Anything But Normal

As reported recently by the media, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under pressure by the more extreme right-wing faction of his Likud party, abruptly canceled a meeting with a leadership delegation of the Palestinian Authority that had requested to be received in his bureau as a goodwill gesture on the eve of the Jewish New Year.  Remember this item?  Well, if you don’t it is because this event never took place.  However, what was actually reported in the Jerusalem Post of 2 September is the following: “Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas canceled a pre-Rosh Hashanah toast with more than 30 ministers and Knesset members that was set for Tuesday because he came under pressure from the anti-normalization movement in Ramallah.” This is not the first time that the Palestinian “anti-normalization movement” has succeeded in shutting down a joint Israeli-Palestinian meeting.  This movement has either prevented previous efforts to meet, or after the fact strongly condemned actual gatherings involving Palestinians and Israelis from various sectors, including politicians, scientists, business people, educators, artists, athletes and youth.

The Palestinians behind “anti-normalization” contend that meetings held with Israelis while the “occupation” continues serves to bolster its legitimacy, irrespective of who the Israelis involved are and regardless of where such meetings are held, i.e., in pre-1967 Israel or on the other side of the 1949 Armistice lines.

Naturally, if the fictitious incident above were true, news media in both Israel and around the world would have a field day skewering Israel’s prime minister for rejecting a show of good will by Palestinians and, by association, the peace process.  The press outside of Israel pretty much took a pass on Abbas’s blowing off the Israeli delegation.  Try finding a report of it using Google.

During his first administration, 1996 – 1999, as the euphoria of Oslo was dissipating amidst the explosions and smoke of the first wave of suicide bombers, Prime Minister Netanyahu would often speak about the need for the Palestinian side to offer Israel confidence building measures.  For after the ink has dried, the longevity of a peace agreement comes down to mutual trust.  One way to establish and cultivate this trust is for both parties to make positive gestures outside the official talks that emphasize their commitment to resolving the conflict.  In spite of real and continuing security threats, Israel over the last few years has significantly reduced the number if IDF checkpoints on roads throughout Judea and Samaria, has increased the number of work permits for Palestinians who daily enter and exit the country, and directly or indirectly, continues to literally hundreds of joint Israeli-Palestinian efforts in the fields of medicine and health, social welfare, business, education and culture, agriculture, environment and sports.  Israel’s quest for peace is authentic.

While virtually all joint initiatives are born on the Israeli side, Israelis would be satisfied if Palestinian officialdom at least did not block these efforts or otherwise inhibit interested Palestinians from participating.  Alas, as we know, this is too often not the case.

But it is worse than that.  Not only are private cooperative projects discouraged by Palestinian officials, but major public institutions throughout the Palestinian Authority exhibit a sharp “normalization deficit” when it comes to Israel.   The most egregious example of this has recently been brought to light by the work of independent local journalist David Bedein in a film entitled CAMP JIHAD: INSIDE UNRWA SUMMER CAMP SEASON.  This twenty-minute documentary irrefutably demonstrates how United Nations Relief Works Agency sponsored summer camps, administered by local Palestinians, attempt to indoctrinate thousands of Arab Muslim children, from age five through their teens, in the hatred of Jews, Judaism and Israel.  This informal education includes, among other things, (1) encouraging children and teens to want to fight to return to Israeli cities such as Jaffa, Acre, Haifa, Nazareth and, of course, Jerusalem; (2) the recitation of apocryphal tales such as one in which the Jews who come as wolves steal the beaches and beautiful seaside villas from Palestinian families, shoot them and put the survivors in refugee camps; and (3) teaching songs that promote violence, including a song sung in the film by a girl not older than twelve whose lyrics entreat Palestinian mothers to collect stones to throw at Israeli army patrols.

There can be little doubt that Arab youth who, beginning at an early age, are inculcated with such a twisted version of history come to accept this narrative as fact and as a result form a deep and ineradicable contempt for Jews and Israel.  It should come as no surprise that some of these children later pursue a path of violence in an effort to redeem their “stolen land.”

Palestinian negotiators are, again, threatening to bolt the current peace talks because Israel, again, announced new settlement construction in areas that will surely be annexed to the Jewish state in any final agreement.  In registering their grievances Palestinian spokesmen take care to employ hyperbole and fatuously characterize the proposed new Israeli building projects as “war crimes.” Meanwhile, back in the Palestinian Authority, thousands of young children are being taught to hate another people and are being cultivated as potential terrorists.  Tell me, which of these activities more closely approaches the depravity of a “war crime,” the development of new housing or the purposeful incitement to hatred and violence of thousands of children and youth?

The Palestinian Authority should have no fear that such children will ever engage in “normal” activities with Jews or Israelis.  Their summer camp experiences are about as abnormal as one can possibly imagine.

When and if peace between Israel and the Palestinians ever comes, it will not come by way of government fiat or statute.   Any attempt to legislate peace between Israelis and Palestinians is destined to miscarry.  Real peace is not made only from the top down.   Real peace must also come from the bottom up.  For peace to succeed in the long run there must be trust and confidence between peoples, not only between negotiators.  Maximizing normal relations between individual Israelis and Palestinians whenever possible, even before their respective leaders sign off on a final peace settlement, is an essential step in the eventual normalization between the two peoples.

About the Author
Ardie Geldman is a fundraiser and philanthropic consultant who also writes about Israel and diaspora Jewish issues. He lives in Efrat.