When a Palestinian suicide bomber blew himself up at a Tel Aviv seaside resort last week, killing four innocent Israeli civilians, he wasn’t just trying to kill Jews.
He was seeking to kill peace.
Few Arab leaders in the U.S. or abroad stood up to denounce it.
The reason is many leaders are not as enthusiastic about the cease-fire newly elected Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signed with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon.
They don’t believe the agreements will achieve much except reduce violence against Israel.
Those who did denounce the attack did so in ideological terms. Israel has killed nine Palestinian civilians during the same three-week period between the cease-fire signing and the suicide bombing. Few complain when Palestinians are killed. But Israeli deaths always make great headlines, and contributes to Palestinian resentment.
My Arab community doesn’t understand the threat the suicide attack and future suicide bombings pose to Palestinian rights.
Clearly, the attack was intended to provoke Sharon into his usual pattern of anger and the suspension of peace negotiations. And that undermines Abbas.
Israel has taken some positive steps. The policy of ‘collective punishment,’ a clear violation of international law intended to punish people rather than perpetrators of violence, was suspended.
In other gestures, Israel released 500 Palestinian prisoners, announced plans to ease its oppressive occupation by eliminating most checkpoints and withdrawing troops, giving Palestinians re-control over several major cities.
On its face, these actions certainly do not constitute peace. But they do represent the process of disengaging from continued conflict and lay the groundwork for a renewed peace negotiation.
Knowing that the suicide attack is intended to derail peace, you might think Arab leaders would forcefully denounce the attack in such a way as to undermine the presumed support the extremists assert from the public.
The Arab world has always compromised rather than confronted its extremists. There is a belief that the suicide bombers must have support if no one denounces them. But, if that is true, one might argue Palestinians oppose compromise with Israel.
The strongest demonstration of how wrong that logic is rests in the victory Abbas achieved in the January presidential elections.
There are many who insist Abbas does not have a mandate and argue that reports of election turnout and results are exaggerated. But even by the most conservative standards of democracy, Abbas won by a huge landslide, with more than 60 percent of the turnout.
The strength of democracy is not weighed in favor of those who refuse to register or participate in a vote, but rather in favor of those who register, vote and stand up to antidemocracy extremists.
In this light, what criticism there was of the suicide bombing was mild and downright shameful. Many Arab-American and Middle East newspapers that criticized the attack did so in passing, preferring to focus on Israel’s continued killing of Palestinians.
Palestinians and Arabs cannot hide behind Israel’s actions as an excuse to not denounce violence. They cannot be selective in denouncing violence.
At stake is the future existence of a sovereign Palestinian state. The reality is that Palestinians need to reinvigorate international support for their cause. Standing up to a moral principle is a key part of restoring that widespread support diluted by four years of a conflict the Palestinians are losing.
Palestinians need to be strategic, but with a balance of morality. We cannot denounce Israeli killings of Palestinians if we fail to denounce Palestinian killings of Israelis.
The burden is on our shoulders, not because the world is a fair place but because the world is an unfair place. And Palestinians need to learn how to preserve their moral strength in a world that is skewered against them.
We must live by a higher standard than our enemy if we expect to achieve the two-state goal. Palestinians must put their emotions in check and unleash their reasoned morality.
Until Palestinians put real meaning behind their denunciation of violence, and include denouncing suicide bombings, the suicide bombers will achieve their goal of blocking peace. The unintended result will be the absolute corrosion of Palestinian national aspirations.
Suicide bombings are standing in the way of Palestinian justice, and we must open our eyes, be honest and recognize that fact.
Ray Hanania is an author and former national President of the Palestinian American Congress. He is managing editor of TheArabStreet.com. He can be reached at RayHanania@aol.com. He is a member of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East spme.org