“Peace will come to the Middle East when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us,” then Foreign Minister Golda Meir said in 1957, during an address to the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
Meir, one of the signatories of Israel’s Declaration of Independence in 1948, made her pronouncement long before the Six-Day War, when Israel was nearly annihilated by a host of Arab armies, emerging victorious by the skin of its teeth and the grace of God. This was the war that resulted in the unification of Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty, and the repossession of Judea and Samaria (the West Bank), and the Gaza Strip.
Rather than simply annexing the above territories — which were not only legitimate spoils of war, but historically Jewish since time immemorial — Israel made what would turn out to be a serious mistake. It administered, protected and funded them, in the hope that the Arab population residing in them would come to terms with their Jewish neighbors, eventually reaching an agreement that would be satisfactory to all concerned.
This fact has been obfuscated to the point of eradication since those days. Indeed, the Arab world knew a good thing when it saw one. This “good thing” took the form of a particularly effective propaganda campaign aimed at Western liberal sensibilities on the one hand and at Arab vulnerability on the other.
Creating an entity called “the Palestinians” — those Arabs who had lived in east Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza before the war and those born after 1967 — enabled them to play David to Israel’s Goliath. It was a brilliant maneuver, since up until that point there was little doubt that Israel was a tiny country surrounded by much larger Arab states bent on its destruction. Once “the Palestinians” were created, this reality became forgotten, certainly in the international arena, but even by many Israelis.
The idea that the only real obstacle to peace in the Middle East was the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians not only took hold across the globe; it also came to shape Israeli foreign policy, including that of right-wing governments.
It is thus that there have been repeated U.S.-backed Israeli initiatives to make peace with the Palestinians. Each of these initiatives has been based on the assumption that Israel must relinquish land in exchange for Palestinian promises of peace. Each has ended in war.
Given the stated aims of the Palestine Liberation Organization and Hamas — the former ruling over the West Bank and the latter over Gaza — it is no wonder that Israel’s attempts have failed abysmally. Basing policy on false premises is never a good idea. Repeating such an error again and again is psychotic, suicidal, or both.
Nobody is more aware of this than the Arabs themselves. And the more they can milk it for all it’s worth, the better for them.
But don’t take my word for it. The perpetrators of Israel’s current war against the terrorist infrastructure in Gaza always articulate it so precisely. This week is no exception.
For days, Hamas has been broadcasting battle-cry video clips on its Al-Aqsa TV station, produced especially for Operation Pillar of Defense. The purpose of these segments, jointly devised by Hamas and its military wing, the Al-Qassam Brigades, is twofold: to rally the residents of Gaza around the regime and to threaten Israel into submission.
One such segment includes the following warning to the Israel Defense Forces: "The price will be high, sons of Zion ... Oh occupier, we are coming toward you. Leave our land. All of Palestine is ours. There is nothing here for you but death. There is nothing here for you but to be killed and to leave … In the land that you came to alive, you will end as body parts. That is Allah's promise."
This is but one of many and varied examples — translated by Palestinian Media Watch over the years — of how the Palestinians actually view their conflict with Israel. It has nothing to do with the 1967 borders. Nor does it have to do with “occupation”; Israel withdrew completely from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Neither is it rooted in poor peace planning. It is an assertion of a religious imperative that Israel must be destroyed.
Another clip, part public-service announcement and part horror-film promo, has a narrator calling out menacingly to the IDF, "From the Al-Qassam Brigades to the Zionist soldiers: The Al-Qassam Brigades love death more than you love life.”
This goes to show that Golda Meir was only partly right. Peace won’t come to the Middle East when the Arabs love their children more than they hate Israel, but rather when they stop loving death, period.
She was completely on the mark, however, when she said that Israelis might be able one day “to forgive the Arabs for killing our sons, but it will be harder for us to forgive them for having forced us to kill theirs.”
Ruthie Blum is the author of “To Hell in a Handbasket: Carter, Obama, and the Arab Spring" (RVP Press).