Israel Will Be Erased

Mr. Pipes is the director of the Middle East Forum. His website address is

In June of this year, Palestinian television broadcast a sermon in a Gaza mosque in which the imam, Ibrahim Madi, made the following statement:"God willing, this unjust state [of] Israel, will be erased; this unjust state the United States will be erased; this unjust state Britain will be erased."

The sheik's gentle homily came to mind this weekend, when Palestinian suicide bombers launched nearly simultaneous attacks on Israeli civilians in Jerusalem, Haifa, and Gaza, killing 26 and wounding nearly 200. If a reminder were needed that the war on terrorism goes beyond Sept. 11 and the campaign in Afghanistan, the Palestinians provided a powerful mnemonic. Even as U.S. and British forces respond to the World Trade Center atrocity by closing in on Kandahar, the last city under militant Islamic rule in Afghanistan, Israeli forces began preparing a response to the Jerusalem atrocity with a"frontal attack" against the Palestinian Authority.

The American and Israeli situations seem very different to some, but Sheik Madi's remarks show they are not. In both cases, the forces of militant Islam are targeting a Western country with the intention of destroying it. Osama bin Laden years ago declared a jihad against all Christians and Jews while his friend Mullah Omar, the Taliban dictator, provided more specifics in mid-November:"The current situation in Afghanistan is related to a bigger cause-that is the destruction of America. If God's help is with us, this will happen within a short period of time-keep in mind this prediction. The real matter is the extinction of America, and God willing, it will fall to the ground."

'Cancerous Tumor'

Likewise, with an almost numbing routineness, militant Islamic leaders call for the destruction of Israel. The most powerful of them all, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called sometime ago for"this cancerous tumor of a state [to] be removed from the region."

There are differences, to be sure. The battle against the United States is newer, far less advanced, and less supported by nonmilitant Islamic elements. Ironically, however, the U.S. government has declared a"war on terrorism," while its Israeli counterpart is still (with U.S. encouragement) trying to hammer out a deal with its enemies. These differences aside, the drive to destroy the United States and Israel are at base similar.

The latest attacks on Israel serve to remind us of something else too:

that the attempt to destroy the Jewish state has gone on since it came into existence in 1948. For over a half century, the majority of Arabs have persisted in seeing Israel as no more than a temporary irritant, one they eventually expect to dispense with, at best permitting Israelis to live in"Palestine" as a subject people and at worst massacring them.

This destructive impulse has waxed and waned since 1948. When a seemingly weak Israel first came into existence, it started very high. Then 45 years of steadily losing to a tough and determined Israel left the Arabs reeling by 1993 and partially open to the possibility of accepting it. Rather than pushing this advantage to achieve full acceptance, the Israelis made the historic mistake of easing up and offering their two main enemies, the Syrians and Palestinians, an advantageous deal.

These offers completely backfired: rather than understood as far-sighted strategic concessions intended to close the conflict, Arabs interpreted them as signs of Israel's demoralization. The result was an upsurge in violence and renewed Arab hopes of destroying Israel through force of arms. For the first time since the 1960s, politicians, civil servants, religious leaders, journalists, and intellectuals routinely called for Israel's elimination.

Obviously, this wall of rejection harms Israel, denying its bid to live as a normal nation, subjecting its population to homicidal attacks, and compelling it to take tough steps against neighbors. But Israel is prospering despite these attacks, boasting of a high standard of living, a democratic body politic, and a vibrant culture. In fact, the real harm is felt primarily by Arabs. The destructive urge prevents talented and venerable peoples from achieving their potential. Arabs are focused on harming Israelis rather than improving their standards of living, opening the political process to all, and insuring the rule of law. The result is plain: Arabs are among the world leaders in percentages of dictatorships, rogue states, violent conflicts, and military spending.

A solution is easy to propose though much harder to implement: the Arabs must reconcile themselves to Israel's existence. Only that will close down the century-old conflict, permit Israel to attain normality, and launch Arabs on the path to modernity.

This interpretation of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which puts the onus on Arabs, differs profoundly from the usual one. Even Israelis, not to speak of Arabs and everyone else, tend to think that the Arab acceptance of Israel is already done and now it is up to Israel to do its part by making a series of concessions (handing over the Golan Heights, Jerusalem, etc.).

Inflamed Rhetoric

If it was possible to believe in the Arab acceptance of Israel in 1993, surely today's inflamed rhetoric and the drumbeat of Palestinian violence proves that it was a mirage. Israel has the unenviable task of convincing its enemies that their dreams of its destruction will fail; translated into action, this means it must show resolve and toughness. How can it be otherwise? Such lethal intentions as one finds widely in the Arabic-speaking countries can only be defeated with strength. This will not be pleasant; Israel will incur both foreign condemnation and domestic discontent, but it has no choice.

