The Palestinian Choice

There will be no peace in the Middle East unless freedom rather than despotism becomes
the Palestinians’ guiding philosophy.

By Edwin A. Locke

The toll of violence in the Middle East is a tragedy. The whole world, including President Bush, is pressuring Israel once again to negotiate with Arafat as a means of ending the conflict. This is a hopeless quest. Negotiation pre-supposes that both parties share common moral values and compatible goals. But the two sides are not morally equivalent. Arafat is a ruthless dictator who has had hundreds of his own people tortured or killed. He is and always has been a terrorist; he has never sought peaceful co-existence with Israel but only its destruction. New evidence indicates that he provided money for the suicide bombers’ missions and no doubt will continue to do so.

The Palestinians are the initiators of the violence–an indiscriminate violence in which they do not care whom they kill, whether soldier or child. Israel, in contrast, is acting in self-defense, in retaliation for such terrorism. And its response is aimed at those responsible for the violence and at the facilities from which they operate. (Any innocent non-combatants killed in the process are not the targets of the retaliation, and their blood is on the terrorists’ hands.)

The Palestinians are not seeking to gain their freedom–they are unequivocal enemies of freedom. They, along with the rest of the Arab world, reject the whole concept of rights. Every Arab country is a monarchy, theocracy or military dictatorship. Freedom of speech, property rights, free elections, and the separation of church and state are almost non-existent. Speaking out against the rulers or against the Muslim religion leads to imprisonment or death. All attempts to start competing political parties are ruthlessly crushed.
Israel is the sole country in the Middle East that recognizes individual rights. It is the only Mideast country in which people are free to voice their opinions. The non-violent, non-PLO-supporting Arab who lives in Israel enjoys far greater freedom than he would in an Arab nation. It is an utter perversion for the collectivized, tribalist Palestinians to claim that they are acting in defense of rights, when their aim is to obliterate rights–the rights of Israelis as well as of Arabs.

The fundamental goal of the Palestinian leadership is destruction. They want their terrorist attacks to lead to retaliation, so that more of their people will become terrorists, so that more killing takes place, and so on, in an endless cycle of violence, resulting in . . . death–death to as many people as possible. For example, the response of a father to the suicide-bombing act of his 23-year-old son, which killed three Israelis and injured 93 in downtown Netanyah, was: “I call upon all Palestinian youth to follow in his footsteps.”

Why such seething nihilism? Consider that when the Jews came to Palestine, it was a desert. People were living in the same primitive manner as they had been since the time of Moses. The Jews brought Western knowledge and Western values to the Middle East. They turned an almost barren land into a modern, industrial civilization. They raised cities where there had been only dirt; they developed irrigated farms where there had been only dry sand; they built cars and trucks and planes where there had been mainly pack animals. They produced wealth where there had been only poverty. They brought freedom and individual rights to a land where these ideas were unknown.

And many of the Arabs hated Israel for doing so–because it was an achievement they could not, and did not want to, equal. That is why they have always wanted to destroy Israel. That is why the Palestinians continue today in that quest.

When a person sees that a different culture can produce a much better life–greater knowledge, greater mastery over nature, greater comfort and security, greater respect for the individual–than his own, he has two choices. He can adopt the new culture as a blessing, or he can seek to destroy it–and himself–because it stands as a reproach to his irrational form of existence.

The Palestinians have chosen the latter. They are guilty of what Ayn Rand called “hatred of the good for being the good.” They hate the Israelis not because of their vices, but because of their virtues–their ability to better their lives by embracing reason, science, technology and individual rights. Israel (despite its own, growing crop of religious mystics) represents the triumph of secularism and freedom in the Middle East. Israel stands for the principle of . . . life.

The only way this conflict can be resolved, short of all-out war, is for a radical change in philosophy on the part of the Palestinians, starting with the choice of a new leader who wants Palestine to have a future. They need to choose individual rights and a free society as their core political principle. If they don’t, they will tragically get their death wish, and will bring about only further destruction.

Until and unless that change occurs, our Mideast analysts should not ignore the morally antithetical premises governing the two sides of this conflict.

About Edwin A. Locke

Edwin A. Locke, a Professor Emeritus of management at the University of Maryland at College Park, is a senior writer for the Ayn Rand Institute ( in Irvine, Calif.