Friday, April 9, 2010

Why Does the Palestinian Authority Celebrate Those Who Turned Christianity's Holiest Shrine into a Military Bunker?

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By Barry Rubin

The Obama Administration doesn't understand this but it is signaling the Palestinian Authority (PA) that it can get away with anything, thus further dooming any hope for serious negotiations and perhaps leading to a restart of large-scale violence.

Decades ago, when Middle East experts held views closer to the region's realities rather than to its propaganda, it was well-known that one of the best ways to mobilize a big demonstration or riot in Arabic-speaking countries was to tell people: The government is with you.

Say, for example, you wanted to smash up of the British embassy in Damascus or Cairo. The trick would be to persuade the masses that their rulers wanted them to do it and thus they would be rewarded, not punished. In effect, this is the consequence of what the Obama Administration is doing inadvertently.

The PA has concluded that the U.S. government will never criticize or punish it. Indeed, Palestinian leaders know that the more intransigent they are, the more conflict they can provoke in U.S.-Israel relations.
Here's the chain of reasoning:

--The Obama Administration wants progress toward peace for which it can take credit and which supposedly will help it in Afghanistan, Iraq, and in dealing with Iran.

--If Israel doesn't make concessions, U.S.-Israel friction will result. But if the PA is intransigent, there will be no problem in bilateral relations.

--Instead, the U.S. government will say: Since the PA won't yield or accept our offers, we must put pressure on Israel to give more in order to get the PA on board.

--Indeed, in this framework, the more radical things that the PA does which encourage Israeli anger and reluctance to take risks, the more Israel gets blamed for the result.

--Conclusion: Being intransigent, creating conflict, and even inspiring violence is in the PA's interest.
Here's an example. While the Obama Administration is angry at Israel merely because a low-level committee announced one of seven stages toward building apartments perhaps in a couple of years, the PA’s very top leadership is honoring terrorists responsible for the murder of many Israeli civilians and American citizens.

By glorifying such deeds, the PA sends Palestinians the message that conciliation with Israel isn't on its agenda and moderation is equivalent to treason. By ignoring this, the U.S. government encourages more such behavior--Palestinian actions showing Israelis of all political views that the PA is not a real partner for peace and Israel should be very wary of making concessions. The effect, then, is to make both sides less willing to achieve a deal, the exact opposite of what the Obama Administration wants.

The latest step, just announced, goes beyond all previous boundaries: the naming of a street in Ramallah, the de facto PA capital, after Yahya Ayyash, the bombmaking engineer who may have been directly involved in the murder of more Israelis than any other single terrorist in the field. He was killed by Israel in 1996, setting off additional numbers of terrorist revenge attacks. At least one of his victims was an American citizen, Joan Davenny, a 46-year-old teacher from New Haven , Connecticut.

This is not the only example of PA applause for terrorists who murdered Israeli civilians. In one case, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton blamed the naming of a square after a terrorist, who killed 28 Israelis in 1978, on Hamas, even though it was done in Ramallah, the PA’s de facto capital. Indeed, that terrorist also murdered an American citizen, Gail Rubin.

While outraged about an Israeli construction announcement, the administration has never once criticized the PA’s incitement against Israel to create future terrorists or cheering on past ones. In the entire time this administration has been in office it has never once criticized the PA despite its honoring of terrorists and sabotage of negotiations.

A third terrorist being honored is also of special interest. Abdallah Daoud, former head of Palestinian intelligence in Bethlehem, was one of those who seized the Church of the Nativity in 2002 and turned it into a fortress from which to fire at Israeli soldiers. He and the others were eventually allowed by Israel to leave the country and he died recently of natural causes in Mauritania.

Why is this particularly shocking? Because it is a slap in the face of all Christians. Here’s a man who took over what might be considered the single holiest shrine of all for Christians, intimidating the monks at gunpoint.

Imagine if the world—and particularly Western governments, intellectuals, and media--was a bit saner. We live in an era in which the slightest offense to a religion (or at least some religions; ok, make that one religion) is considered just about the worst crime of all. Yet the idea that PA gunmen take over an extremely sacred Christian church and use it as a military bunker did not stir outrage or provide much understanding of what kind of people we're dealing with here.

What signal should this send to Christians around the world? Imagine if the church had been taken over by Israelis or a Muslim shrine had been the target?

This is the significance of PA leaders giving Daoud a hero's funeral, of Abbas personally visiting his family and extolling his virtues. According to the report in al-Quds, the PA's official newspaper, of March 28:

"We must maintain the way of the Shahid (Martyr) Daud, who always believed in the struggle, in love of the homeland, and in the realization of national unity." He added that Daud had been "suffering from the injustice of his expulsion."

Now this is a man involved in terrorist attacks, then taking over a Christian shrine, and making the Christian clerics there hostage. Saved from arrest and punishment, he was allowed to go abroad and live in freedom. And this is “injustice”?

Yet the basic point is the framework being set up by U.S. policy, one that will sabotage the Administration's own goals, make peace harder to achieve, encourage radical policies and forces, and possibly even lead to the outbreak of massive violence.

This is not good.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (Palgrave-Macmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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