Binyamin Netanyahu is right: incitement is a major problem. Glorifying violence and preaching hate are not conducive to peace. However, he has also said it lies at the root of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and unless it is removed, there can be no peace.
He’s wrong, and the evidence is Egypt.
Incitement was a problem when Anwar Sadat made peace in 1979, throughout the Hosni Mubarak years and during Mohamed Morsi’s rule, and it continues under Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Yet the peace survives. A cold peace, but a surprisingly durable one.
And when peace comes with the Palestinians, it won’t be warm and fuzzy either – although it will, by necessity, require a lot more close contact and cooperation on all levels.
Netanyahu has been focusing on incitement a lot lately in speeches, in remarks welcoming US Secretary of State John Kerry two weeks ago and in a PowerPoint presentation at a cabinet meeting.
Why all the fuss? Hanan Ashrawi is a PLO leader and an acerbic critic of the prime minister since their sparring days as spokesmen for their respective delegations in peace talks over 20 years ago. She is certainly not an unbiased observer, but she makes a point worth considering.
“Netanyahu is desperate to find a way to scuttle the talks and blame the Palestinians,” she contends.
Is incitement the dealbreaker? Only for those who want it to be. If Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas genuinely want peace and are ready for the decisions that requires – the key word being “if” – incitement won’t stop them. If anything, incitement is likely to intensify as they close in on a deal.
Incitement is the work of hatemongers and ideologues seeking to prevent peace, who are willing to go to almost any length to further their goal.
In fact, there has been a dramatic decline in Palestinian incitement since the demise of Yasser Arafat, who famously spoke of peace in English and just the opposite in Arabic.
The situation has improved under Abbas, according to David Pollock of the pro-Israel Washington Institute for Near East Policy, although “the official Palestinian media continue to incite against Israel and to claim that all of Palestine belongs to the Palestinians.”
Similarly, a significant political element in Israel, including leading members of the Netanyahu government, incite against the Palestinians and claim that all of the land belongs to the Jews.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that many of those in Israel who complain the loudest about incitement often exaggerate it, take statements out of context, intentionally misquote sources and mislead their audiences.
A US State Department study last year found that the problem of incitement in schoolbooks is greatly exaggerated and “dehumanizing characterizations of the other are rare in both Israeli and Palestinian textbooks.”
Netanyahu rightly criticizes Palestinian leaders for glorifying murderers, naming streets and landmarks for dead terrorists, and giving pensions to their families and the families of those imprisoned by Israel. That only serves to foster the culture of hatred that Abbas says he wants to change.
The poison of hate doesn’t just engender hatred of the “other,” it turns Jew against Jew, Arab against Arab.
Each side has its extremists who oppose any reconciliation or compromise. And they are willing to kill their brethren – including assassinating a prime minister – to make sure peace doesn’t happen.
Palestinian mullahs call Jews pigs and dogs while one of Israel’s most prominent rabbis, who had been honored by more than one prime minister, calls Arabs “cockroaches” who should be annihilated.
Moshe Feiglin, an MK from Netanyahu’s Likud, stated this “historic truth”: “There is no ‘Palestinian’ nation, no ‘Palestinian’ history and no ‘Palestinian’ national aspirations.”
Economy Minister Naftali Bennett declared he had “killed lots of Arabs in my life, and there is absolutely no problem with that.” A leading rabbi ruled that Jewish doctors should not treat non-Jews or secular Jews on Shabbat.
Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman wants to strip Israeli Arabs of their citizenship and, by redrawing borders, transfer them to the Palestinian state they don’t want to live in.
“Price-tag” vigilantes, mostly young Jewish settlers, have finally gotten the recognition they deserve. Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon has called their attacks – on Jews and Arabs alike – “a terrorist act in every sense of the word.”
In Israel’s double standard of justice, Palestinians committing violence against Israelis are usually branded terrorists, but when Jews are responsible the media and the government tend to prefer terms like vandals, hooligans or criminals. The army has been ordered to show restraint when attacked by Jews.
Price-taggers have not only terrorized Arab villages, prompting some to compare their raids of destruction and Molotov cocktails to czarist pogroms, but also mosques, churches, farms, olive groves, dovish Jews, police, IDF soldiers and even Israeli army bases. They throw rocks and concrete blocks, light fires, engage in drive-by shootings and terrorize people.
They are often urged on by the fiery sermons, religious rulings and teachings of radical rabbis. These rabbis order their followers in the army to disobey the orders of their commanders.
Critics accuse their political allies in the Knesset and the government of protecting them from the response the same crimes would draw if committed by Arabs.
In their defense, these religious and ultra-nationalist extremists offer “the devil made me do it” defense. It’s all the fault of their victims and their government.
One settler leader, Daniella Weiss, told a settler radio station that an attack on a military base by 50 youths, who vandalized vehicles and other property, was all Netanyahu’s fault. He is “selling out his homeland” and “lying and playing dirty” by criticizing settlers and, she said, trying to partition Israel and create a Palestinian state.
Incitement is not an obstacle to peace unless leaders want it to be.
A far greater problem are the twin schisms: in Palestinian society, between a secular national movement that seeks a two-state solution, and an Islamic terror organization whose goal is the eradication of Israel; and in an Israel torn between a radical ultra-nationalist, ultra-religious movement and its supporters, who regard every peace effort as treason, and a more progressive majority whose pro-peace voice has tragically faded to a whisper in recent years.