The perception of Palestinians as victims has become the most powerful marketing tool Palestinians have and no one uses it more effectively. Time after time we have seen Palestinian figureheads like Michael Terazi and Hanan Ashwari plead the Palestinian cause and point to the Israeli "occupation" as the root cause of all Palestinian problems.
Conversely, for years, Israel preferred to deal with the war on the ground and put the war of ideas with the media on hold. This has come back to haunt Israelis in almost every news outlet. It has also sowed disaffection among the Israeli electorate. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's recent electoral victory highlights the apathy that exists within the Israeli population towards the new guard of political leaders. Another factor that was quite evident is the fact that the security threats that Israel faces were put on "hold" in these past elections.
This has not diminished the threat of Palestinian terrorism. As the recent bombing in Tel Aviv proves, the intifada is still alive and well. Another unchanging reality is the Palestinians' insistence that Israel is always to blame. In the Palestinian psyche, Israel is Goliath and the Palestinians are David. Following the Tel Aviv attack, for instance, we saw the classic Palestinian media maneuver, perfected by the late Yasir Arafat, of condemning Israel for the crimes of Palestinian terrorists. (Mahmoud Abbas was the notable exception: He condemned the attacks, characterized them as "terrorist" actions and observed, correctly, that no good would come of them.)
Simultaneously, the Palestinian psychology of "occupation" continues, as we witnessed after Israel implemented its disengagement plan from Gaza. It was remarkable to see official Palestinian spokesmen make the argument that Gaza disengagement changed very little and that, as far as they are concerned, Gaza remains "occupied" territory. Mahmoud Abbas stated clearly on July 7, 2005, that "the legal status of the areas slated for evacuation has not changed." And now, following the Tel-Aviv bombing, Sheikh Mohammad Abu Tir, a Hamas member of parliament, was quoted saying, "Israel and the occupation are responsible. Before the attack, less than two days before, Israel killed 18 Palestinians."
Furthermore, organizations like the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) advocate the perception that, regardless of the reality, the Palestinians are occupied for life. The UNRWA has a financial interest in perpetuating this fiction. As long as the Palestinians are refugees, the UNRWA is in business. The reason is that the UNRWA's success is measured not by results but by the contributions it receives, and here the agency is doing well for itself. The Bush administration has agreed to contribute $51 million to the agency's emergency appeal this year, more than double the $20 million it contributed last year. Overall, the U.S. donation to UNRWA amounts to over $100 million annually.
The monies themselves illustrate how the United States is perpetuating a state of utter dependency in which the Palestinian upper class fobs off all economic responsibilities onto the international community. If one looks at Palestinian society as a whole, more than anything it is lacking social mobility. There are two social classes in Palestinian society: a small affluent class and the poor, who comprise the majority of the population. However, poverty in Gaza is ghastly not because of the so-called occupation. Rather, it is a self-inflicted state of affairs created by Palestinian leaders who are supposed to govern and better the lives of Palestinians but instead prosper at their expense. The fact is that Arafat's corruption and the al-Aqsa intifada have only succeeded in damaging Palestinian society rather than furthering its desires.
As long as Palestinians cling to the false notion of being "occupied" with Israel in the role of the "oppressor," they will not assume responsibility for themselves. In Palestinian society, socio-economic conditions are not the root cause of homicide bombing, since it is the more educated who are sacrificing their lives in Allah's name. And Arab terrorism did not begin with the so-called occupation after the Six Day War; it started as early as 1929 when Jews were massacred in Hebron. Despite this history, in Palestinian nomenclature, the "occupation" remains the root cause of all problems, from social and economic woes to terrorism.
The twisted psychology that Palestinians use to further their sense of victimization has successfully co-opted the feelings of the international community, to the detriment of both. It was former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir who said that "as long as the Arabs hate the Jews more than they love their own children, there will never be peace in the Middle East." The continued incitement of terrorism suggests that that time has not yet arrived. For this, and for much of their suffering, the Palestinians have only themselves to blame.
Asaf Romirowsky is a Campus Watch Associate Fellow for the Middle East Forum and the Israel Affairs fellow for the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.