The real obstacles for peace

Instead of directly calling for violence, the PA glorifies terrorists as national heroes.

PA President Abbas and PM Fayyad 370 (R) (photo credit: Fadi Arouri / Reuters)
PA President Abbas and PM Fayyad 370 (R)
(photo credit: Fadi Arouri / Reuters)
Recently news broke out that Israel and the Palestinian Authority have resolved to renew their "commitment to peace" and to revive peace talks. Under such a scenario, the very ponderous issues of territory and security; settlement and refugees; land of Israel and Jerusalem;  would all be for discussion once again -- as if more discussion makes these matters easier. It is hard to imagine how debate on these weighty issues can reach an amiable solution if talks are polluted by the Palestinian media and educational system's barrage of hostile propaganda. This misinformation is disseminated to perpetuate the conflict, to deepen the hatred, to delegitimize Israel, to denigrate and dehumanize its society, and to directly hint at its near disappearance rather than its cultivation as a neighbor in peace.
The moment the Palestinian Authority engaged in the controversial job of forming a curriculum containing the ideals of Palestinian nationalism without inciting hatred and violence against Israel, anyone concerned with education for peace realized they had a big problem.
In an effort to please both UNESCO and its own populace, the PA had to tow a thin line. The members of the Palestinian Curriculum Development Center (PCDC) therefore avoided the direct and overt incitement against Israel that  characterized the pre-Oslo era, a period in which education in Gaza and the West Bank followed Egyptian and Jordanian curricula, respectively. In other areas, the media, which is mostly controlled by the PA or Hamas, gives voice to politicians and clerics who demonize and delegitimize Jews and Israel. This campaign is conducted under pretexts of "freedom" and "democracy," making one doubt that reasonable neighborly relations could emerge..How can Israel hand over more territories to an authority which glorifies the murder of innocent civilians and presents terrorists as national heroes worthy of emulation?
Instead of directly calling for violence, the PA has institutionalized and glorified terrorists – martyrs in their minds -- by naming key buildings and events after individuals such as Dalal Mughrabi, the man behind the 1978 Coastal Road massacre  in which an American photographer and thirty-six Israeli civilians were killed. Additionally, the government has rewarded the families of those who “martyred themselves in the name of Allah” with financial assistance. Most recently, the governor of the Jenin district, Kadura Masa, awarded $2000 to the relatives of Khaldoun Najib Samoudy who was "killed as a martyr at the Hamra checkpoint by the Israeli occupation forces.” In reality, Samoudy attempted to kill two Israeli soldiers manning the checkpoint but was shot before he could detonate the two pipe bombs he was carrying.
The PCDC also errs in its lack of recognition of both the State of Israel and Jewish history. It is not until grade 11 that Palestinian children even see the word Israel or the names of predominantly Jewish cities such as Tel Aviv on a map, and even then, the writing is so small that it is hardly perceptible. The grade 11 textbooks are also the first to acknowledge ancient Jewish history in the region.
Until 2005, textbooks systematically erased the Jewish presence in ancient Palestine by omitting the years 1200 to 587 B.C.E., an Israelite-Jewish period covering the first Jewish commonwealth (First Temple).This was done to avoid legitimizing Jewish claims to the land. Textbooks first contained references to Jerusalem as a Jewish and Islamic capital in 2005, after previously omitting the former in favor of the latter and thereby “Arabizing” the city. Conversely, the fatwa (religious law) of the Chief Mufti of Jerusalem, declared Jerusalem to be exclusively Muslim and denied any Jewish roots in the city. PA President Mahmoud Abbas was recently quoted repeating the same contention. Late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat had acknowledged a Christian patrimony there..
Preparing an environment for peace also requires fostering a spiritual and emotional atmosphere that is conducive to reconciliation, acceptance and tolerance of the other, as well as practicing self-restraint in proffering stereotypes and negative descriptions of the other. In all negotiations between Israel and the Arabs, the most difficult aspects of implementing peace have been curtailing incitement and educating for peace. In the 19 years since Oslo, where the Palestinians agreed to put an end to incitement and to promote peace among their young generations, very little has been done. Some textbooks which denigrate Jews, Zionism and Israel have been slightly amended under Israeli and Western pressure, but mostly, they follow the example of the two Arab countries which made peace with Israel: Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994. The books do not desist from the systematic campaigns of hatred against the Jews and Israel, as anyone who scans through these countries' daily press can realize.
The Palestinians understand how incitement and education constitute long-term obstacles for any peace process. The idea existed that even if present generations of leaders became prisoners of their own propaganda, new, more open-minded leaders could emerge.But when we observe leadership continually trying to perpetuate hatred and incitement, ignoring the history and archaeology of Israel and cultivating terrorists as role models, it is evident that terror and death, not peace and tranquility can be the only outcome. Therefore, instead of Israel insisting on settlements, security and physical assets, we better make education for peace the prerequisite of any future peace demarche, short of which no further advance can be possible. With such a peaceful endeavor, the West may even offer support, rather than the usual wrath incurred when we evince greed for real estate.
The writer is a professor of Islamic, Middle Eastern and Chinese history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and a member of the steering committee of the Ariel Center for Policy Research.