For all their rhetoric about Israel's "vicious" and "brutal" occupation, Palestinian Arabs - including their leaders - sometimes let down their guard and acknowledge how they prefer Israel to the Palestinian Authority. Here are some recurring themes:
Restraints on violence. After PA police raided the house of a Hamas supporter in a late-night operation and roughed up both him and his 70-year-old father, the father yelled at the police, "Even the Jews did not behave like you cowards." When the son came out of the PA jail, he declared it as much worse than Israeli prisons. An opponent of Yasser Arafat noted that Israeli soldiers "would first fire tear gas, and then fire rubber bullets, and only then shoot live ammunition. ... But these Palestinian police started shooting immediately."
Rule of law. A Gazan leader, Haydar Abd ash-Shafi, once observed, "Can anyone imagine that a family would be happy to hear a knock at the door in the middle of the night from the Israeli Army?" He went on: "When the infighting began in Gaza, the people were happy because the Israeli Army imposed a curfew." Likewise, Musa Abu Marzouk of Hamas compared Arafat unfavorably with Jewish leaders: "We saw representatives of the Israeli opposition criticize [Prime Minister] Barak and they were not arrested ... but in our case the PA arrests people as the first order of business."
Democracy. Israel's 1999 elections, in which the incumbent prime minister lost, impressed many Palestinian observers. Columnists remarked on the smooth transition in Israel and wanted the same for themselves: "I envy [the Israelis] and desire a similar regime in my future state." The director-general of the PA's Information Ministry, Hasan al-Kashif, contrasted the changes in Israel with the power of "several names in our leadership" who rule in seeming perpetuity. The leader of the terrorist Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Nayif Hawatma, wants the PA to make decisions the way Israel does, by putting them to a vote.
Minority rights. Christians and secular Muslims particularly appreciate Israel's protection at a time when Palestinian politics has taken an increasingly Islamist cast. A Palestinian Christian declared that when the Palestinian state comes into existence, "the sacred union against the Zionist enemy will die. It will be time to settle accounts. We will undergo the same as our Lebanese brothers or the Copts in Egypt. It saddens me to say so, but Israeli laws protect us."
Freedom of expression. In an ironic turn of events, a lawyer living in Gaza, Na'im Salama, was arrested for slander by the PA when he wrote that Palestinians should adopt Israeli standards of democracy. For his audacity, he served jail time. An obsessive anti-Israel critic, Hanan Ashrawi, reluctantly acknowledges that the Jewish state has something to teach the nascent Palestinian polity: "freedom would have to be mentioned, although it has only been implemented in a selective way, for example, the freedom of speech." A prominent psychiatrist and director of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, Iyad as-Sarraj, confesses that "during the Israeli occupation, I was 100 times freer."
Economic benefits. Palestinians who live in Israel, including Jerusalem, appreciate Israel's economic success, social services, and other benefits. Salaries in Israel are about five times higher than in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and Israel's social security system has no parallel on the Palestinian side. Palestinians living outside of Israel want an economic in - when the Israeli government announced the completion of the security fence in one region, a resident of the West Bank border town of Qalqiliya reacted with outrage: "We are living in a big prison."
These comments point to Palestinian appreciation for the benefits of elections, rule of law, minority rights, freedom of speech, and a higher standard of living. Amid all the PA's political extremism and terrorism, it is good to know that a Palestinian constituency also exists for normality.
Unfortunately, it remains a furtive constituency with little political sway. The time has come for decent Palestinians to make their voices heard and state that Israel's existence is not the problem but the solution.
This article derives from a longer analysis in the current issue of the Middle East Quarterly.