Above the Fray: A rotten investment

Nothing harms the Palestinians’ cause more than their continuing incitement and the spread of hatred against Israel, especially among the youth.

Palestinians wave flags during a protest  (R) 311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Palestinians wave flags during a protest (R) 311
(photo credit: Reuters)
The adoption of nonviolent methods by the Palestinian Authority to advance its cause is admirable and represents the most promising strategy to affect change. But for a nonviolent movement to serve the intended purpose, it must be accompanied by public narrative supportive of both the strategy and the reality of Israel.
The continued incitement emanating from Palestinian private institutions, media, schools and refugee camps defeats the strategy and instead it serves to strengthen the voices of radicals on both sides of the Green Line. Rather than advance 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 incitement, as the indiscriminate violence it helps to create has returned. After the horrific murder of five members of the Fogel family, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu pointed to incitement as a root cause. Subsequently, 27 US 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 Barack Obama. The legislators are right.
PA Prime Minister Salam Fayyad and President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the murders in Itamar and the subsequent terror attack in Jerusalem. They have also worked to dismantle much of the Hamas infrastructure in the West Bank. Even more, in recent years, the PA has built a security apparatus that has dramatically reduced the number of terror attacks, led to greater freedom of movement and, consequently, economic growth. Meanwhile, the Fayyad plan to build the foundation for a state has garnered historic levels of international sympathy and support.
But 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 independence. Yet, Abbas and 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 PA espouses a two-state solution.
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 Fatahaffiliated Aksa Martyrs Brigades, which has carried out numerous terror attacks.
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 PA now in unity discussions with Hamas, officials are hesitant to clamp down on incitement and appear to be “soft” on Israel. To be sure, settlement construction in disputed areas and the ongoing IDF nighttime raids in the West Bank add fuel to the fire of incitement. Still, an environment conducive to peace must be established.
Even more, what appears politically disadvantageous will ultimately prove 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 is that of perpetual conflict, marketed by the ideology of extremists in the refugee camps and radical settlers. Addressing these problems requires leadership that 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.
It is now the responsibility of the PA, and teachers, parents and community leaders, to ensure the next generation focuses on the potential of its future as a nation, rather than on demonizing an enemy that it cannot 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 negotiations in 2000 and in 2008 show that a lack of trust was a major factor.
Whereas the PA has legitimate grievances, 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 coexistence will not be established, among the young 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 can be defeated through violence.
Finally, with the PA now possibly entering unity discussions with Hamas, this becomes even more acute. For a unity government to succeed, Hamas, too, must permanently renounce violence and end incitement. Otherwise, even an international recognition of an independent Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines – as might be passed by UN General Assembly this September – will change very little on the ground because Israel has every right to protect its legitimate national security concerns.
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 by serving to simultaneously advance Palestinian independence and Israeli recognition.
The writer is professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.