From the moment Israel declared its independence, one of the main Arab tactics has been to exploit the Jews' Achilles heel – their highly developed culture, which respects and values life, and their support for human rights.
Of Arab origin, I have long known about the Arab stereotype of the West and Israel -- that they are weak because they care about the lives of their own people and they are eager to respect the human rights of their enemies. Golda Meir is reported to have said, "We can forgive the Arabs for killing our children. We cannot forgive them for forcing us to kill their children."
Until now, Israel has conformed to that Arab stereotype -- such as with "knocks on the roof" in Gaza to warn residents to leave buildings being used for military purposes before they are targeted -- but in conversations with Zionists, it seems that this attitude is changing. While Jews will always value life, their determination to minimize enemy casualties and to respect their human rights at almost all costs might be unraveling, and it is the Palestinians who are likely to pay the price.
During the War of Independence, the Arab side ensured that not a single Jew was left on the Arab side of the 1949 armistice lines, but a large number of Arabs were allowed by Jews to remain on the Israeli side. Today those Arabs constitute 20% of the Israeli population.
Israel's respect for the human rights of Arabs living in Israel has been used by Arabs against Israel. The idea of any Jews on the Arab side is demonized and any "normalization" with Jews is aggressively discouraged
By contrast, Arabs living in Israel have consistently elected Arab parliamentarians, even anti-Zionist ones who openly support Palestinian terrorists. If Israel expels those politicians from the Knesset -- as there is a proposed law to do -- it is accused by the West of being undemocratic, but if it does not expel them it is seen by Arabs as weak.
During the Six-Day War of June 1967 -- a defensive war in which Israel repelled attacking Arab armies that included Jordan and Egypt -- Israel moved into large swaths of Arab land, including the Sinai Peninsula, the West Bank and Gaza. Israel immediately offered to give land back in exchange for recognition and peace. Less than three months later, on September 1, 1967, the answer came back in the form of the famous "Three Nos" of the Khartoum Conference: No peace with Israel, no recognition no negotiations.
Israel could have played by Arab rules and deported all Arabs in the land it occupied, but it did not. Precisely because Israel respected the human rights of Arabs, and despite its own self-interest, Israel gave the Palestinians a platform from which to seek the destruction of Israel.
Today's Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement continues to apply the same hypocritical double standards in a transparent effort to make Israel extinct. Its leaders have stated in no uncertain terms that they are not interested in a two-state solution. They want a single Arab state to replace Israel. They are counting on the assumption that sooner or later, Israel will be forced to annex the West Bank and give Israeli citizenship to all its residents. After this, the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state would be just a matter of time.
The dominant sentiment on the Zionist side today is that the solution most Jews since the 1940s have accepted as ethical -- the two-state solution -- is simply not working. The vast majority of Zionists blame this on the unrelenting Arab refusal to accept such a solution and on the fact that when, in what negotiations have taken place, the Palestinians never suggested so much as a reasonable counter-offer. Even Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, supposedly the most moderate leader of the Palestinians, has never accepted a two-state solution unless it included a Palestinian "right of return," which would result in a fully Arab state next to a majority Arab state -- yet another way of making the Jewish state extinct.
With Israel's back to the wall, it will sooner or later have to choose between giving up the Jewish state and lowering its human rights standards for the Palestinians. It seems increasingly clear that Israelis will not choose the first. In their place, I wouldn't either. One sign is a proposed law that would deport the families of terrorists. Another is a proposed law that would expel Knesset members who openly support terrorists.
American human rights lawyer Alan Dershowitz has repeatedly warned that the BDS movement is destroying the prospect for a negotiated two-state solution, by making Palestinian leaders believe that they do not need to make any compromises. Dershowitz has not ventured what would happen if the BDS movement continues on its current track. He has just made the general and obvious prediction that it would lead to "more wars, more death and more suffering."
If this Arab-BDS tactic continues, Israel may well move to the right of its current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and elect a government for which respect of Palestinian human rights is a lower priority. Such a government would be far less reluctant than Netanyahu in expanding settlements across the West Bank and in responding with overwhelming force to terrorist attacks, thereby making the lives of Palestinians much more difficult and seriously harming dreams of Palestinian statehood.
The advocates of BDS seem to rely on the belief that Israel would never do that, but they are wrong for several reasons:
- The Jews of Israel will not willingly commit suicide. So far, every time they refused to adopt anti-human-rights approaches, those decisions were not fatal to Israel. A one-state solution with equal rights for all would however be fatal to Israel, and most Jews of Israel will not go along with it.
- Israel can see how the rest of the Middle East has engaged with impunity in ethnic cleansing, from the ethnic cleansing of Jews to the ethnic cleansing of the Christians, and all the other groups in between. They also see that the West takes no serious action against it.
- Israelis know that the Arabs have been mistreating the Palestinians for almost 70 years, so Arab states will not risk losing further wars against Israel for the sake of Palestinians, whom they anyway despise (assuming that the divided Arabs could even manage to form a viable coalition against Israel).
- One of the factors currently holding back Israel's right wing is the risk of losing Western support. However, with the growing BDS movement, Israel may well feel that it has lost the support of the West anyway and that there is nothing left to lose.
For almost 70 years, the Arabs have played a very dangerous game, counting on Jewish scruples to turn every defeat into a partial victory. Whereas throughout history those who lose wars -- especially wars they themselves started -- are forced to live by the rules of the winner, the Arabs have refused to live by Israel's rules and they even consistently rejected middle-of-the-road two-state solutions that would have been reasonable for both sides. One can only hope that they, like Egypt and Jordan, will soon decide to live in peace with a neighbor which turned out to be far better in the way it treats Palestinians than the Palestinians' own "Arab brothers" -- not all that bad, after all. One can only hope that Palestinian leaders will start promoting a culture of peace rather than a culture of hate.
Fred Maroun, a left-leaning Canadian of Arab origin, has authored op-eds for New Canadian Media, among other outlets. From 1961 to 1984, Maroun lived in Lebanon.