Israel’s institutionalized hatred of Palestinians is an expression of cowardice. Decent nations have decent enemies. A nation which chooses a bunch of farmers and laborers for the iconic enemy cannot claim respect.

In the short period between Exile and post-Zionism, when Jews were normal, we had enemies one could be proud of: Egyptians, Syrians, Russians, even Americans in 1948. Unwilling to accept the burden of hating Egyptians, Jews turned their emotions against weak Palestinians.

The Palestinians were never a significant enemy. At the peak of the Jewish-Arabs clashes of the 1930s, which Israeli historians disparagingly call “riots,” not even ten thousand Arabs were involved in the attacks. Those who were involved were generally outcasts of Palestinian society rather than typical villagers. Examples of peaceful coexistence, including pacts between Jewish and Arab villages, were much more common than attacks. True, Palestinian villagers rarely opposed the brigands and often yielded to their threats and allowed them to station themselves in their villages. Such behavior is regrettably normal for human beings: recall the popular inaction in the face of the Holocaust. Jews also welcomed Irgun and Lehi members known for attacking Palestinian civilians. While we sensibly believe that Irgun had a better justification for violence than did the Palestinian groups, we cannot close our eyes to the fact that the Arabs thought exactly the opposite.

Palestinians are not the Israeli problem

A higher proportion of Palestinians took part in attacks on Jews in towns than villages, Hebron being a prime example. That is easily understandable because towns were a refuge of the underclass, mostly landless peasants who had lost their village roots. Town populations are generally known for being receptive to incitement and prone to violence. The reasons are many: crowds in towns are too big for common sense to prevail, so their values sink to the lowest common denominator which is usually zero. Overcrowding makes people mentally unstable, constant rubbing against people of different values builds latent hatreds, and the inertia that should be kept in place by traditions and neighbors’ reproach is lost.

In 1947-48, Palestinian attacks on Jews were insignificant compared to the warfare by Egypt, Syria, and the British-trained Arab Legion of Jordan. There is no guilt in expelling the 400,000 Palestinians: we did a necessary thing, which was unavoidable if we wanted a Jewish state. But recognize that Israeli damage done to the Palestinians exceeds the damage they did to us by something like a hundred times.

During the War of Attrition, the West Bank was quiet; all the attacks came from Gaza—but from Egyptians rather than Palestinians. The Egyptians recruited Palestinian refugees for terrorism; they could as well have recruited them from any other country. Egypt, rather than Palestinian society, was responsible for terrorism.

In 1967, the Palestinians did not move a finger against the Jews. They were also quiet in 1973, 1982, 2006, and even the Gaza war of 2009.

Fatah’s terrorism was statistically negligible before the late 1980s. Dependent on donations from states, the terrorist group could not afford to create political crises. During its years in Jordan Fatah carried out very few attacks because it feared that Israeli reprisals against Jordan would spell trouble for Palestinians—which indeed happened. King Hussein used the hijacking of several aircraft by a splinter terrorist group as a pretext to expel the Palestinians from his kingdom. The Black September saw the only battles actually fought by Fatah. Even in Karamah, which grew into PLO legend, all the serious fighting was done by the Jordanian Army while Arafat fled the scene. Israel made the strategic error of helping Hussein evict the PLO rather than helping the PLO to take over Jordan instead of the West Bank.

The PLO’s terrorism in Lebanon quickly came to a halt because of Israeli reprisals and the unfolding Palestinian-Lebanese war. In the years before the 1982 war, the PLO mostly shelled Israeli territory in response to Israeli raids. The calm was such that Israelis had to find an absurd pretext for an invasion in Shlomo Argov’s assassination, which was committed by a terrorist group openly at war with the PLO. Israel repeated its error: they armed Lebanese Christians to expel the PLO instead of helping the PLO to carve a state for Palestinians in South Lebanon.

The intifada had little to do with the PLO. Now that the Palestinians have published the minutes of the Oslo negotiations, we know that Abu Ala was almost in tears to prove to Israelis that Arafat could not end the intifada. It was a spontaneous popular uprising. Many terrorist groups rode the wave, but Fatah was not one of them for a reason: before the Rabin-Peres clique brought Arafat into Gaza, Fatah had almost no presence in the territories, thanks to decades of IDF work. Fatah was popular as a symbol of resistance: Arafat could incite the intifada, but not quell it against popular wishes. Unable to commit real terrorism, Fatah compensated with wild rhetoric, which worked against the peace settlement.

Arafat was never an uncontested leader before Israel made him one by channeling foreign aid through him. Even Arafat’s closest associates were highly skeptical of him—until Israel promoted him from president-in-exile and made him into a powerful chairman.

Most Palestinians today want an arrangement with Israel, just as they have wanted it for the past several decades. They want jobs and personal safety rather than Jerusalem or some specific borders. Past offenses must be covered with dust: if Israel maintains friendly relations with Germany and Egypt, we have no right to tell the Palestinians about a speck in their eye. Instead of demonizing the Palestinians, Israel must abandon the Peres policy of supporting Fatah.

Israel lives in a dream in which evil Palestinians with stones and Molotov cocktails seek to destroy one of the world’s strongest armies. Sensing the implausibility of this, Israelis developed a concurrent line: Palestinians are weak, but all Arabs support their fight against Israel. This is false. Since the demise of their Soviet sponsor, even pro-communist Arab countries don’t want a major conflict with Israel. On the contrary, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a major headache for somewhat moderate Arab governments because it fans pan-Islamic radicalism in their states. Long gone are the days when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict served as a vent for popular discontent in Arab countries; today, it is more of a catalyst, though in that role, too, it is fading. With ample leaks and secret documents published in the media, we know that Saudis, Egyptians, Tunisians, and Moroccans were jubilant about the Oslo Accords. Jordan’s king was gloomy for a single reason: of all the PLO’s friends, he alone was not informed of the secret negotiations. Even post-communist Russians were happy about the deal.

Israel has major religious and nationalistic reasons not to abandon Judea and Samaria. To disguise them with imagined security reasons is counterproductive.