Palestinians have a hidden history of appreciating Israel that contrasts with their better-known narrative of vilification and irredentism.
The former has been particularly evident of late, especially since Israel's prime minister, Ehud Olmert, floated a trial balloon in October about transferring some Arab-dominated areas of eastern Jerusalem to the Palestinian Authority. As he rhetorically asked about Israeli actions in 1967, "Was it necessary to annex the Shuafat refugee camp, al-Sawahra, Walajeh, and other villages, and then to state that these are part of Jerusalem? One can ask, I admit, some legitimate questions about this."
In one swoop, this statement transformed pro-Israel statements by Palestinians (for a sampling, see my 2005 article, "The Hell of Israel Is Better than the Paradise of Arafat") from the mostly theoretical into the active and political.
Indeed, Olmert's musings prompted some belligerent responses. As the title of a Globe and Mail news item puts it, "Some Palestinians prefer life in Israel: In East Jerusalem, residents say they would fight a handover to Abbas regime." The article offers the example of Nabil Gheit, who, with two stints in Israeli prisons and posters of "the martyr Saddam Hussein" over the cash register in his store, would be expected to cheer the prospect of parts of eastern Jerusalem coming under PA control.
Not so. As mayor of the neighborhood of Ras Khamis, Gheit dreads the PA and says he and others would fight a handover. "If there was a referendum here, no one would vote to join the Palestinian Authority. … There would be another intifada to defend ourselves from the PA."
Two polls released last week, from Keevoon Research, Strategy & Communications and the Arabic-language newspaper As-Sennara, survey representative samples of adult Israeli Arabs on the issue of joining the PA, and they corroborate what Gheit says. Asked, "Would you prefer to be a citizen of Israel or of a new Palestinian state?" 62 percent want to remain Israeli citizens and 14 percent want to join a future Palestinian state. Asked, "Do you support transferring the Triangle [an Arab-dominated area in northern Israel] to the Palestinian Authority?" 78 percent oppose the idea and 18 percent support it.
Ignoring the don't-knows/refused, the ratios of respondents are nearly identical preferring to stay within Israel – 82 percent and 81 percent, respectively. Gheit exaggerates that "no one" wants to live in the PA, but not by much. Thousands of Palestinian residents in Jerusalem who, fearful of the PA, have applied for Israeli citizenship since Olmert's statement further corroborate his point.
Why such affection for the state that Palestinians famously revile the media, in scholarship, classrooms, mosques, and international bodies, that they terrorize on a daily basis? Best to let them explain their motivations in direct quotations.
Financial considerations: "I don't want to have any part in the PA. I want the health insurance, the schools, all the things we get by living here," says Ranya Mohammed. "I'll go and live in Israel before I'll stay here and live under the PA, even if it means taking an Israeli passport. I have seen their suffering in the PA. We have a lot of privileges I'm not ready to give up."
Law and order: Gazans, note Israeli-Arab journalists Faiz Abbas and Muhammad Awwad, now "miss the Israelis, since Israel is more merciful than [the Palestinian gunmen] who do not even know why they are fighting and killing one another. It's like organized crime."
Raising children: "I want to live in peace and to raise my children in an orderly school," says Jamil Sanduqa. "I don't want to raise my child on throwing stones, or on Hamas."
A more predictable future: "I want to keep living here with my wife and child without having to worry about our future. That's why I want Israeli citizenship. I don't know what the future holds," says Samar Qassam, 33.
Others raise concerns about corruption, human rights, and even self-esteem ("When the Jews talk about swapping me, it's as though they are denying my right to be a person").
These earnest views do not repudiate the vicious anti-Zionism that reigns in the Middle East, but they reveal that four-fifths of those Palestinians who know Israel at first-hand understand the attractions of a decent life in a decent country, a fact with important and positive implications.