Rewarding terrorism with statehood is a grave mistake

The idea that a land dispute rather than antisemitism motivates Palestinian rejection of Israel ignores history.

By Michael Rubin, Middle East Forum

After Hamas and allegedly even some United Nations Relief and Works Administration employees attacked Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, President Joe Biden spoke from the heart.

“The terrorist group Hamas unleashed pure, unadulterated evil in the world,” he said. “But sadly, the Jewish people know, perhaps better than anyone, that there is no limit to the depravity of people when they want to inflict pain on others.”

Biden described Hamas not with the doublespeak so common among diplomats or journalists but rather with moral clarity: “Its stated purpose for existing is the destruction of the State of Israel and the murder of Jewish people. Hamas does not represent the Palestinian people. Hamas uses Palestinian civilians as human shields, and innocent Palestinian families are suffering greatly because of them.”

Just as they did four times when Biden declared he would defend Taiwan, Biden’s top staffers almost immediately began to walk back Biden’s commitments. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, neither of whom has military experience, have criticized Israel’s conduct of the war and sought to put a timeline on its operations. Sullivan’s top deputy Jon Finer, John Kerry’s former chief of staff, visited Dearborn, Michigan, last week to try to blunt Palestinian and Arab criticism of U.S. policy as Biden’s team worries about the Hamas conflict fallout from a state that could be crucial to the president’s reelection.

Rather than applaud a campaign to eradicate a U.S.-designated terrorist group whose brutality rivals the Islamic State, the Biden administration now apologizes for moral clarity and pushes a plan to accelerate the formal recognition of a Palestinian state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza. Blinken reportedly has ordered the State Department to review options and scenarios for such statehood.

Biden, Blinken, and Sullivan’s push to accelerate the establishment and recognition of a Palestinian state exposes their ignorance about the roots of the conflict and the shape that state, under the mindset of Palestinians, would take.

Too many diplomats prefer to view the root cause of terrorism through the lens of grievance because it implies they can resolve conflict by offering a package of incentives or resolving land disputes. This is magical thinking, however, because it ignores ideology.

Consider the Palestinians: The idea that a land dispute rather than antisemitism motivates Palestinian rejection of Israel ignores history. Israel did not exist when Palestinian Arabs rampaged through Hebron in 1929, slaughtering Jewish men and boys and raping women and children, targeting many families with centuries-long roots in the city. In 1941, Palestinian religious leader Haj Amin al-Husseini courted Adolf Hitler during World War II, telling him Arabs were his natural ally because of their mutual antipathy toward the British, Jews, and communists.

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In 1946, the Intelligence Office of the Department of War in the United States, the predecessor of the Defense Intelligence Agency, tasked analysts with determining the greatest over-the-horizon threats to the United States. They returned with two: communism and Islamism. They based their conclusions on the rise of Islamist terrorism in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood targeted those it deemed too polluted by Western thought or culture. Importantly, this was a year before the U.N. Partition Plan for Palestine and two years before Israel’s creation. If Islamists turned to terrorism before Israel’s creation, then it is impossible to suggest Israel’s presence in disputed territories is terrorism’s root cause.

The problem is ideology. Hamas is the child of the Muslim Brotherhood. Al Qaeda and the Islamic State are its cousins. Even Palestinian Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, whom Blinken meets as a supposed moderate, is a Holocaust denier. To recognize a Palestinian state unilaterally would simply award the trappings and legitimacy of a state to a group more interested in killing Jews than bettering its own people’s lives. Palestinian irredentism would propel rather than resolve conflict. It would be a formula for war, not peace, and not only in the Middle East.

Accelerating Palestinian statehood because of Hamas violence would catalyze terrorism globally and convince groups that expanding violence rather than developing their economy achieves goals. Moral clarity is the right choice, not something Biden aides should dilute.

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