Apr 15th 2011

Palestinian Incitement against Israel

by Alon Ben-Meir

A noted journalist and author, Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is professor of international relations and Middle East studies at the Center for Global Affairs at New York University. Ben-Meir holds a masters degree in philosophy and a doctorate in international relations from Oxford University. His exceptional knowledge and insight, the result of more than 20 years of direct involvement in foreign affairs, with a focus on the Middle East, has allowed Dr. Ben-Meir to offer a uniquely invaluable perspective on the nature of world terrorism, conflict resolution and international negotiations. Fluent in Arabic and Hebrew, Ben-Meir's frequent travels to the Middle East and meetings with highly placed officials and academics in many Middle Eastern countries including Egypt, Israel, Jordan, the Palestinian territories, Syria and Turkey provide him with an exceptionally nuanced level of awareness and insight into the developments surrounding breaking news. Ben-Meir often articulates

The adoption of nonviolent methods by the Palestinian Authority to advance the Palestinian cause is admirable and represents the most promising strategy to affect change. But for a nonviolent movement to serve the intended purpose of advancing the peace process, it must be accompanied by public narrative supportive of both the strategy and the reality of Israel. The continued incitement against Israel emanating from Palestinian private institutions, media, schools and refugee camps defeats the non-violent strategy and instead serves to strengthen the voices of radicals on both sides of the Green Line. Rather than advance Palestinian independence, this vitriol contributes to the solidification of the Israeli occupation in the name of security. It is time for the Palestinians to realize this, because continuing verbal and written onslaughts that support the use of violence and perpetuate radical political narratives are detrimental to their cause and must be stopped.

A renewed focus has been placed on the issue of Palestinian incitement, as the indiscriminate violence that it helps to create has returned. After the horrific murder of five members of the Fogel family, Prime Minister Netanyahu pointed to Palestinian incitement as a root cause. Subsequently, 27 United States Senators sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stating that "the Palestinian Authority must take unequivocal steps to condemn the incident and stop allowing the incitement that leads to such crimes ... Educating people toward peace is critical to establishing the conditions to a secure and lasting peace." A House version of the letter will soon be sent to President Obama. The legislators are right.

Palestinian Prime Minister Salaam Fayyad and President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the murder of the Fogel family and the subsequent terror attack at a bus station in Jerusalem. They have also worked to dismantle much of the Hamas infrastructure in the West Bank, which served to widely disseminate violent anti-Israel rhetoric and imagery. Even more, in recent years, the Palestinian Authority has built a security apparatus that has dramatically reduced the number of terror attacks, led to greater freedom of movement for Palestinians, and consequently, economic growth. Meanwhile, the Fayyad plan to build the foundation for a Palestinian state has garnered historic levels of international sympathy and support for Palestinian independence.

Naming public infrastructure and roads after suicide bombers and their organizers, providing financial assistance to families of "martyrs" who have been killed while plotting or carrying out terror activities-as well as honoring them in public ceremonies-and depicting Israelis as ruthless murderers in television programs, all threaten to derail Palestinian independence. Yet, President Abbas and Prime Minister Fayyad have presided over all of the above in just the past several weeks. It is one thing to witness this type of incitement in Gaza where Hamas openly professes its desire to destroy Israel. However, it is an entirely different matter to witness it in the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority espouses a two-state solution alongside Israel. Furthermore, Israel is not completely convinced that the PA has fully disavowed violence, as evidenced by recent WikiLeaks documents indicating that the US-backed PA security forces have been reluctant to collect arms from, and apprehend, those linked with the Fatah affiliated Al-Aksa Martyrs Brigades, which has carried out numerous terror attacks against Israelis.

Many top PA officials privately recognize the severity of the problem. However, rather than address it, they are too often pointing at Israeli actions that undermine the voice of moderates in favor of radicals, arguing that they make it too difficult politically to oppose venomous statements against the occupier and be accused of collaboration. Particularly with the Palestinian Authority now in unity discussions with Hamas, officials are hesitant to clamp down on incitement and appear to be "soft" on Israel. To be sure, Israel's settlement construction in disputed areas and the ongoing nighttime raids in the West Bank by the Israel Defense Forces add fuel to the fire of incitement. Still, an environment conducive to peace must be established if a lasting two-state solution is to be achieved. Even more, what appears politically disadvantageous will ultimately prove to be quite the opposite. Creating an atmosphere that encourages peacemaking rather than incitement will lead to greater support from the international community and equally greater pressure on Israel to make concessions. After all, peace must start at home. Today, on both sides, the message entering the homes of too many Palestinians-and Israelis-is that of perpetual conflict, marketed by the ideology of extremists in the refugee camps on the one hand, and radical settlers on the other. Addressing these problems requires leadership that today is sorely lacking.

Meanwhile, the psychological damage caused by the radicalization of the two national narratives is enormous. Palestinians are soon to produce the fourth generation of children who will know nothing except the hated occupation and the continuing violent conflict. The previous generation is already poisoned by the pervasive glorification of terror and violent "resistance." It now falls to the responsibility of the Palestinian Authority, and Palestinian teachers, parents and community leaders to ensure that the next generation focuses on the potential of its future as a nation, rather than on demonizing an enemy that it cannot, and will not, defeat.

Moreover, although trust between two entities alone cannot offer the basis for any lasting peace agreement, incitement undermines the building of trust. Without a measure of trust, there is no room for even calculated risks, especially on matters of national security and peacemaking. A review of the reasons behind the collapses of the bi-lateral negotiations in 2000 and in 2008 show that a lack of trust was a major factor that led the Israeli side to rethink its position, as the gap between the Palestinian public's narrative and the required Israeli concessions was simply unbridgeable. Whereas the PA has legitimate grievances against Israel, including territorial claims, it must nevertheless acknowledge at least in words to the Palestinian public the existence of the State of Israel. That is, the reality and acceptance of co-existence alongside Israel will not be established, among the youth in particular, as long as the central reality on the ground is ignored. This is precisely why the PA has had major difficulties in making required concessions-in the minds of too many Palestinians, concessions are unnecessary to an entity that they have been taught does not have the legitimacy to exist or, even worse, can be defeated through violence.

Finally, with the Palestinian Authority now in discussions with Hamas regarding Palestinian unity, this becomes even more acute. For a unity government to succeed in its stated purpose-to advance the cause of Palestinian independence-Hamas too must end its self-destructive violent provocations against Israel, permanently renounce violence and end incitement instead of seeking another ceasefire. Such a first political step would offer a significant leap toward a sovereign Palestinian state, as well as the establishment of the beginning of trust and confidence between Israelis and Palestinians. Otherwise, even an international recognition of an independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines-as might be passed by United Nations General Assembly this September-will change very little on the ground because Israel has every right to protect its legitimate national security concerns.

Much is made of the weakness of the Palestinian leadership and the divisions within Palestinian society. But as the Fayyad Plan has shown, the Palestinian Authority is capable of capturing the attention and imagination of the international community in support of the Palestinian cause through proactive institution building and non-violence. Palestinians cannot allow incitement to jeopardize their national aspirations by providing such a clear and legitimate excuse for Israel to be reticent about negotiations toward an eventual two-state framework.

The PA can and must demonstrate that it is prepared to build a responsible government by ending incitement in all its forms. Doing so would make a lasting and meaningful impact on Palestinian and Israeli societies alike, by serving to simultaneously advance Palestinian independence and Israeli recognition.

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