Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is under attack for speaking an important truth about the Arab-Israeli conflict. At a fundraiser in Jerusalem on Monday, Romney made the obvious, even banal, point about the economic disparity between nations. Speaking of Israel and the Palestinian-run West Bank, Romney said, “Culture makes all the difference.” Rejecting the geographic determinism that claims geography, climate, and species distribution account for the greater power and wealth of the West, Romney added, “you look at Israel and you say you have a hard time suggesting that all of the natural resources on the land could account for all the accomplishment of the people here.” Romney’s point was part of a larger discussion of global economic disparity that he has brought up previously in numerous speeches and in his book No Apology, and that scholars like David Landes and Thomas Sowell have developed in their work.
When it comes to Israel, however, no comment, no matter how sound its scholarly pedigree, that challenges the orthodox narrative favored by the Arabs and their Western shills will be allowed to pass without attack. Saeb Erekat, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, responded, “It is a racist statement and this man doesn’t realize that the Palestinian economy cannot reach its potential because there is an Israeli occupation.” Hanan Ashrawi, a Palestinian legislator and official in the Palestine Liberation Organization, claimed the Palestinians “have to build an economy when they have no freedom of movement, no human rights, no fundamental freedoms.” International reporting on the remarks backed up the Palestinian interpretation by citing the “occupation” and “blockade” as the real explanation for why the Palestinians are failing economically.
These reactions are drearily predictable, including the incoherent charge of “racism” against somebody making a cultural argument. More important, once again Palestinian revanchist obsessions, anti-Semitism, and the jihadist death cult are ignored, and the reasons for Israeli defensive measures passed over, while Western materialist obsessions like “racism” “colonialism,” and “national aspirations” are used to explain destructive behavior the origins of which lie in cultural and religious dysfunctions.
Thus if you want to explain Palestinian economic backwardness, start with the Arab rejection of Israel’s legitimacy, one grounded in Islamic doctrine and culture. For all the duplicitous talk of the “two-state solution,” a critical mass of Arabs simply does not recognize Israel’s right to exist. Nor is this rejection a consequence of an “illegal occupation” of an “Arab homeland” by neo-colonialist Jews abetted by Western imperialists. When four Arab armies invaded Israel in 1948, its purpose was not to create a Palestinian nation, something that has no historical reality. Rather, after they destroyed Israel, the aggressor nations planned to carve up among themselves what was left of mandatory Palestine. This rejection of Israel has been a constant over the last 60 years, as historian Efraim Karsh points out: “Had Arafat set the PLO from the start on the path to peace and reconciliation, instead of turning it into one of the most murderous terrorist organizations in modern times, a Palestinian state could have been established in the late 1960s or the early 1970s; in 1979 as a corollary to the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty; by May 1999 as part of the Oslo Process; or at the very latest with the Camp David summit of July 2000.”
The fact is, Israel was and is an abomination to Muslims not because there is no Palestinian state, but because it is a country comprising what Muslims consider dhimmi, a conquered inferior people whose lands and lives are forfeit to Muslims by decree of Allah. Nor does it help that Muslims especially loath Jews, hatred based on the authority of the Koran, Hadiths, and 14 centuries of Islamic theology and jurisprudence. Hence the rank anti-Semitism rampant among Palestinian Arabs, who routinely and publicly indulge invective and genocidal rhetoric redolent of Der Stürmer. The continuing existence in the Middle East of an economically and militarily powerful Israel, populated by despised dhimmi, is a daily humiliation for the peoples who consider themselves the “best of nations” destined to rule the world. Ending the “occupation” or lifting the defensive blockade of Gaza wouldn’t change this irrational, religiously sanctioned hatred.
This deep-seated hatred, justified by religion, is also manifested in Palestinian culture by the cult of martyrdom, murder, and death that has legitimized terrorist attacks on Israelis for decades. Rather than promoting secular education, the acquisition of entrepreneurial skills, and the creation of a legal system conducive to economic development, too many Palestinians have instead financed, idolized, and reinforced with public honors the “martyrs” who blow up themselves and innocent Israelis on the promise of paradise. A people who dress up preschoolers as suicide bombers and make heroes out of murderers have other priorities than increasing exports, growing new businesses, or increasing GDP. Nor is this sickening death-cult the preoccupation of a fringe. A few years ago, alleged “moderate” Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas named a public square in Ramallah after a terrorist who in 1978 killed 38 Israelis, including 13 children. Such hatred is a cultural dysfunction inimical to the cosmopolitan tolerance necessary in a globalized economy.