Consider this nightmare: Imagine that the United States helps create a militant regime hostile to individual liberty. Suppose this U.S.-funded, authoritarian regime becomes notorious for inciting violent attacks. Now imagine that Washington enables jihadists to gain political power within the regime. Then the authoritarians and jihadists join forces.
Chilling? Yes. Irrational? Yes. Far-fetched? Sadly, no. That, in a nutshell, is America’s actual relationship with the Palestinian Authority, a state-in-the-making. To fathom how we ended up in this absurd situation, look at America’s approach to the Palestinian movement.
A core problem is that our intellectual and political leaders push aside the need for a serious moral assessment of the Palestinian movement’s nature and goals. They disregard, play down, even whitewash the movement’s hostility to individual freedom. The situation today is the result of a bipartisan failure across many years.
Giving a Terrorist the Nobel Peace Prize
In the 1990s, the United States helped establish the Palestinian Authority, a transitional quasi-state designed to become fully sovereign. It was supposed to be a step toward a lasting Israeli-Palestinian peace. Its first “president” was the arch-terrorist Yasser Arafat, who led the Palestinian movement. With an indifference to genuine moral judgment, the Clinton administration brushed aside Arafat’s heinous crimes and militant agenda, embraced him as a peacemaker, and whitewashed his vicious record.
Why? The Palestinian movement claimed it would recognize Israel and end the campaign to destroy that country, the region’s only free society. Those promises were empty, yet Arafat became one of the most frequent foreign visitors to the White House and co-winner of a Nobel Peace Prize.
Instead, since its birth the Palestinian quasi-state has been yet another brutal, militant Mideast dictatorship, mocking the rule of law and methodically violating the individual rights of its own subjects. It has enabled and sponsored Palestinian attacks on Israel. In the first decade of its existence, more people were injured or killed in Palestinian attacks than in the preceding quarter-century, by a factor of two.
Despite these facts, the United States and European patrons played down the regime’s authoritarianism and militancy, and continued backing it. Washington has lately given it about $400 million a year.
George W. Bush’s administration compounded the problem. Bush, like Clinton, endorsed the goal of a fully sovereign Palestinian state. While the United States had for years given de facto backing to that goal, Bush was the first formally to go on the record in support of it. Despite his reputation as a morally principled leader, we have Bush to thank for handing Palestinian jihadists greater power.
Ultimately Bush was embarrassed into admitting the obvious fact that Arafat was a “committed terrorist” when the Palestinian Authority, in the midst of waging a terror war on Israel, was caught smuggling in a 50-ton arsenal of weapons and explosives aboard a freighter.
Bush called on Palestinians to bring to power new “leaders not compromised by terror.” Yet the White House insisted on allowing the jihadists of Hamas to field candidates in a 2006 legislative election. In doing so, the administration disregarded abundant evidence that jihadists were ascendant across the region and within the Palestinian community. Washington shut its eyes to the moral significance of that fact.
Funding Terrorism. What a Great Idea
The jihadists of Hamas made their name by out-martyring rival factions with suicide bombings, proof of the group’s uncompromising commitment to destroying Israel. Hamas won the 2006 election by a landslide. Hamas leaders were now entitled to play a role in controlling the Palestinian Authority.
Lest American dollars reach the blacklisted jihadists, the Bush administration scrambled to “isolate” Hamas financially. Soon, however, Hamas and Fatah (which runs the Palestinian Authority) waged a gangland-style civil war. They remained at odds for a decade, until recent talks of a “unity” deal.
Like Bush, Barack Obama continued to normalize the Palestinian Authority, despite its ongoing violation of individual rights and incitement of violence. The PA’s current “president,” Mahmoud Abbas, is in the second decade of a four-year term in office. Yet, like Obama, Trump has hosted Abbas at the White House, granting him the moral status of a reputable political leader.
If a recently proposed“unity” agreement goes through, the two major Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, may reconcile. Thus: a militant authoritarian regime that Washington helped create and bankroll could become honeycombed with jihadists, who’ve redoubled their commitment to wipe Israel off the map.
That prospect is one more marker of the moral bankruptcy in America’s approach. By negating the need for objective moral judgment and acting on it, our policymakers have landed us in a dead-end situation that sells out our ideal of individual freedom and harms our regional ally, Israel.
We need to begin undoing that pattern. For a start: Stop normalizing the Palestinian movement. Stop playing down its crimes and vicious aims. Stop pretending that Fatah is somehow well-intentioned—an idea refuted by its murderous, tyrannical history, not to mention its openness to allying with Hamas. Let’s recognize that the Palestinian movement is deeply hostile to individual freedom, and treat it accordingly.
A version of this article appeared at The Hill.