May 31, 2010 | Colin Rubenstein
US President Barack Obama phoned Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas last month to congratulate him for starting indirect negotiations with Israel. He also specifically called on Abbas to do “whatever he can” to prevent acts of incitement and delegitimisation of Israel.
Many are quick to dismiss incitement as irrelevant to the immediate task of reaching an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. This view is misinformed and short-sighted. Incitement helps make peace impossible.
Why would ordinary Palestinians agree to a two-state peace with Israel when they’ve been taught since the PA’s inception 15 years ago that Allah regards Jews as inherently evil, that they have no rights anywhere in Palestine, and the highest goal to which a Palestinian can aspire is to be martyred while killing Jews? Keep in mind the average age of West Bank Palestinians is 20 years.
No wonder Hamas is popular with many Palestinians – its program of no compromise and never-ending terrorist “resistance” is more consistent with what Palestinians are being taught in their media, schools, mosques and government announcements than Fatah’s fitful attempts to negotiate.
To give a few recent examples, the PA’s official television station, PA TV, last month twice aired a program in which a narrator told Israelis, “You’re from Ukraine… You’re from Germany, from Poland, from Russia, from Ethiopia… Why have you stolen my homeland and taken my place?… This is my homeland; go back to your homeland!” This was accompanied by a graphic showing a Palestinian flag covering all of Israel.
Meanwhile, in a January sermon on PA TV, an Imam declared Jews as collectively being “the enemies of Allah and of His Messenger, enemies of humanity in general, and of Palestinians in particular” adding, “The Prophet says: ‘You shall fight the Jews and kill them.’”
Again, this is not a private station, but the government-run and -funded channel.
Further, as documented elsewhere in this magazine, many public areas in West Bank cities have been named for infamous terrorists. The street directly outside Mahmoud Abbas’ presidential compound in Ramallah was in April named for Yahya Ayyash, a Hamas bomb maker who orchestrated dozens of attacks on Israeli civilian targets in the 1990s. Earlier this year, the PA named a square in Ramallah for Dalal Mughrabi, leader of a 1978 terrorist attack resulting in 37 deaths.
Last month, the PA sponsored a soccer tournament named for “the Shahid” Abu Jihad. Shahid, literally meaning ‘martyr,’ is an honorific title of the highest order. Abu Jihad was the former PLO military commander, killed in 1988, who orchestrated numerous deadly attacks on Israeli civilians, included Dalal Mugrahi’s bloody attack in 1978, noted above.
Such incitement from government sources is a clear violation of numerous Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements, including both the Oslo Accords and the Roadmap.
Sadly, the international community shares some responsibility for the incitement problem. Ending incitement has been a condition of much of the international aid given to the PA, but this obligation has only rarely been enforced. Given the PA’s dependence on aid, if the international community were to insist on accountability and an end to official Palestinian incitement, a positive change would likely result.
A recent Australian example sheds some light. The Israeli NGO Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) recently uncovered an incident in which a soccer field built in the West Bank using World Vision Australia funds and named the “Palestinian Youth Vision Soccer Field” had been subsumed into a planned Palestinian complex of sports facilities to be built around the World Vision field. This planned facility was named by the PA “the Shahid Abu Jihad Youth City.”
After raising this issue with World Vision, AIJAC was told that they had registered their concern with the relevant Palestinian authorities. After some weeks, and prompted by my article analysing the issue, as we went to press we learned from World Vision of their claim that the facility’s name had been changed by the PA to something more neutral.
If indeed this proves to be the case, World Vision will certainly deserve credit for facilitating the change, and AIJAC hopes that other organisations, which often appear wilfully ignorant of the danger of Palestinian incitement, might view World Vision’s action in this instance as an example to be emulated.
The lesson here, hopefully, is that once the PA was told, by a major aid donor, that incitement was unacceptable, it apparently was prepared to change the name of the facility.
The US Congress has also shown some leadership in this regard, forcing improved accountability for US aid dispersed by the UN aid agency UNRWA in 2003 and the official American aid agency, USAID, in 2006.
Unfortunately the EU, by far the Palestinians’ biggest donor, has historically done little to enforce anti-incitement accountability in their aid money. PA TV, for instance, is largely financed by the EU.
Australia, and Australian aid agencies like World Vision, should be helping the Palestinians develop a state, both as a matter of compassion and in the interests of Middle East peace. But unless they are also willing to tackle the problem of the culture of hatred and Palestinian incitement as part of those efforts, they risk harming peace prospects, and thus the future well being of both Palestinians and Israelis.