Why the Left’s Failure to Confront Palestine’s Extreme-Right Values Prevents Peace

Those passionately supporting the creation of a Palestinian state should at least acknowledge one undeniable reality: the state they wish to see come into existence will not likely be progressive in even the broadest sense of the term.

Though Leftists in the West who champion the Palestinian cause can reasonably argue that their opposition to the occupation, and related support for Palestinian self-determination, is guided by liberal principles, they are rarely asked why they’re not burdened by the question of what kind of state – politically and ideologically – Palestine will become.

Indeed, there is a vast amount of evidence – including polling data – suggesting that on issues that matter most to the Left (anti-racism, gay rights, women’s rights, religious freedom, freedom of speech, a free press, democracy, etc.), Palestine – even if it’s ruled by the “moderate” Fatah – will be on the extreme right on most or all of these issues.

  • On gay rights: Polling data by Pew Global indicates that a staggering 93% of Palestinians reject the idea that society should accept homosexuality.
  • On racism: Palestinians have the highest rate of antisemitic attitudes in the world per an ADL poll in 2014 and Pew Global studies from previous years. Further, officially sanctioned antisemitic incitement continues unabated.
  • On women’s rights: Pew Global revealed that 84% of Palestinians believe that adulterers should be stoned.
  • On democracy: 89% of Palestinians expressed their belief, in a Pew Global poll, that Islamic law (Sharia) should be the official law of the land.
  • On support for violence: In addition to the glorification of terrorism by PA leaders, Palestinians, again per Pew Global, have the highest level of support for suicide bombings in the world.

Of course, it is at least possible, some would argue, that Palestine – once granted political independence – would evolve into a progressive, pluralistic democracy. But, is such a scenario really likely?

Moreover, the question of Palestinian values is directly related to hopes for a two-state agreement.  

Most Israelis support two states for two peoples, but are extremely skeptical that, under current conditions, any such deal will actually result in peace. Israel’s pessimism over the prospects that such a deal (if both parties can agree on a whole host of outstanding issues relating to security, borders, recognition, etc.) will bring real peace is rooted in a sober assessment of the likely political nature of the new state on their eastern border.  

The Israeli nightmare scenario in which the new state would (in a matter of weeks, months or at most a few years) devolve into a terror state – repeating the failure of Gaza – seems quite likely in the absence of evidence that Palestinian society is moving towards a more progressive direction. Indeed, the lesson of Gaza – and, to some extent, the US invasion of Iraq – is that democracy doesn’t automatically create liberal values.  The inverse is more accurate. Liberal values create the political dynamics necessary for a real and lasting democracy.

Whilst such values can’t be imposed from the outside, Westerners who are passionate about peace in the region can certainly play a part in the process by holding Palestinians to the same moral standards as they do Israel. Palestinians must be told that their future independence depends on their commitment to embarking on true political reforms, and fostering a culture which embraces peace, anti-racism and pluralism.

Israelis can accept a less than perfect Palestine, but will not serve as a midwife to another Islamist extremist state whose only exports are war and terror.

Unless those on the Left who putatively support a progressive solution to the conflict also demand progressive values from actual Palestinians, the State of Palestine will not soon be born.

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