In the days since the terrible murder of a family of five in the West Bank settlement of Itamar, the issue of Palestinian incitement has emerged as Talking Point Number One for pro-Israel groups here.
The Palestinian Authority hasn’t done enough to curb incitement, the argument goes, which naturally leads to tragedies such as the Itamar murders.
Fair enough; it’s hard to argue with claims the PA has done too little to tamp down, and has sometimes contributed to, incitement against the very idea of Israel, most notably in its own media.
But what outsiders see as tolerance of terrible incitement – and I’m among those who find it deeply offensive that, as JTA reported, the West Bank town of Al-Bireh dedicated a new town square to the “memory of Dalal Mughrabi, a terrorist involved in killing 37 Israelis in a 1978 bus hijacking on Israel’s coastal road” – is to the governments involved a matter of local politics.
The PA didn’t officially participate in that offensive dedication, but it clearly tolerates and maybe even encourages such displays of anti-Israel animosity; that can lead to violence, and it obviously undermines efforts to bring Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.
For PA officials, it’s a matter of playing to that faction of their population that abhors the idea of making peace with the hated Zionist entity. That’s an explanation, not an excuse; I’m not arguing that political necessity justifies incitement.
But we shouldn’t forget that some Israeli leaders play a similar game.
Read here about the inflammatory statements made by some big-league Israeli politicians in response to the Itamar murders – including calls for Israel to keep all of the West Bank and deport its Palestinian residents.
What about the ongoing veneration of Baruch Goldstein, who in 1994 killed 29 Muslims and wounded more than 100 others in a rampage at the Cave of the Patriarchs?
News reports describe how many Israelis, in mourning over the Itamar deaths, see the town square dedication as proof that the Palestinians do not want peace.
So should the Palestinians take as proof Israel does not want peace the incident a few months ago when some East Jerusalem Jews “were caught on video praising [Goldstein]. ‘Dr. Goldstein, we all love you, ‘ they sang. ‘He aimed at terrorists’ heads, squeezed the trigger hard, and shot bullets, and shot, and shot, and shot,’” as Slate reported last year?
Okay, I concede that Palestinian incitement is probably more pervasive, and more pervasively part of official PA activity, than it is in official Israel. I have no doubt the PA’s tolerance of incitement was a factor, perhaps a major one, in the Itamar tragedy. Openly celebrating suicide bombers is a more odious form of incitement than insisting Israel deserves every last inch of the West Bank.
But incitement by Israelis, including some in Netanyahu’s own government, and the flaccid response of a succession of governments in Jerusalem, are also harmful to efforts to find a practical route to peace and can also add to a violence-inducing climate.
It’s easy to say Netanyahu, under extreme pressure from the Israeli right, has to placate that segment in order to keep his government together by not slamming those Israeli politicians who hurl anti-Palestinian invective.
But doesn’t the same thing apply to Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, who apparently needs to appease the anti-Israel fanatics in his own orbit in order to keep his government together?
I repeat: incitement is bad. Palestinian incitement, sanctioned or directed by the PA, has been particularly blatant.
But if you think Israel is blameless here, think again. Only when leaders across the region start putting the long term interests of their people ahead of short-term political considerations will there be any real chance for peace.
I would also submit that pro-Israel groups here are going to have a hard time selling their message that Palestinian incitement is the primary cause of today’s impasse in negotiations while blithely ignoring the incitement coming from the mouths of prominent Israeli politicians.