Palestine needs better friends

This approach isn’t simply a whitewash. Rather it portrays Palestinian leaders in purposefully limited fashion, as victims and pawns forever being acted upon by Israel and other outsiders, and not as decision makers choosing how to act toward Israel and their own people. This denies Palestinians’ agency, treating them as if they have no responsibility for tyrannizing other Palestinians or terrorizing Israelis.

There is a term for describing the Middle East in a cartoonishly inaccurate but politically self-serving manner that reduces local populations to passive actors in a morality play meant to reinforce prejudices: “Orientalism.” The coinage belongs to the late Columbia professor and pro-Palestinian activist Edward Said, who believed that modern Western commentary on the East was simplistic and racist. “Very little of the detail, the human density, the passion of Arab-Moslem life,” he wrote in 1980, “has entered the awareness of even those people whose profession it is to report the Arab world.”

So it is today, but not in the way that Said identified. The custom now is a pro-Palestinian neo-Orientalism that glosses over the real conditions of Palestinian life, focusing instead on condemning Israel. Yet the effect of this neo-Orientalism isn’t pro-Palestinian. By ignoring the pathologies of Palestinian politics, it condemns Palestinians to live under leaders who would rather impoverish and endanger their own people than compromise with Israel.