Understanding the conflict this new way has profound implications for the West. It means that Europe and the United States, always eager to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict, can most helpfully do their part by offering fewer clever plans and making a greater effort to comprehend its basic truths. It means coming to terms with the basic fact of continued Arab rejection of Israel, with all its destructive implications. It means seeing the Israeli predicament, tolerating its need to be tough, and pressing the Arabs to make a drastic change in course.

For many governments, even the American one, this approach requires a reversal from current policy (which is to press Israel). Such as shift will not come easily, but it is a near-prerequisite for anyone truly serious about closing down the Arab-Israeli conflict.

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yllid - 12/16/2001

I would like to draw your your attention to the fact that the current intifada was precipitated by Ariel Sharon and his armed bodyguards marching into Al Aqsa which is either the second or third holiest of all Islamic sites. To a Muslim this was a dreadful sacrilege.

It is thought that Sharon's motive [the resulting intifada being totally predictable ] was to prevent Ehud Barak from parting with Jerusalem, which of course is sacred to the Jews too.
He succeeded in his ambition and went on to win the next election which is pretty horrifying since he had been demoted for his guilt in the Shabra and Shattila massacres. It must be said that when the truth came out about these awful events the Israelis took to the streets in protest.
It is all very well to slam the Palestinians. But how would any nation whose country had been stolen feel? Particularly since now they must be the only people in the world who have no nationality at all and are not entitled to passports all this on top of their loss of homes, human rights,freedom to move about their homeland.
The attitude of other Arabs mentioned in the article is probably pretty fair. But they have not lost their homeland and citizens rights.

Nicholas Freedman - 12/13/2001

Thank you for your learned article Dr. Pipes. As a scholar of the Middle East I hadn't realized that how wrong all the information I had was. Now I know that "militant Islam" is seeking to destroy yet another peace-loving Western country. (It does beg the question of exactly how and why a Western country should appear in 1948 in the Middle East, and what exactly makes it Western--but surely it isn't the judicial torture or arms exports) Previously I had thought that there was a national liberation struggle, with many actors with diverse agendas, taking place in Israel and the Territories. Now I know that it is a mass movement totally homogenous in its malevolence, totally resolute in its obstinate militancy in the face of the reasonable Israelis. Now I know that Israel is being "pushed" by the US to make peace with its enemies, as opposed to supplying Israel with the resources it has needed to avoid making a lasting peace with the Palestinians.
Now I know that the founding of Israel was a "minor irritant" to Arabs, and not a catastrophe of colonization. And how fickle of those silly suicide bombers to take human life over a minor irritant. What was even more interesting was to learn of Arab plans to make Israelis into a subject people. In this hypothetical situation would Israelis have to pass through humiliating checkpoints daily? Would there be two legal systems, one for Israelis and another for Palestinians? Would their basic rights under international law apply? If that is what they want, then no wonder Israel did it to them first!
Now I understand that Israel was not offering the Palestinians a network of bantustans separated by walls and bypass roads from which they could supply Israelis with cheap labor but rather these were "far-sighted strategic concessions." It was my opinion before reading your article that it was the failure of the Israeli government to implement existing agreements that has resulted in the second intifada. Apparently it was just the "weakness" that Israel showed by trying to be so gracious.
Dr. Pipes your article was most illuminating. All that research I did of all points of view, all the time talking to people, all that effort I took to understand the "other" point of view, it was all wasted. As a history student I admire your methodology. Writing to justify your opinions, while throwing in some very selective facts, certainly is a lot easier than doing research--especially if you are writing for a non-specialist audience. And if your doctorate is any indication, it is just as effective.

aisha sobh - 12/12/2001

Like...Yeah, Mr. Pipes. Did you ever consider why Palestinians and Arabs, etc. are 'unhappy' with Israel? This state is at the root of most of the 'wars', refugee problems, economic depression, etc. in the Middle East. It is inaccurate, to say the least, that Israel is this poor victim in the midst of aggressors. Nevertheless, the past has happened and what will Israel do now? I have always wondered why they didn't take the smart way out from the beginning. Be an inclusive state, spread the wealth, take care of the Palestinians as your own-a real democracy. It's something like the Golden Rule. Treat them as you would like yourselves to be treated. Of course, that's what I wondered about South Africa as well, and now it's too little, too late.

Pierre Troublion - 12/12/2001

Leaving it to Mideast specialists to comment on the more general Arab-Israeli history contained in this article, I would merely point out that there have quite clearly been peacemakers and warmongers on BOTH sides. For example, assuming the Nobel Peace Prize committee knew what they were doing (they were based, after all, in Oslo), Yitzhak Rabin and Yasir Arafat might arguably fall into the former group, and it appears even more obvious that Rabin's assassin, the Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Hamas are all members of the latter category. This is simplistic, of course, but less simplistic than believing that Israel can do no wrong against the always-at-fault Palestinians. For those who would like to support moves towards compromise and peace, it seems quite a leap for the Sharon government to expect unconditional and unending international support for its military moves against Arafat. If America shared Sharon's approach it would be fighting Taliban extremists by bombing the Northern Alliance.

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