Winning Palestinian hearts and minds

A majority of West Bank Palestinians might choose maintaining a relationship with Israel, and especially the Israeli economy, over an independent Palestinian state.

Moshe_Arens_cropped-150x150By Moshe Arens

At this moment all of Israel has one all-consuming goal – bringing back our boys and apprehending the kidnappers. The necessary, day-to-day searches carried out around the clock by the Israel Defense Forces and the Shin Bet security services of Palestinian towns and villages are inevitably an imposition on the Palestinian population in Judea and Samaria. They are unlikely to win Israel friends among those whose homes are searched, but it is a price that must be paid in these circumstances. When the mission is accomplished, there will be more hostility toward Israel in the area than there was to begin with. If that was one of the aims of the Hamas terrorists who kidnapped Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaar and Eyal Yifrah, then it is an aim they will have achieved.

The time will come when Israel will have to begin to repair the damage caused to the Palestinian population as a result of the kidnapping by Hamas. Everyone, whether they are for the two-state solution, the one-state solution or a continuation of the status quo, can agree that improving relations between Israel and the Palestinian population in Judea and Samaria is of utmost importance. Neither the establishment of a Palestinian state nor the withdrawal of the IDF from Judea and Samaria is the only single step that is likely to achieve progress toward this aim. In fact, no one knows what the result would be of either measure. It might very well bring about the typical Middle Eastern turmoil, injurious to Palestinians and Israelis alike — an upsurge in violence and an increase, rather than a decrease, in hostility between Jews and Palestinian Arabs.

So the mission facing the Israeli government after the completion of the current operation will be to win the hearts and minds of Palestinians in Judea and Samaria. To many, this may seem like a mission impossible; even some of Israel’s Arab citizens have voiced support for the recent kidnapping. One Israeli Arab Knesset member has insisted that the teenagers’ kidnapping was not an act of terror, and another claimed that Hamas was not a terrorist organization. If that reflects the views of Israel’s Arab citizens, what can be expected from the Palestinian population in Judea and Samaria? Is it even possible to win their hearts and minds?

But that is clearly not the whole story. Despite the violence and the Palestine Liberation Organization flags waved at Friday’s demonstration in Umm al-Fahm, a stronghold of the Northern Branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel, most of Israel’s Arab citizens do not support the kidnapping and hope that the boys will be returned safe and sound. There is no need for an opinion poll to confirm this. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has condemned the kidnapping and expressed his support for finding the boys. That is no small thing, considering the pressure he must be under from Hamas and the radical elements in his own party.

Despite the kidnapping, it is possible to improve relations with the Palestinian population. But how?

A recent article by Dani Dayan, a longtime leader of the settler movement, shows the way. In one sentence: Improve their economic condition and make their life easier. The Palestinians already know that their economy is intimately linked to and dependent on Israel’s economy. Even those who have aspirations for Palestinian statehood also aspire to a better life for themselves and their children. The two are not necessarily compatible. They know, especially in light of recent developments in the Middle East, that were a Palestinian state to come into being its future would be very uncertain and Hamas would continue to try to destroy the State of Israel. A majority of Palestinians living in Judea and Samaria may prefer instead to maintain a relationship with Israel, and especially its economy. Some would prefer to be incorporated in Israel even if a Palestinian state were to be established. Winning their hearts and minds is not a mission impossible.

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