The hypocricy is almost breathtaking: pleading to the international media for an end to violence at the risk of “an intifada that we don’t want”, whilst simultaneously inciting Palestinians to do “everything in [their] power” to stop the Jews “defiling [the Al-Aqsa] with their filthy feet“, assuring them that “martyrs will be rewarded… by Allah”. The speaker was President of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and the bulk of the international media and political community responded with indifference. After appeals by Israel, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon responded to these remarks, but only with a timid cautioning to Abbas that his “inflammatory statements will increase tensions”, as reported by Israel Radio on Tuesday.
Indeed, Abbas’ comments have appeared to “increase tensions” during an already heightened surge in Palestinian violence in Jerusalem around the Jewish High Holidays, during which flares and pipe bombs hidden in the Al-Aqsa mosque were discovered by Israeli intelligence and confiscated in a raid by Israeli Police. The Prime Minister’s office has insisted that Israel will “use any means…to enable freedom of religious practice in this holy place”, providing assurances at the same time that, despite false claims to the contrary, Israel will maintain the post 1967 status quo on the Temple Mount. And yet, once again, an Israeli attempt to maintain order has been misrepresented as an “attack”, used as an opportunity to encourage Palestinian belligerence and evoke fear, and deemed “disproportionate.”
The true “disproportion” is in the international reaction, or lack thereof, to Abbas’ incitement. When will the Palestinian Authority be held accountable for its inflammatory words? And, more importantly, when will they be held to the same standard to which Israel is held? As articulated in a statement by Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold, “today the world is divided between those trying to undermine religious coexistence and those trying to protect it. By saying that the ‘filthy feet’ of Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount desecrate it, Mahmoud Abbas has now clarified on which side he stands”. In this vein, one would hope that the silence of the international community is not reflective of their attitude towards religious coexistence. The gravity of Abbas’ words should not be overlooked, but taken as a reminder that ending and reversing widespread incitement towards Israel and Jews in elements of Palestinian society remains an essential prerequisite for achieving that goal.