The Arab-Israeli conflict definitely holds the record for the most bizarrely treated issue in modern history. It is easy to forget just how strange this situation is, and the extent to which it is understood and handled so totally different from other, more rationally perceived problems.
Let's take a very simple example, and examine the surrealistic, bizarre way in which normally rational institutions respond.
On Feb. 4, two terrorists attacked the quiet city of Dimona in southern Israel. One blew himself up near a toy store in a marketplace, killing an elderly woman and wounding 40 people. The other was injured in the first blast and, before he could detonate his own bomb, was killed by a policeman.
Such are the bare facts. But from here it gets far stranger.
One of the terrorists came from the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade of the Fatah group. Fatah officials claimed "credit" — that is, they took responsibility, for the attack. But Fatah is the organization routinely described as moderate by Western governments and media.
In practice, the brigade is an integral part of Fatah.
Many of the gunmen are on the payroll in various ways, often as members of security forces that are supposed to prevent … terrorism.
Of course, the leader of the Palestinian Authority and of Fatah, Mahmoud Abbas "condemned" the attack. That is, he said he condemned it. But no member of Fatah has ever been expelled from the organization or fired from the security forces for involvement in terrorism. The P.A.'s media regularly broadcasts incitement to commit terrorism.
So, is Fatah a terrorist group?
Well, apparently not. Granted, Abbas personally would prefer that these attacks not occur. In the Fatah spectrum, he is at the moderate end. Nevertheless, he presides over a group that is terrorist — that regards itself as in a state of war with Israel in which civilians can be deliberately targeted for murder. It uses its funds for this purpose, and encourages such behavior through program and propaganda.
Fatah is the group that's being given about $7 billion by international donors, with no strings attached to it and no measure of whether Fatah uses or advocates terrorism whatsoever. There are good reasons for the West to work with, and even aid, the P.A. and Fatah, but there are no good reasons for it to be unconditional.
But there's more. Fatah officials said that the reason for the attack was to protest Israeli "aggression" against Palestinians in Gaza. Fatah is essentially coming to the aid of a Hamas regime that threw it out of Gaza and killed, sometimes in cold blood, and represses its own people. Why? Because Fatah and the P.A. are competing for Palestinian popular support, and the way to do that is to murder Israelis. This is a very telling definition of Palestinian politics, ideology and public opinion.
The other terrorist killed came from the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a radical Arab nationalist group. Recently, the founder and longtime head of the PFLP, George Habash, died. Habash, a veteran terrorist, was lauded by the P.A. and Fatah, as well as by Arab members of the Israeli Knesset, at his funeral as a great hero of the movement.
When the second terrorist fell as a result of the first explosion, Israeli medical personnel did not hesitate from rushing to help a man they thought was an Arab victim. Then the nurse saw the explosive belt and realized that the man she was trying to save was about to blow her up. She had to run for her life, pulling along another wounded person, and yell for help from the police.
To summarize: Fatah acts as a terrorist group; the P.A. facilitates terrorism; the West aids Fatah and the P.A. with no attempt to discourage their behavior; Israeli Arab politicians side with terrorism; and Israelis, at the risk of their lives, help Arabs.
Oh, yes, and guess who much of the world blames for it all? Indeed, it's a uniquely bizarre conflict.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs Center.