If Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that all Arab citizens of Israel must be forcibly removed from the Jewish state, you can guarantee he'd be on the receiving end of domestic rebuke and international opprobrium. Front-page headlines would blare, editorial writers and pundits would eviscerate the Israeli statesmen, noble politicians would call for his head, and an immediate UN resolution would condemn Israel for racism, xenophobia and apartheid.
The above example is hypothetical, of course, but the following is not. Almost at the same time that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Washington recently, ostensibly in good faith to re-launch Mideast peace talks, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told reporters in Egypt that no Israelis would be allowed to remain in a future Palestinian state.
"In a final resolution, we would not see the presence of a single Israeli -- civilian or soldier -- on our lands," Abbas said.
This racist statement, which seeks to ethnically cleanse a future Palestinian state of Israelis, that is, to make it Judenrein (Jew-free), goes even further than the racist policies of apartheid segregation. While the media rarely questions the apartheid canard with reference to Israeli's Arab citizens who enjoy equal rights under the law and comprise 20% of Israel's population,
Abbas' statement should cause a firestorm of criticism and condemnation, and yet, nary a peep. Of course, this isn't the first time Abbas-the-moderate made this repugnant statement. In December of 2010, Abbas vowed that "... If there is an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, we won't agree to the presence of one Israeli in it ... when a Palestinian state is established, it would have no Israeli presence in it."
Skeptics may contend that to condemn Abbas' abhorrent remarks may put peace talks in jeopardy, yet, when Israel announced tenders this week to build residences in their historic homeland to account for the natural growth of its citizens, out comes the perfunctory pejoratives by all stakeholders involved. But why?
As argued by Arnold Ages, distinguished emeritus professor at the University of Waterloo, there exists a soft bigotry of low expectations in the Middle East. To many, because the Palestinians are stateless and allegedly downtrodden -- the proverbial David vs. Israeli Goliath -- not much can be asked of their leaders, people, and society at large. This prevailing mindset serves to make Palestinians and their supporters immune and unaccountable to legitimate criticism.
According to Ages: "There, through the prism of most western media coverage and the speeches at the UN, it has become painfully obvious that bigotry displays itself regularly in the reportage over the "Arab Spring," Syria's casualty count, the massacres in Mali, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and the Palestinian triangle. The shocking aspect of the reportage in question is its racist bigotry against Arabs, who are depicted unconsciously but inferentially, by the major news outlets, as being incapable of measuring up to the high expectations of international morality."
In Israel, it's said that for every two Jews, there are three opinions. Indeed, Israel boasts a vibrant debate on all sorts of issues in the marketplace of ideas. When given constructively, the Jewish state is highly tolerant of legitimate criticism. But where are the brave voices in Palestinian civil society who would condemn Abbas' remarks and his other shortcomings?
You would have to be courageous to speak out against Palestinian intransigence, rejectionism, and transgressions that are antithetical to peace, because to go against the grain might see you ex-communicated, lynched, put in jail, or worse.
That is the difference between free and fear society's as Natan Sharansky, a former Soviet dissident, political prisoner and prominent author describes. Sharansky employs a simple test to discern a free society from a society based on fear: "Can one enter a public square and express any opinion without fear of being arrested? If not, one is in a society that runs on fear."
Freedom House, a non-profit NGO that monitors world freedoms, ranks the west bank and Gaza as being fundamentally "not free" for a myriad of reasons including, but not limited to the lack of official electoral mandates, a non-functioning legislature, free press, few entrenched civil liberties, political rights and due to rampant corruption and political instability in the territories.
With separate ruling authorities existing in Gaza and the west bank, and with the PA failing to ensure that a process of democratic accountability and the rule of law is enforced, Palestinians yearning for civil liberties and better living conditions have limited options to have their voices heard.
With the peace process back on track, at least as of this writing, it's time for pro-Palestinian supporters to promote a positive atmosphere that improves the negotiating process and ameliorates conditions for average Palestinians. While Israel is routinely called upon to make unilateral concessions and to implement confidence-building measures, such as Israel's planned release of over 100 jailed terrorists with blood on their hands, Palestinian reciprocity goes out of sight and out of mind.
At bare minimum, Palestinian discourse should strive to allow for constructive criticism in the hopes that it will improve existing living conditions and ripen the prospects for peace with its neighbour. It should not be far-fetched to expect Palestinians to openly condemn continued terror waged against Israeli civilians, such as a rocket fired from Gaza recently that the PA did not denounce, along with the need to disarm and dismantle terror organizations, like Fatah's Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades.
Hamas, the terror organization that controls Gaza, should be encouraged to recognize Israel, renounce violence and respect previously negotiated agreements. A debate must ensue about Israel's requirement that it be recognized as a Jewish state.
When PA and Hamas news organs and educators incite and indoctrinate Palestinian youth towards martyrdom, Palestinian supporters should rebuke this practice front and centre. That would mean ending the glorification of Palestinian terrorists as "freedom fighters and holy warriors."
That would also mean that Palestinian leaders would stop ribbon-cutting ceremonies inaugurating public squares and schools named after terrorists. That, as a condition for statehood, the Palestinian Authority should be pressured to show flexibility on the so-called "right of return" of Palestinian refugees to ensure that a one-state solution would not be carried out in the form of a demographic ticking bomb that would eliminate the Jewish character of the state.
Israel, faced with existential considerations at birth and at present, wants a demilitarized Palestinian state and defensible borders, the merits of which should be openly discussed and vigorously debated in Palestinian town halls.
These measures, if implemented, are not opposing but are congruent and they serve to clear the way of the many Mideast hurdles, obstacles and roadblocks to peace. There are thorny challenges ahead that must be overcome, that is largely why U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry set a nine-month "target" not "deadline" for the talks.
Peace will take time and no one is under any illusion that this is an easy process, but to improve the prospects for a peaceful resolution to the conflict, a free marketplace of Palestinian ideas must be promoted to ensure that the will and legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people are reflected and to ensure that its leaders are held to account.
It is time to raise the bar on the soft bigotry of low Palestinian expectations.