Ever since the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, Americans and Israelis who were trying to make peace in the Middle East have had one insoluble problem: how to explain the fact that Palestinian leaders say one thing to the Western media and quite another to their own people in Arabic. The answer for the peace processers was to either ignore or rationalize the consistent incitement and hatred coming from Palestinian sources lest the truth about their intentions dampen enthusiasm for Israeli concessions or for pressure on the Jewish state to surrender territory.
A counterweight to this inclination to deny the truth about the Palestinians has come from the work of Palestine Media Watch, an organization that was founded in 1996 and since then has produced translations of Arab print and broadcast media. PMW has just published a new book titled Deception: Betraying the Peace Process that is filled with translated quotes of Palestinians from 2010 to 2011. The cumulative effect of the depth of the hatred and delegitimization for Jews and Israel that is mainstream opinion among Palestinians is devastating. But, as an article about the topic in today’s New York Times demonstrates, it is also something many Americans and Israelis have trouble dealing with.
The problem for those who wish to portray the Palestinian approach to peace as morally equivalent to that of the Israelis is that the substance of Deception is incontrovertible. The litany of outrage is lengthy. It runs the gamut from Palestinian television’s children programs that inculcate rejection of Israel and support for terror in its audience to the translations of adult programs that regard all of pre-1967 Israel as territory to be liberated from the Jews. Damning quotes from Palestinian Authority officials and official honors for terrorist murderers also demonstrate the unpleasant facts. As the Times reports:
“There is no doubt in my mind that in the mainstream of the Palestinian national movement, Israel is not considered legitimate,” said Shlomo Avineri, an Israeli professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, reflecting a widespread sense of disillusionment. “This is the inner truth of the Palestinians,” he said. “They really mean it. It is not what they say on CNN, but it is what they teach their children.”
Yet for some on the left, it is easier to doubt the motives of those behind PMW or to claim Israelis are guilty of similar offenses, even though there isn’t the slightest comparison between the official Palestinian attitude and that of the State of Israel, where peace education is part of the official curriculum in the schools.
Far from being an esoteric issue, ignoring the truth about the Palestinians has consequences. Both the Clinton administration and Israel’s Labor Party governments during the 1990s chose to try and whitewash the Palestinians, and the result was to encourage their intransigence. Only later, after the complete collapse of the process after Yasir Arafat refused an Israeli offer of a Palestinian state at Camp David and answered it with a terror war of attrition, did many in Washington and on the political left start to understand there were consequences. But even now, some of those who condoned this deception don’t seem to get it.
Itamar Rabinovich, a scholar who served as the Rabin government’s ambassador to Washington, told the Times about his decision to try and rationalize Yasir Arafat’s comments in a South African mosque just months after signing the Oslo Accords when he invited Muslims “to come and to fight and to start the jihad to liberate Jerusalem.” Though Rabinovich acknowledges there has been a failure to build peace on the Palestinian side, he does not back away from his comments at the time that Arafat was merely talking of a spiritual struggle rather than telling his true intentions toward Israel. Yet Rabinovich still seems to deplore efforts to allow the West to see what Palestinians say to each other as the effort of “rightist groups” who seek “ammunition” to derail negotiations.
For those who see the peace process as if it were a religious belief rather than a policy that can be judged by its results, the only possible response to PMW is denial or to cast aspersions on Deception’s authors. But doing so merely serves the purposes of those Palestinians who don’t want peace. What is needed is a sea change in Palestinian political culture that will enable their leaders to build a consensus around the idea of peaceful coexistence with a Jewish state. But that will never happen until the West puts the Palestinians on notice they cannot go on propagating hatred with impunity.
Ignoring or seeking to marginalize the truths that PMW has uncovered will only lead to more bloodshed, not peace.