MAXWELL:  A Q&A about the creation of Palestinian state

11/25/2001 – Printed in the PERSPECTIVE Section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


Shortly after the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, President George W. Bush indicated that he had been considering the creation of a Palestinian state. On Monday, Secretary of State Colin Powell said in a speech at the University of Louisville that the administration believes the creation of a Palestinian state might pave the way for a lasting peace in the war-torn region. “We have a vision of a region where two states _ Israel and Palestine _ live side by side within secure and recognized borders,” Powell said.

Both Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat have publicly welcomed Powell’s remarks. But, citing a history of murder, programed hatred, military aggression and broken promises on the part of Palestinians, several Jewish organizations in Israel and the United States vehemently oppose the creation of a Palestinian state. One of the most vocal opponents is Morton Klein, president of the New York-based Zionist Organization of America. St. Petersburg Times columnist Bill Maxwell, who has traveled in the Middle East and written about it extensively, talked last week with Klein about the advisability of a Palestinian state and related issues. Following are edited excerpts:

Q: Over and over, the issues of land and settlement construction in the disputed territories seem to be at the core of the current conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. Is this view correct?

A: The Arab war against Israel began almost 100 years ago, before there was an Israel, before there was a single Jewish community in Judaica, Samaria and Gaza, before there were settlements. Six Arab nations invaded Israel in 1948, when the land was even smaller than Israel is today, when there were no settlements. The Arabs invaded Israel in 1956 and 1967, when the Arabs controlled Judaica, Samaria and Gaza, East Jerusalem, the Golan and the Sinai.

So the Arab war against Israel has nothing to do with settlements and has nothing even to do with land. It has to do with the Arabs refusing to accept a non-Muslim entity with sovereignty in the Middle East. That’s one of the reasons they destroyed Lebanon, which was essentially a Christian country run by Christians. They destroyed Lebanon, and they don’t want Israel there because it’s a Jewish country, a non-Muslim country in their midst, and that’s what the problem is.

It is not land. If it were land, why, when the Arabs controlled the West Bank and Gaza, why didn’t they set up a PLO state then? Why was the PLO set up in 1964, three years before Israel captured those lands in a defensive war? The PLO was set up to destroy Israel. The issue is not the West Bank. The issue’s not settlements. The issue is Israel’s existence itself.

Q: Before talking about the advisability of a Palestinian state, what are some other problems that contribute to the perpetual violence?

A: One of the problems in the Arab world is a constant promotion of hatred and violence and even murder against infidels, and they say explicitly Americans, Christians and Jews. That is how they’re able to get so many people willing to kill themselves in order to kill Americans or Christians or Jews because they think that this is a holy act, to kill infidels. That is taught to them in the textbooks, in the schools, sermons, speeches, newspapers, promoting this terrible cultural hatred and violence against the West.

That has to be a priority of the West, especially of America, to confront this issue and demand that the Arabs change the culture that promotes this hatred. Arab culture, under Arafat _ the culture of hatred against Jews _ is the same as the culture of hatred against Jews in Germany in the late 1940s. The difference now is that the Jews have an army, and the Jews have a country to defend themselves. If that would change, it would be an important step toward getting a real conciliation between the Arab-Muslim world and the Western-Christian and Jewish world.

The way (the Arab leaders) get a thousand kids into the streets to shoot Israelis and Israeli soldiers is to have the schools teach that Jews are slime, they’re vermin, they’re the bane of civilization, they’re racist, they’re evil.

Q: Forget ancient history. Should there be a Palestinian state now?

A: When Bush began this war against terrorism, he said _ and quite rightly _ we must end terrorist states and those who harbor terrorists. If we establish a Palestinian state, we will be creating a new terrorist state under Yasser Arafat’s dictatorial regime. There’ve been no elections since 1996, no term elections. (The Palestinian Authority) has the worst human rights abuses imaginable.

They arrest people for political reasons. Human Rights Watch International said over half the people they arrest are tortured in prison. Dozens have been killed in prison. They abuse women, professors are arrested when they preach things that Arafat doesn’t like, journalists are arrested regularly when they write things he doesn’t like, newspapers are closed when they write things he doesn’t like.

