Last month I had the very specific thrill of getting to see Yossi Klein Halevi in conversation with Leon Wieseltier at a shul on the Upper East Side. In addition to reminiscing about the days when Leon used to sneak into Jimi Hendrix concerts, the two public intellectuals talked a lot about the Middle East.
Both had their share of big insights–I highly recommend seeing them if they decide to tour–but, as some news made its way into my orbit, one comment made by Klein Halevi stuck out to me.
In walking the crowd through the recent history of Israel, Yossi Klein Halevi said that the First Intifada had birthed the phenomenon of “the guilty Israeli.” Klein Halevi didn’t expand on this much, but most likely he meant that this Israeli archetype most likely watched the Palestinian protests of the late 1980s and early 1990s and responded more sympathetically than ever to the Palestinian demands for statehood.
The very next thing Klein Halevi declared was that the syndrome of the guilty Israel had been summarily “cured” by the extremely violent Second Intifada a decade later. In other words, as their buses, cafes, and hotels were targeted in attacks, Israelis understandably no longer placed emotional priority on the Palestinian national quest (even if Israel’s long-term health ultimately relies upon it).
The Second Intifada also caused a new disconnect between Israel’s story and the world’s interpretation of it. I was three weeks into a gap year program in Israel when the violence began in September of 2000 and when I left ten bloody months later, there seemed to be nothing more certain to anyone around me than Israel’s virtue in defending itself against terrorism. But the narrative, unsurprisingly, was completely different everywhere else.
On the college campus, the Second Intifada hadn’t been an act of war unleashed upon an Israeli population whose leadership had just made a generous peace offer and been rebuffed. Instead, according to too many, the Second Intifada had been the response to Ariel Sharon’s offensive visit to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which had supposedly provoked a war that would last for five years and take nearly 4,000 lives.
The tactic worked. The Second Intifada lent the Palestinian cause countless symbols to massage public opinion with: disproportionate body counts, photos of civilian dead, the birth of an ugly security barrier, etc. A robust campaign to delegitimize Israel was waged, all of which started with a lie.
More than 12 years later, the lie surrounding the inciting cause of the Second Intifada has finally been put to rest. In a surreal interview with Dubai TV (translated by MEMRI), Suha Arafat, the widow of Yasser Arafat, bluntly boasted that the Second Intifada had been entirely premeditated by her late husband. Arafat told her interviewer of a meeting with her husband in Paris in 2000.
“Immediately after the failure of the Camp David [negotiations], I met him in Paris upon his return…. Camp David had failed, and he said to me, ‘You should remain in Paris.’ I asked him why, and he said, ‘Because I am going to start an intifada. They want me to betray the Palestinian cause. They want me to give up on our principles, and I will not do so.’”
The cause to be betrayed? A peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict at the expense of Arab rejectionism. Quoting him, she went on:
“‘I do not want Zahwa’s [Arafat’s daughter’s] friends in the future to say that Yasser Arafat abandoned the Palestinian cause and principles. I might be martyred, but I shall bequeath our historical heritage to Zahwa and to the children of Palestine.’”
The historical heritage Arafat bequeathed instead? Violence, death, corruption, graft, Palestinian poverty, and the worst casualty of all for Palestinian nationalism, a partner that could believe in it.
Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.