requiring of Israel standards of behaviour not expected or demanded of any other democratic nation, or hold Jews collectively responsible for actions of the state of Israel, then the line has been crossed.

It is a fallacy to suggest that every criticism of Israel is antisemitic. The serious charge of antisemitism should never falsely be made in order to stifle political debate. However, as the Working Definition demonstrates, it is equally fallacious to assert that there are no forms of criticism of Israel which are antisemitic.

It is beyond belief that Barnes accuses the Sydney Morning Herald of underplaying the Palestinian perspective.  Has he forgotten the incident in 2014 when, after a public outcry, the Herald apologised for publishing an antisemitic cartoon about the conflict in Gaza alongside a vicious polemic against Israel?

Barnes quotes another habitual critic of Israel, Peter Manning, in aid of his accusations against the media. Yet Barnes and Manning rarely if ever look to the Palestinians themselves, and their leaders, to understand why they do not have their own State.   They do not treat the Palestinians as active actors in history who have made, and continue to make, their own choices for which they should be held accountable.  Many of the choices made by Palestinian leaders over the last 100 years have had disastrous consequences, most of all for their own people.

The latest offer of a Palestinian State made by the US in January was rejected by Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas more than two years earlier, well before the details were even crafted.   He refused repeated offers to discuss the matter, and now complains that the Palestinians were not consulted.

In 2008, Abbas did not respond to an even more generous offer of a Palestinian state that was made by then Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.  Now he insists that any resumption of negotiations must use the Olmert offer as a starting point.

In 2001, the US President Bill Clinton put forward proposals for a Palestinian State to bridge the gap in negotiating positions between Israelis and Palestinians.   The Israelis and Palestinian negotiators issued a joint statement declaring that they were “never closer to reaching an agreement”, and that they believed the remaining gaps could be bridged with intensified negotiations.  Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat then ordered an escalation of suicide bombings and other forms of terrorist violence against Israeli civilians, which continued for another four years.

In 1947, decades before the 1967 war, Israeli settlements and “the occupation”, the UN General Assembly recommended the establishment of two States, one Jewish and one Arab, in the Holy Land.  The area allotted to the Jewish State was tiny, and excluded Jerusalem.  It consisted of three ‘cantons’ which were not truly territorially contiguous and were militarily undefendable.  The area allotted to the proposed Arab State was far larger than anything offered since.

Yet the Jewish leaders accepted the proposal, while the Arab leaders not only rejected it politically, but also declared and initiated a war of extermination against their Jewish neighbours.  The Arabs, not for the last time, lost the war they had started, resulting in the exodus of 710,000 Palestinians.

Barnes and Manning do no favours to the Palestinians by overlooking the shocking choices their leaders have made in rejecting every two-State proposal that has ever been put to them, and blaming the media instead.  Encouraging the Palestinians to continue demanding all or nothing, will only leave them with more of nothing.

Peter Wertheim AM is the co-CEO of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry