David Litman
David Litman

The US and Moral Equivalence on Jerusalem

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in NYC, September 2012. (photo credit: AP/Richard Drew)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the 67th session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in NYC, September 2012. (photo credit: AP/Richard Drew)

Another day, another obscene moral equivalence in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. On May 7, the US State Department dropped a whopper in a press statement on “Violence in Jerusalem,” stating:

“As we have consistently said, it is critical to avoid steps that exacerbate tensions or take us farther away from peace. This includes evictions in East Jerusalem, settlement activity, home demolitions, and acts of terrorism.”

You read that right. The State Department put the possible eviction of residents refusing to pay rent on land they don’t own – which would come only after they’ve been afforded plenty of due process in courts as detailed by NGO Monitor – in the same breath as “acts of terrorism.” In other words, they equated the peaceful, judicial settlement of a dispute by a well-respected Supreme Court with the terrorist murder of a 19-year-old student.

To make matters worse, the State Department had nothing to say about the incitement literally designed to “exacerbate tensions,” and in doing so, played right into the hands of those actually sowing the seeds of the violence.

Take a look at the events on April 22 in Jerusalem which involved violent demonstrations by both Israelis and Palestinians. Condemnation of the violence and hatred displayed that night was nearly universal on the Israeli side. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu quickly issued the statement: “We are maintaining freedom of worship as we do every year, for all residents and for all visitors to Jerusalem. At the moment we demand compliance with the law and I call for calm on all sides.” It was unequivocal and sought to defuse tensions.

On the Palestinian side the message was very different. Here is just a sampling of the incitement and praise for the violence from the Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah:

  • PA President Mahmoud Abbas declared “Jerusalem is a red line. We will not agree to it being harmed. ‎We salute our people in Jerusalem for their resolve against the ‎Israeli plans…”
  • PA Prime Minister Shtayyeh praised the “the scenes of heroism.”
  • Abbas’ Advisor on Religious Affairs Mahmoud Al-Habbash told listeners that paradise awaits them if they die fighting, while hell awaits the “oppressors” they kill, all while preaching “Don’t be a coward! Don’t be fearful! Don’t be submissive!… You must respond to the aggression and be brave.”
  • Abbas Zaki, a prominent Fatah official, boasted of the “the battle that our great people are waging in Jerusalem.”
  • Fatah Commission of Information and Culture’s Facebook page wrote: “There is an uprising and intifada in ‎Jerusalem…‎ The uprising over ‎sovereignty over the capital has turned into a fire spreading from alley ‎to alley, and from refugee camp to refugee camp…”
  • An editorial in the official PA daily read: “This is the call of ‎Jerusalem now, because the confrontation is here, and the ‎struggle is here. [The struggle is being waged] through the popular ‎resistance which is teaching the occupation and its ‎settlers the clearest lessons in resolution and defiance, and the ‎clearest heroic examples of defending the sanctity of the capital ‎and its holy sites.”‎

While a few dozen rockets were being launched at Israel, Hamas spokesperson promised “We will burn the occupation’s settlements for you, O Jerusalem.” Not to be left out, Palestinian Islamic Jihad said “The Al-Aqsa [mosque] is a red line and the entire Palestinian people stands behind the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem…We will not allow the settlers to defile [al-Aqsa].”

Days later, the incitement still didn’t end. On April 30, the Fatah youth movement, writing in the PA news agency WAFA, called for “escalating the popular resistance in every corner and every street in Jerusalem.” On May 2, Palestinian terrorists killed one and wounded two yeshiva students in a drive-by shooting. Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem called it a “heroic action,” a description echoed by Fatah official Kayed Mi’ari who described the attack as a “heroic operation” and a “natural right.” Meanwhile, Fatah social media posts called on Palestinians to destroy any evidence of the shooting. A week later, only the vigilance of Israeli soldiers prevented disaster as three Palestinian terrorists were caught before carrying out yet another shooting attack.

We all know the game being played here. The Palestinian authorities know violence works. Ratchet up the violence enough and the West will step in and tell Israel that the normal functioning of a democracy’s judiciary is “provocative” and on the same level as terrorism, while Palestinian incitement is just treated as an unremarkable given. It’s a win-win game of incitement and violence for the Palestinian leaders, and the State Department became an accomplice on Friday.

About the Author
David M. Litman is a lawyer and researcher, specializing in international law, foreign affairs, and human rights.
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