On Sept. 26, the Palestinian Authority’s president, Mahmoud Abbas, told the United Nations General Assembly that the Palestinians “keep reaching out to the Israelis saying: let us work to make the culture of peace reign.” Honorable sentiments, to be sure, but sadly not free of hypocrisy.
Just after returning from his U.N. speech, Mr. Abbas cleared time to host the celebrated Egyptian poet Hisham al-Gakh, author of a famous hit proclaiming that “our enemy is the fork-tailed Zionist devil.” That evening, Mr. al-Gakh had an opportunity to recite his “lovely” song upon receiving an award from the Palestinian minister of culture.
And in July, the program “Palestine This Morning” featured two sisters reciting a poem referring to “sons of Zion” and “barbaric monkeys” and “wretched pigs.”
These are but a few of the thousands of examples of Palestinian incitement against the Jewish state and the Jewish people. There are even numerous instances of the glorification of Hitler on the Facebook pages of some government-supported Palestinian schools and in children’s publications funded by the Palestinian Authority. Such messages, propagated daily in P.A. media and classrooms, are internalized by the population at large — and children in particular.
Two decades ago, I was a chartered member of Israel’s Peace Now movement and an unabashed supporter of the peace process. Since then, I — and many Israelis like me — have become deeply skeptical about Palestinians’ real intentions. And it’s not only because of the terrorist attacks which have emanated from areas handed over to Palestinian control, but also because of the repeated Palestinian calls for Israel’s destruction. Jewish history has taught us the hard way never to underestimate the power of hatred.
The Palestinian Authority’s television and radio stations, public schools, summer camps, children’s magazines and Web sites are being used to drive home four core messages. First, that the existence of a Jewish state (regardless of its borders) is illegitimate because there is no Jewish people and no Jewish history in this piece of land. Second, that Jews and Zionists are horrible creatures that corrupt those in their vicinity. Third, that Palestinians must continue to struggle until the inevitable replacement of Israel by an Arab-Palestinian state. And fourth, that all forms of resistance are honorable and valid, even if some forms of violence are not always expedient.
Instead of being schooled in the “culture of peace,” the next generation of Palestinians is being relentlessly fed a rhetorical diet that includes the idolization of terrorists, the demonization of Jews and the conviction that sooner or later Israel should cease to exist.
Even after Secretary of State John Kerry’s announcement of the resumption of peace talks, incitement remains prevalent. For example, P.A. television coverage of a “peace visit” to the West Bank’s Hebron district by the famed FC Barcelona soccer team took the trouble to remind viewers that Palestine extends “from Eilat to Rosh Hanikra” — that is, not just the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but the entire land of Israel. This remark was followed by a song performed by Muhammad Assaf, the winner of the popular TV show “Arab Idol.” The lyrics envisioned the “liberation” of Israeli cities such as Haifa, Tiberias and Safed.
The fact that this anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic indoctrination persists, despite the much-touted relaunch of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations, constitutes a huge obstacle on the road to peace. It should have disappeared 20 years ago, as a result of a clear Palestinian commitment to end all forms of incitement included in the Oslo Accords. And until it ends, the current round of talks cannot hope to reach a successful outcome.
Progress toward a peace agreement requires that both Palestinians and Israelis foster an environment conducive to productive dialogue. Israel’s anguished decision on July 28 to release over 100 convicted terrorists, as well as to help the Palestinian economy, were a courageous attempt to build trust and improve the atmosphere surrounding the negotiations, and I supported it.
Palestinian leaders must now reciprocate by immediately and fully halting their encouragement and sponsorship of hatred.
If they do not, attempts at renewed diplomacy are doomed to fail, Israelis will become more skeptical about the peace process, and we in the Israeli government will have greater difficulty taking the additional confidence-building steps that we have been considering. Indeed, with each passing day, my colleagues and I will find it more and more problematic to authorize any further release of prisoners.
If Israelis are ever to believe that peace with Palestinians has a chance, the first step Mr. Abbas must take is to swiftly terminate the campaign to delegitimize the Jewish people and its state.
Yuval Steinitz is Israel’s minister of intelligence and international affairs.