By Daniel J. Arbess
Wall Street Journal
Aug. 14, 2018
Israel released 17-year-old Ahed Tamimi last month after she spent eight months in prison for assaulting an Israeli soldier. She immediately met with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority, who lionized her as a “model of Palestinian resistance,” and others have since hailed her as an “Icon of Palestine.”
Ten days before her release, Israel’s Knesset had enacted a law reaffirming that Israel is “the national home of the Jewish people” and that “the right to exercise national self-determination in the State of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”
These two otherwise unrelated developments point to essential questions: Will the Palestinians finally accept Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people and help fashion Israel’s democracy to serve better all who live there? Maybe — if Ms. Tamimi’s generation is willing to help make it happen. But they, and well-meaning Palestinian sympathizers in Israel and abroad, will need to move on from the past, accept the present ad work toward the future.
In her first post release interview, the young icon inauspiciously says that the Palestinians’ problem “was never with the Jews, it’s with Zionism.” This is the familiar mantra of rejecting Israel’s right to exist, yet expecting to enjoy its economic and political benefits as if it were an ordinary secular liberal democracy like Canada or Sweden—where demographics might one day make the Jewish vote a minority.
This narrative of rejection is Ms. Tamimi’s family legacy. Her father, Bassem Tamimi, describes himself as a follower of Gandhi, but in 2012 an Israeli military court convicted him of “sending people to throw stones.” Ahed’s cousin Ahlam Tamimi was behind the 2001 Sbarro Massacre, in which a suicide bomber murdered 15, including seven children and a pregnant woman. Another cousin, Rushdi Muhammed Sa’id Tamimi, murdered an Israeli man near Ramallah in 1993. Ahed herself professes nonviolence, despite being jailed for assault and still pledging that “the resistance will continue until the end of the occupation.”
It’s a self-defeating attitude. Palestinian Arabs, and self-styled progressives everywhere, need to realize it’s time to stop fighting lost battles and accept reality.
The Hard Cold Truth — whether the Arabs fantasize or not is that:
Israel is the ancestral and legal homeland of the Jewish people. Its capital is Jerusalem, as the U.S. has belatedly recognized, with other countries following. Israel’s enemies lost the Six Day War more than 50 years ago and Israel regained its biblical Judea and Samaria (West Bank) and the ancient city of Jerusalem. The 1967-borders-and-land-swaps formula of the 1993 Oslo Accord is an artifact of history, overtaken by developments on the ground. The Palestinians rejected it, and they have never initiated any proposal to achieve peace with Israel, before and since.
A broad alignment is coalescing among Israel and its treaty partners, Egypt and Jordan, and the consensus now informally includes Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, among others. With this Israeli-Arab détente, the Palestinians in Israel are finding that they are the last holdouts of an Arab world that has accepted Israel and will make peace with it.
Next-generation Saudi and Emirati leaders are notably losing patience with Palestinians’ rooting for Iran or supporting the West against the Gulf Arabs’ interests. Arab leaders who truly want to help their people know the path is through creativity, negotiation and compromise, not violent “resistance”—a euphemism for terrorism—and war.
Nonetheless, the Palestinians and their sympathizers have a legitimate argument that the status quo is unsustainable. Nobody seems truly satisfied with the unresolved status of Palestinian Arabs. Polls show the Israeli public wants a dignified outcome that integrates the Palestinian people into Israel’s thriving economy and culture of innovation. But security comes first. How could Israel ease security restrictions while Palestinian leaders are indoctrinating and inciting new generations to resist the so-called occupation with violence?
As the “two-state solution” fades and Palestinian “resistance” lingers, the Jewish people’s standards and aspirations still anticipate Zionism’s complete reconciliation with the ideal of equality for all of Israel’s “inhabitants,” expressed in the nation’s 1948 Declaration of Independence. It would seem appropriate for Jews, Christians, Druze and forward-looking Muslims to start discussing how democratic rights may be preserved for everyone while still guaranteeing the Jewish character of the state under any demographic circumstances.
Might the answer point toward an arrangement that grants local communities self-determination while sustaining Jewish control of immigration and other policies of national identity and security? We in the U.S. know very well that decentralized democracy can be highly legitimate and effective.
Ahed Tamimi and her cohort shouldn’t be content as the next generation of cannon fodder. They’re capable of breaking free from their elders’ calcified thinking, as their millennial counterparts are doing around the world. Information-savvy young Palestinians should find the courage to move on, or Israel and the world will keep passing them by.
Ahed says she’s considering law school and a political career, and she’s a passionate and telegenic teenager with the potential to make a difference. Let us hope she will follow this path and help develop an arrangement that benefits all peoples of Israel. Such an order would promote democratic local self-determination, while preserving Israel’s eternal Jewish identity.
An Israeli nation free of the burden of this conflict—Christians, Jews, Muslims and Druze together—would be a beacon of democratic light, leadership and healing for the entire Middle East and world. Ahed Tamimi’s involvement in that project would render her a true icon.
Author: Mr. Arbess is CEO of Xerion Investments and a co-founder of No Labels.
To subscribe to Israel Commentary: Send your email address to
Please “Like” on Facebook: 1. Israel Commentary 2) Jerome S. Kaufman
Web Page: https://israel-commentary.org for previous articles