Bob Blackman is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Harrow East. David Pollock is the Kaufman fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Shrouded in official secrecy, the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian peace talks are by most accounts making some progress for that very reason, or at least getting down to serious business. Both sides are clearly contemplating significant reciprocal concessions, even as each looks for answers to its legitimate security and political concerns. But this very delicate diplomacy is now at risk because of two related developments: First, a movement by various commercial and other institutions in certain European circles to boycott some of their Israeli counterparts — which insidiously threatens to convince the Palestinians that they may achieve some of their goals without ever making peace. Second, a continual drumbeat of official hate speech and incitement against Israel from the Palestinian Authority, which similarly threatens to convince Israel that the Palestinians would simply pocket any concessions — and then resume their “armed struggle” for all of “historic Palestine,” rather than accept a Palestinian state coexisting peacefully with its Israeli neighbour.
It is bad enough for the Palestinian Authority to engage in such hateful double-speak. But for Europeans to ignore it, excuse it, and even subsidize it, and then to advocate boycotts against Israel even as the Palestinians themselves negotiate, trade, and plan for major economic and environmental cooperation with it, is nothing short of absurd.
In a press conference at Nelson Mandela’s memorial, Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the PLO and of Fatah and president of the Palestinian Authority, told reporters that the Palestinians officially oppose any boycotts of Israel. “We have dealings with Israel, and we have agreements with Israel,” he said – and others should follow suit. And yet, in a grotesque irony, first the American Studies Association and then the Native American Studies Association, following in the footsteps of some British organizations, subsequently decided to launch an “academic boycott” of Israeli universities – ostensibly on behalf of the Palestinians. In all the ink spilled over that petty gesture, this underlying absurdity has been insufficiently noted.
Also insufficiently noted, alas, is the mixed messaging coming from official PA sources regarding the possibility of permanent peace with Israel. The PA Mission in South Africa quickly qualified its own president’s statement against boycotts of Israel. And Abbas himself continues to praise convicted terrorist murderers of Israeli women and children as “heroes.” Official PA media continue to claim all of Israel, not just the West Bank and Gaza, as the territory of a future Palestinian state. And Western governments continue to subsidise the official Palestinian purveyors of this hate speech and incitement. Recently, on official PA television, an EU-funded Palestinian NGO performed a song labelling Jews in Jerusalem as “crows” and “rats.” Is this the really the new “culture of peace” that we want to fund in Palestine?
This mixed messaging is especially tragic because it is so self-defeating, even from the Palestinians’ own perspective. Its main effect is to drive the Israeli government, understandably, to the conclusion that it has no credible partner for peacemaking. Abbas surely knows that only mutually respectful engagement with Israel, not histrionic efforts to demonise or isolate it, will ever produce either peace or a Palestinian state. Right now even Hamas, currently under considerable pan-Arab pressure and in renewed talks about Palestinian reunification, has been notably silent about Abbas’s call not to boycott Israel. Why then does he tolerate, and even indulge himself, in the hate speech promulgated by his own government?
It would be well if friends of peace and of the Palestinians acknowledged and denounced this hypocrisy. It would be even better if European governments, who pay lip-service to peace but subsidise this hate speech and incitement, confronted it publicly and refused to keep supporting it. And better still would be wide and public Arab acknowledgement that boycotts and demonisation of Israel serve no purpose except self-righteous and self-defeating displays.
Just last week, the EU publicly called in Israeli ambassadors to protest the announcement of new settlement construction. Why were the Palestinian ambassadors not called in to protest the latest glorification of terrorists by their most senior leaders and official media? Also last week, the U.S. Congress passed new legislation requiring the Secretary of State to certify that the PA is not engaging in such incitement, as a condition for further U.S. aid. Perhaps this kind of measure could serve as model for UK and EU policy adjustments, at least as a first step in a better direction.
Still better would the elevation of the incitement problem to a place near the top of the agenda in the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks currently underway. True, this is an intangible issue. But it is just as essential to real peace as any of the tangible issues of borders, security, refugees, or Jerusalem. And yes, there is anti-Palestinian incitement and vigilantism on the Israeli side – but the Israeli government is increasingly quick to denounce it and punish it, not to promulgate it.
At the same time, our own governments, and all true friends of peace, should acknowledge and reward any genuinely positive Palestinian political messages. This includes the Israeli government, which has the greatest stake of all in this process. Sadly, however, the Israeli government offered no response to the Abbas statement against boycotts. It was not even reported in the main Israeli media – only in the two English-language Israeli dailies, and in a few small Hebrew-language websites. To be sure, official Israeli approval for Abbas’s position would be politically risky – not least because he does continue to call for a boycott of Israeli settlements, though not of Israel altogether. But recognition of his willingness to compromise would serve Israel’s own long-term interest in regional peace and reconciliation.
And yet the fundamental problem remains: the Palestinian position is ambiguous on Israel’s fundamental legitimacy, on the permanence of a two-state solution, and even on the renunciation of terrorism. That is why the occasional positive message simply lacks credibility. The official Palestinian Authority media remain sadly replete with anti-Israeli incitement, along with occasional outright anti-Semitism – as documented and analysed at length in a new monograph, Beyond Words: Causes, Consequences, and Cures for Palestinian Authority Hate Speech, by David Pollock.
President Abbas could do much more to staunch this venomous verbal onslaught. Until he does, his government’s readiness for real peace with Israel – the only kind deserving of the difficult Israeli territorial and other concessions that would be required – must remain in doubt. Meanwhile, Western governments who sincerely desire peace should at least publicly denounce official PA hate speech and incitement – and stop paying the bill for it, as we do today.