Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad is one of the most interesting and even tragic figures in world politics.Consider his statement made in response to the horrific shooting at a Jewish school in Toulouse, France, after its jihadist perpetrator claimed to have been acting in service of the Palestinian cause. Said Fayyad:
It is time for these criminals to stop marketing their terrorist acts in the name of Palestine and to stop pretending to stand up for the rights of Palestinian children who only ask for a decent life. This terrorist crime is condemned in the strongest terms by the Palestinian people and their children. No Palestinian child can accept a crime that targets innocent people.
To begin with, Fayyad’s refreshing moral clarity is much to be admired. For it is an ugly fact that violence against Jews today, whether in France or elsewhere, is too often justified or explained away as if not a legitimate then at least an understandable response to Israeli policies like the occupation. Indeed, this depraved rationale — which serves as an apologia for murderous hate by holding all Jews mortally responsible for the policies and actions of a far-off Middle Eastern country — is offered not only by the perpetrators of such crimes, but sometimes by European officials and intellectual elites.Fayyad has it right: schoolchildren in France have nothing to do with the construction of settlements on the West Bank or anything else that the government of Israel may or may not do. The fact that so many otherwise sensible people accept this kind of muddled collectivism (all Jews are complicit in and responsible for what any Jew does) shows just how widespread anti-Semitism still is.There is no doubt that if a Jew started shooting random Arabs on the street in Brooklyn and tried to justify this action by pointing to things Arab governments or movements had done in the Middle East we would all understand that the claim made the killer more guilty and more despicable, not less so. If a white man in Seattle started shooting African-Americans because his mother had been mugged by some African-American teenagers in Miami, we would see the killing as an atrocity that was aggravated, not meliorated, by his rationalization of hate.The whole concept of “hate crime” is that it is more odious to attack people because they belong to a group with whom you are angry than just to assault someone. But when it comes to Jews, the fact that a crime is a “hate crime” is taken as some kind of explanatory or even extenuating circumstance.To many people, especially in Europe one is sorry to say, but sometimes also here, Jews are different. Jews are “the Jews” and while it is not right to shoot one because of the crimes of the others, it is “understandable” when somebody does it. Hate crimes against Jews are “understandable” because, well, Jews are so… easy to hate?Prime Minister Fayyad gets what a lot of people don’t: that this is disgusting. It is a form of mental illness, not an informed and compassionate response to a complex mix of events.Moreover, Fayyad has some political clarity here as well. The more Jews see this kind of anti-Semitism so widely tolerated around the world, the more tightly Israel will circle the wagons. What else is there for them to do in the world we live in, when “liberal” “cosmopolitan” European elites “understand” anti-Jewish hate crimes, and when mobs across the Middle East, egged on by religious and political leaders, bay for Jewish blood?Fayyad gets this political equation and understands that if Palestinians can’t win a war with Israel their only course of action is to make a deal from a position of weakness. And if they are going to make that deal, they have to reach the Israelis in a way that tells them they can be secure with a Palestinian neighbor.Israel will not give ground on the West Bank because it feels threatened and insecure. It will not think that if world opinion is against it, the wisest course is to show weakness by making concessions. Israel must be coaxed and cajoled out of the Territories, not threatened and intimidated.Unfortunately, Fayyad cannot get enough Palestinians to consistently follow this path. That is his tragedy: he sees the path to a Palestinian state, but he cannot be the Palestinian Moses because as yet, the people aren’t ready to follow him out of Egypt. Some are, but not enough.Yet Israel, too, has its dilemmas and its tragic predicaments. Pushing Fayyad to the wall and refusing to make concession to leaders like him doesn’t exactly reinforce his power and prestige, or indicate to ordinary Palestinians that the path of Fayyad is the path to freedom and security for them. The Israeli dilemma is that making the kind of territorial concessions and settlement closures that would give Fayyad and those with him more credibility wouldn’t guarantee the kind of peace Israelis want — but that failing to make those concessions and withdrawals undercuts moderate Palestinian leadership and makes peace even more remote.Peace is not at hand in the Middle East, but serious leaders with the kind of moral insight that could someday lead to peace can be found. They are found in Israel, they are found among the Palestinians, and they are found here and there around the region. American diplomacy needs to think much harder about how we can ease the path for those who want peace to build it; this will mean thinking outside of the box.