(Ray Hanania is the former national president of the Palestinian American Congress. An award winning journalist and author, Hanania can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org He is member of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East.)
Palestinian and Israeli peace is threatened by a growing movement of uncompromising rejectionists nourished by the ongoing conflict. Extremists can’t afford to let the conflict end. Many Israelis are thwarted by an inability to distinguish between the criticism of Palestinians moderates and the criticism of extremists. Palestinians suffer under two occupations, the occupation by Israel and the occupation of Palestinian extremists who believe that continued suffering is a better alternative to compromise. Palestinian moderates face dual obstacles, not the least of which are Israel’s sentinels. Conditioned to defend Israel at all cost, they fail to distinguish between Palestinian moderation and extremism focusing instead on issues of differences that results in a destructive debate. But the greater threat to peace is the challenge facing Palestinian moderates from within their own confused and battered community. Palestinians are too defensive and consumed with their suffering and anger. The hatred sometimes produced prevents them from seeing past these emotions. Yet they must see beyond. In recent months, leaders of the American based al-Awda movement, the organization advocating for the return of all Palestinian refugees to Israel, have unleashed a campaign of hate against moderates seeking to compromise with Israel. Targeted are Palestinians who dare to speak out against unreasonable policies of rejectionism. There is a conspiracy of doctrine that unites the extremists. They attack those who question the faults of their policies and those who speak out against violence, denounce terrorist organizations like Hamas and denounce suicide bombings as immoral. As Palestinians strive to define the moderate voice and speaking out against anti-Semitism, extremists are responding with stronger and more forceful campaigns to discredit them. The most difficult hurdles facing the creation of two states are the sharing Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugee problem. In addressing the refugee problem, Palestinian moderates are seeking to end the suffering of the refugees and their disenfranchised descendents. To salvage Palestinian rights and to achieve statehood, Palestinians must find the courage to speak to these difficult issues and to prevail over the uncompromising ideologues. The al-Awda extremists are exploiting not fighting to end Palestinian suffering. They need that suffering to continue, just as all extremists need the conflict to rage on endlessly. These rejectionists have a direct stake in the conflict. If it ends, they end, too. They have created an industry of exploitation that thrives on the suffering. They have jobs, salaries, lives and a soapbox from which they can continue to preach uncompromising hatred to their choir of disillusioned, disheartened and lost. For more than half century, this unholy brotherhood has imprisoned the Palestinian refugees in their camps. To prevent peace, they will use any tool including violence that goes far beyond the boundaries of legitimate resistance. They have duped many well-intentioned supporters of human rights who want to help the Palestinians, but who have no other voices to support.
The average Palestinian is living in a Diaspora of emotion and injured national pride that cannot easily be overcome to see the truth. Rather than challenge the extremists, most Palestinians remain silent, empowering the extremists. It’s a cycle of viciousness that must be broken. Rather than receiving full support from moderate Israelis and Jews, they are being challenged, not on issues of larger substance but on smaller issues of vanity. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict has generated two separate historical narratives that will never meet, not even after a peace accord is achieved. The solution, though, is to recognize that while we cannot agree on details of history, we can agree on the details of a future based on mutual respect, security and sovereignty. Peace does not mean we cannot criticize each other. We can and we should. But we can criticize policies, not people. Events, not emotions. Instead of looking back at history to find reasons why we cannot come together, Palestinians and Israelis must turn away and look toward a future, and work together to overcome all extremists working together. Before this can happen, though, Palestinians must find their true independence. They have to break free from the choke hold of fanaticism that is eroding their future. They must find the courage to face the unreasonable stridency that smothers Palestinians under a more vicious occupation. Supporters of Israel can either standup and support this effort, or they can continue to remain silent wrongly believing that this debate undermines the strength of the Palestinian cause. At some point, Israelis and Jews must also standup to the extremists who also exist in their community. Then and only then can the future be free of violence and Palestinians and Israelis can live in peace and dignity in two states.