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Israelis and Palestinians Have Common Enemy in Terrorists

Copyright 2003 by David W. Neuendorf

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To achieve peace between Israel and their Palestinian neighbors will require something more powerful than their longstanding mutual hatred. A mere desire to be reasonable and to get along with each other will be enough to motivate only a minority of their populations. What is needed to unite the two peoples in a common purpose is to focus on a common enemy. There is one very good candidate for that role: the Palestinian terrorists.

Palestinian terrorists are obviously enemies of Israel, but how are they also enemies of other Palestinians? Their actions are the primary obstacle to establishment of peace, or even of a stable and relatively free Palestinian state. Without the threat of terror attacks, Israelis would be much more inclined to listen to any grievances of Palestinians. Their military reprisals would also stop. Peace might actually be possible, along with prosperity for people on both sides. Palestinians have every reason to resent the terrorists, and to want them stopped.

There are signs that ordinary Palestinians may be getting fed up with the terrorists. A May 20, 2003 Associated Press story reported on demonstrations following an Israeli invasion of Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip. The Palestinians were protesting that 15 farmhouses as well as olive, citrus and date palm trees had been destroyed in the invasion. Their anger, however, was directed not at the Israelis, but at the terrorists who had used the farmers' property as cover for missile attacks on Israeli towns.

Growing Palestinian dissatisfaction against terrorists presents Israel with a new opportunity for a better relationship with their neighbors. What would happen if Israel went back to Beit Hanoun and repaired the damage done by their anti-terrorist retaliation? What if they established a new policy to treat every terrorist incident in this same way? Obviously they could not atone for any loss of life, but they could show more concern about minimizing innocent casualties. And they could certainly guarantee that no innocent Palestinian would suffer a loss of property.

I think such a policy would win Israel many friends among their neighbors. It would feed the resentment that many Palestinians already feel toward terrorists. Eventually terrorists would be seen as the common enemy of all peaceful people of the region. Israeli and Palestinian people would develop sympathy for each other as common victims of the same evil. That sympathy would be a solid basis for a Palestinian state committed to peace with Israel and crushing of terrorism. More Israelis would also understand the value of such a peaceful neighbor.

What effect should this development have on US policy in the region? America has meddled in the Middle East long enough to have become a primary target of terrorists, leading to the current "war on terrorism." The only way to break free of our entanglements there is to destroy the known terrorist groups, while working to establish peace between Israel and the Palestinians. We can do the latter by encouraging Israel to treat any and all anti-terror neighbors as their close allies against the common terrorist enemy.