It goes without saying that a peaceful resolution of the Arab-Israeli dispute will be fiendishly difficult to achieve unless both sides are psychologically prepared to make meaningful compromises.
Israel must accustom itself to the idea that its occupation of the West Bank is unsustainable and counter-productive. How can there be peace when the Palestinians are denied statehood? Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s belief that conflict management is sufficient is short-sighted and myopic.
The Palestinian Authority, headed by President Mahmoud Abbas, has no territory to relinquish in exchange for peace. But the PA has an important role to play in laying the groundwork for peaceful coexistence.
The PA can start this crucial process by revamping its school textbooks, which essentially deny Israel’s existence. If the Palestinians fail to amend their textbooks, the prospects for peace will recede even further.
Right now, Palestinians youngsters in grades 1 to 12 are being taught that Israel is an illegitimate state, a transitory entity bound to disappear. The PA, in effect, is creating a generation of rejectionists who will accept nothing less than a Palestinian state in place of Israel.
Israel Radio’s Palestinian affairs correspondent Gal Berger recently examined the books that students are required to read in Palestinian schools in the West Bank. What he found is not exactly new, but it sets off alarm bells and reminds us yet again that the PA should be working harder to build bridges between Palestinians and Israelis.
As Berger reported, “In the textbooks of the PA, there is no education towards two states or a Palestinian state alongside Israel within the 1967 lines.”
Israeli cities like Haifa, Safad, Ashkelon and Beersheba are portrayed as Palestinian cities. The concept of martyrdom, a motivating factor in the creation of suicide bombers, is exalted. Indeed, students are asked to write essays about martyrs of their choice.
In history books designed for senior grades, several chapters are devoted to World War II, yet the Holocaust goes unmentioned. This is hardly surprising. The PA is clearly uncomfortable with the Holocaust because it is often cited as a justification for Jewish statehood.
If the PA is truly serious about coexistence with Israel, as it constantly claims, the textbooks in its classes will have to reflect realities on the ground, not the fantasies of extremists.
Many Israelis are already suspicious of Palestinian motives and intentions. Their suspicions will surely grow if the PA fails to overhaul its textbooks.
Israel has work to do in this domain as well.
Nearly all Israeli maps are remiss in delineating the border between Israel and the West Bank. This has been the case since the 1967 Six Day War. These maps leave the unmistakable impression that the West Bank has already been annexed by Israel and that it will never be traded for peace with the Palestinians.
It’s time for the PA and the Israeli government to give peace a real chance.
The PA should introduce a new set of textbooks for its students. Israeli mapmakers should print maps that recognize borders.
If these steps are not taken, it will be clear to all that the PA and Israel prefer the status quo to peace.
Let us hope that reason will prevail.