Palestinian “Martyrdom” Culture the Real Obstacle to Middle East Peace

Posted: Dec 13, 2010 12:01 AM
Palestinian “Martyrdom” Culture the Real Obstacle to Middle East Peace

Finally shining light on one of the most important and most overlooked elements of the Middle East "peace process," the Israeli government has compiled a new quarterly report that analyzes what its Palestinian counterparts are doing to promote peace — or not.

Ensuring that Palestinians are not teaching their children to become terrorists would seem to be a pretty obvious starting point in peace talks, but it hasn't been much of a priority to date for the Jewish state.

Now, however, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is insisting that the Palestinians stop promoting violence and instead push messages of peace in order to show that they're serious.

Although Palestinian incitement has been well-chronicled over the years by the likes of Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), gaining the attention of Western governments requires that the Israeli government first take the issue seriously.

The new Incitement and Culture of Peace Index will help Netanyahu pressure his peers in the United States and Europe to start judging Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas not by what he says at intergovernmental meetings at the White House or at bureaucratic junkets, but rather by what the PA is doing at home. Its purpose, according to Israeli officials, is not just to catalog examples of demagoguery and demonization, but also to gauge what steps the PA is taking to prepare its people for peace with Israel.

This report does not deal with Hamas, yet it is filled with examples of the supposedly moderate PA government actively undermining prospects for peace, literally at the same time PA figures tell the West how deeply they desire peace.

One of the most powerful examples of this dichotomy highlighted in the report happened recently. Speaking at the White House on Sept. 1, Abbas stated emphatically that he did "not want at all that any blood be shed" because he wanted Israelis and Palestinians "to live as neighbors and partners forever."

Speaking in Arabic to a Palestinian newspaper two months earlier, though, Abbas gave a different reason for not wanting war: "Palestinians will not fight alone because they don't have the ability to do it." He added that he had told the Arab League, "If you want war, and if all of you will fight Israel, we are in favor." Of course, this should not come as a surprise because Fatah's constitution maintains to this day that "the struggle will not end until the elimination of the Zionist entity and the liberation of Palestine."

Fatah routinely names streets, buildings and schools after terrorists, and sometimes it hands out awards to terrorists or their relatives.

After Fatah gave an award to the grandmother of imprisoned terrorist Khaled Abd Al-Rahman, Fatah's PA-TV provided her a platform, and she spoke to her grandson and apparently other Palestinians when she said, "Shoot your rifle and cause the Jews to go away."

The PA's glorification of terrorists is systemic. Fatah held a Web forum this fall commemorating the 10th anniversary of the so-called intifada. As documented in the Israeli report, nothing is more telling than the visuals of fires, machine guns and even masked children. One of the images is of the famous golden-domed al-Aqsa Mosque with two machine guns over it in an upside-down "v" formation.

Among the other examples in the report, prepared by a committee headed by Ya'acov Amidror and including PMW's founder, Itamar Marcus, are the PA's religious affairs official praising Palestinians who carry out "ribat," or religious war, and the coordinator of the National Committee on Summer Camps telling local media that Palestinian summer camps instill in kids the Palestinian culture, "which unites the culture of resistance, the culture of stones and guns ... and the culture of Shahada (martyrdom)."

All of this happened around the same time that Abbas said in June at the White House, "We have nothing to do with incitement against Israel, and we're not doing that."

While President Obama has focused most of his attention on Israeli housing policies, this new report indicates that the PA has gotten worse in its incitement since the start of the latest round of talks. It could be that Palestinian leaders think Obama's unusually strong attention on Israel has given them a free pass.

Perhaps the White House will heed the report and pressure Palestinians to stop incitement against the Jewish state. Perhaps Obama will tell Abbas that he must also actively work to build a culture of peace at home.

If that doesn't happen, however, it is a safe bet that the incoming Republican-controlled House will take the lead — and it controls the federal purse strings. Fiscal conservatives looking to target waste could condition aid to the Palestinians on changing the status quo. The PA, in other words, shouldn't be expecting a blank check from Washington next year.

Changing Palestinian culture cannot be done overnight, but it is crucial. Peace is impossible as long as Palestinian children grow up hating Israel and loving violence.

At least now it is part of the discussion.