I think it is in America’s interest to limit terrorist states, not create new ones. So, under these circumstances, where Arafat’s regime will clearly be a terrorist regime promoting hatred and terror against Jews and Christians and the West, I think it would be a terrible mistake. By George Bush announcing that he has a vision for a Palestinian state, he merely said only if they recognize Israel, respect the voters and end violence _ he gave those qualifications. I think it was a tactical mistake to make this statement now.

After 5,000 Americans were killed in the twin towers and the Pentagon, he has sent a message to this terrorist world: If you kill Americans, you’ll change American policy. This is the first time an American president ever publicly supported a Palestinian state. You don’t do that after 5,000 Americans are killed. A very dangerous message was sent.

Q: Am I to believe that hatred is a one-way street? That Jews don’t hate Arabs?

A: If the Arabs did not continue murdering Israelis, almost on a daily basis, promoting hatred in their culture, Israeli Jews would not feel any enmity toward Arabs whatsoever. They would be living in peace with them. The only reason Jews have negative feelings toward Arabs is because they kill us almost every day, and they promote killing us. It’s obviously a natural reaction. In Israeli textbooks, we don’t call Arabs racist and bigots and haters and killers.

In fact, (Israelis) have changed their textbooks in a way to explain Arabs in a very positive way. They’re trying to bring them closer together and get the peace. You don’t hear any Israeli leaders promoting hatred against the Arab people, that we should kill innocent Arab citizens. That doesn’t occur in the Jewish world. If they’d supported the establishment of a Palestinian-Arab state in 1948 and lived peacefully without terrorism, no Israelis would be hating Arabs. It’s their own actions and culture that induces Jews to rightly feel uncomfortable about the Arab intent about Jews.

Q: Many Jews and their supporters place all the blame for the region’s crises in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza squarely on the shoulders of Arafat. Is this a fair assessment of the PLO leader’s complicity? What can he do make himself legitimate in your eyes?

A: You can’t have peace if Arafat refuses to arrest killers, members of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and give them long prison terms. These are unequivocal terrorist groups. You can’t have peace if he’s glorifying killers. Arafat names streets for suicide bombers, honoring them, glorifying them. Arafat pays families of suicide bombers $15,000. If you die trying to kill Israelis, you get a $15,000 fee, and Saudi Arabia is one of the (countries) that funds this.

Fundamentally, Arafat’s got to prevent and fight terror, he’s got to recognize Israel’s right to exist on his maps, and he’s got to honor human rights and end anti-Israel propaganda.

Q: Everyone focuses on Arafat as being the problem. Are you concerned about who may follow him?

A: We must understand that Arafat is only part of the problem. Polls show that 73 percent of Palestinian Arabs support suicide bombings against Israelis. Seventy percent of Palestinian Arabs do not support the right of Israel to exist. The numbers are higher at universities. It goes into the 90s (percent) at the universities, which is supposedly the intellectual people or the smartest people. So the problem is the Palestinian Arab people have been taught well by Arafat’s regime. If Arafat would die, many people would support someone like Abu Mazen, who wrote his Ph.D. thesis at the University of Cairo saying that the Holocaust is a myth that the Jews have created to gain sympathy in the world. You’ve got a Holocaust denier as the No. 2 men who’s made extremely negative statements about Israel and Jews.

I’m afraid the problem’s not just Arafat. If he goes, it will not improve anything because he’s now created a culture where the entire culture hates Jewish people, hates Israel.

Q: Given his violent history with Arabs, why should Palestinians see Sharon as a serious peace partner?

A: Sharon has stated that Israel is willing to make painful compromises _ those are his words _ to get a real peace with an Palestinian Arab-regime that is serious about peace. And he says once they arrest the killers and end this incitement _ he calls it incitement _ he’s willing to negotiate. Sharon has stopped any new communities from being built in Judaica, Samaria or Gaza.

In fact, Sharon has said something very important that people don’t say: Why is it that America and the world are demanding that Israel stop building new homes in Judaica and Samaria and the disputed land, while the Arabs are building new homes at 10 times the rate of the Jews in Judaica and Samaria. And he says if we’re going to stop building, Arafat should stop building and then we’ll negotiate the disputed land and we’ll hopefully come to some resolution.

In speech after speech, Sharon makes it clear he’s willing to make painful compromises and live in peace with the Palestinian Arabs.