Leaders have legacies; the rest of us have lives. And normalization with Israel is a death sentence for some.
Trump may be making his opening gambit for a Nobel Prize. Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas is making sure his legacy will include bamboozling the Western World with lies about educating kids toward peace while paying salaries to terrorists according to the number of Jews they killed, and growing super-rich on the backs of his own impoverished people. Our own Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may make his legacy as the shrewdest politician who talks out of both sides of his mouth while smoking a Cuban cigar and drinking pink champagne and having had a brother who was a hero.
Legacies are for the history books. The rest of us live lives that are counted only by the number of seconds we breath the air around us and the stories told by those who remember us after we are gone — each of us is like a drop of water hovering over the vast ocean of humanity, distinct only until the moment we touch the surface of the sea. But while we are that drop of hovering water, we want to live meaningful and satisfying lives, however we may define that. For most of us, it probably includes loving and being loved, and raising healthy children who get to do the same. Our leaders are supposed to provide the substrate upon which we can do that.
Most seem only to pay lip service to that purpose.
I had the privilege to speak with an Arab who lives in Judea & Samaria (J&S) and who calls it J&S. He just wants to live his life in peace. I met him through a mutual friend and he must remain anonymous for the obvious reason that he puts his life in danger by talking to me as he did. I will call him Habib.
Habib wants to know why Israeli leftist activists can have photo ops with the likes of Abbas but Arabs living under the PA who seek normalization with Israelis can never hope to meet with our leaders even if they have contacts who can introduce them.
Take, for example, Gershon Baskin: on his website we can find a photo of him standing proudly beside Abbas.
Habib, on the other hand, is prohibited by law from meeting with Israeli leaders. Only those authorized by Fatah can be in contact with Israelis. When you go on a tour of the ancient Judean city of Hebron, for example, and part of the tour is led by a Palestinian Arab, you can be sure, Habib says, that that Arab has the approval of Fatah.
Habib was raised to hate Jews. He says that in every mosque, during Friday prayers, the Imam’s speech is full of hatred toward Christians and Jews. There is no escaping the incitement.
Being a curious man, however, Habib decided to find out for himself what was at the basis of this Jew-hatred. In his late 20s, he picked up a Torah and began to read. He read the New Testament as well. In this way, he discovered the wisdom of Judaism and grew abhorred by the hatred within Islam. However, he can never share his thoughts or discoveries with his Arab friends in the PA. This leaves him feeling isolated even while surrounded by his own family and people.
Because of his work, Habib has a permit to enter Israel and says that he usually makes it through the checkpoint in about 15 minutes. He feels safer in Tel Aviv than he does in his own hometown of Hebron. With good Israeli friends, he is a bit less isolated than he would be otherwise, able to openly talk with them about everything.
According to him, the enemies of the Palestinian Arabs is the PA leadership itself and other Arabs, and not the Jews. There are no Jews in Syria, for example, and Palestinians are not safe there, he says.
Israeli citizens cannot enter the PA-controlled area of Hebron, the part of the city where most of the approximately 200,000 residents live. Habib cannot invite Jewish friends to his home. He cannot meet with Jewish friends in a coffee shop or restaurant in his neighbourhood. Israelis cannot visit the PA-controlled part of Hebron, not even as tourists. And Habib asks:
If the PA cannot protect tourists who want to come into Hebron, what kind of leaders are they?
He bemoans the negative impact of the Oslo Accords. Oslo stopped the normalization process in its tracks! There was more freedom before Oslo than after. In other words, under Israeli military and administrative control pre-Oslo, there was more freedom for the residents of J&S than there is now. Yet leftists continue to call the situation one of Israeli “occupation”.
I do not think I am wrong in believing that the Oslo Accords came about because a number of leaders around the world wanted to be THE ONE to bring peace between Israel and the Arabs — they all wanted a peace deal to be their legacy. Clinton probably thought he had that one nabbed when he posed with Arafat and Rabin on the White House lawn. But in 2001, Clinton admitted that Arafat had made him a failure. Maybe he knows today that it might be easier to find the Holy Grail than to sign a true and lasting peace between Israel and the PA.
And now we see another American president appear to be willing to sink in the swamp of best intentions for “the deal of the century”.
Unfortunately, that swamp is all but swallowing up us average folks, people like you and me and Habib, who remember moving freely between J&S and the rest of Israel, going to markets and shops here and there, sitting in restaurants here and there, and meeting each other, those of us who just want to live our lives in peace.
As long as there are world powers propping up the PA — as long as Israel, herself, continues to prop up the PA — in the misguided belief that the leadership will be willing to sign a peace treaty with Israel, Habib and those who think like him will continue to be isolated from one another as Jew-hatred remains the only publicly acceptable attitude. No grassroots pro-peace organizations will be able to sprout on Palestinian Arab initiative. And Jews and Arabs will be prevented from establishing the normalization that is the only sane way to proceed were it safe to do so.
This was first published in Israel Diaries.