Jerusalem — In an effort to ratchet up international pressure on the Palestinian Authority to combat what the Netanyahu administration calls hatred against Israel as peace talks move forward, Israel plans to unveil this month an “Incitement Index,” The Jewish Week has learned.
Accusing the Western-backed PA of condoning anti-Semitic remarks in its media, the glorification of terrorists and the denial of Israel’s existence on official maps, officials in Jerusalem believe that focusing on incitement will ease diplomatic pressure on Israel in other areas.
“We’re hoping that this effort will take some of the focus off of Jerusalem, and its policy on settlements,” a senior official in the Netanyahu government told The Jewish Week, “and [put] more on whether the PA is doing anything toward creating a climate for negotiations leading to peace.”
At the same time, the Foreign Ministry hosted a joint press conference this week on incitement with right-wing nonprofit Palestinian Media Watch, which monitors hate speech in the official Palestinian media.
Speaking to reporters, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said Israel plans to raise the issue of Palestinian incitement during the indirect peace talks slated to begin this week. Ayalon said the glorification of militants who killed Israeli civilians undermined confidence in negotiations and asserted that President Mahmoud Abbas shouldn’t be considered partners for peace until his government improves its track record.
“True peace must be built on a foundation of trust between the parties. The continuation of incitement on the part of the Palestinians will not help build trust and understanding between us. Therefore, before the start of the talks, the PA must decide if it is a partner for true peace and stop the ongoing incitement and boycotts against Israel.”
The Netanyahu administration believes that it is likely to have an open ear for its claims in Washington, and frequently cites remarks by President Barack Obama, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and State Department officials condemning Palestinian “incitement,” such as the recent naming of a street in Ramallah after a Hamas bomb-maker assassinated by Israel.
“Since the Obama administration says the PA must be held accountable for incitement and terrorism, we want to make sure those issues get increased recognition and awareness in Washington and elsewhere,” said the Netanyahu administration official.
Meanwhile, PMW, which has critiqued Palestinian media for anti-Semitic content since the days of the Oslo Accords, recently mounted an anti-incitement television commercial campaign on cable news channels and in Washington, D.C., aimed at influencing congressman and policymakers.
Amid the backdrop of scowling pictures of Abbas and Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad, the commercials conclude with the tagline: “If terrorists are glorified, how can there be peace?”
It’s not the first time that incitement has been part of negotiations. Under the 1998 Wye River Memorandum reached between Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, Israel, the Palestinians and the U.S. were supposed to have held weekly meetings monitoring incitement.
A mutual call to end official incitement is part of the 2002 Road Map peace initiative of the Bush administration. Israeli and Palestinian officials held several meetings on incitement when Abbas was prime minister and Ariel Sharon was Israeli prime minister, but they didn’t produce any results.
“Israel is looking for bargaining chips in order to improve its negotiation position with the PLO. Incitement is bad on both sides, but there is more incitement on the Palestinian side than the Israeli side,” said Meir Javedanfar, a Tel Aviv-based Middle East expert.
“It’s a tool for Israel to pressure the PLO. You don’t hear the Israelis saying this in relations with the Egyptians, and the Egyptian press is not known for its favorable view toward the Jews.”
Javedanfar said the campaign would have better chance of being effective if Israel’s government enjoyed better diplomatic support abroad.
The Incitement Index is to be published quarterly and will rate Palestinian figures, including Abbas, religious institutions and the media. The rating will focus solely on the Palestinian Authority rather than other sources of incitement like the Hamas government in Gaza.
“Since the Obama administration says the PA must be held accountable for incitement and terrorism, we want to make sure those issues get increased recognition and awareness in Washington and elsewhere,” said the official, who asked not to be named because the government decision has not been made officially.
Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev declined to comment when asked about the index, though he said the government is performing the “required preliminary work so when we make our case, it will be documented thoroughly.”
At the Foreign Ministry press conference, PMW’s director, Itamar Marcus, showed television footage of children praising a militant who helped kill 37 Israelis in an attack on an Israeli civilian bus, and Islamic preachers. He also displayed clips from Palestinian newspapers accusing Israel of “duplicating” the Holocaust.
“As long as the Palestinian Authority names streets after terrorists, there cannot be a chance for peace, even if the are diplomatic negotiations,” he said.
In apparent coordination with the Foreign Ministry, the pro-Israel advocacy group The Israel Project sent out a fact sheet on peace education in Israeli schools.
Israeli doves consider the government anti-incitement campaign disingenuous because it ignores examples of “incitement” in Israel. “There is no Palestine in Israeli textbooks. There’s no narrative that the Palestinians are a people or a national movement,” said Gershon Baskin, the co-director of the Israel-Palestine Center for Research and Information. “There’s a crime of omission on both sides much more than a crime of incitement.”
Baskin said that Israeli and Palestinian negotiators discussed a joint effort against incitement during the Annapolis peace talks, but never reached a common definition of what constituted incendiary acts. He noted that while the Palestinian teachers have fewer choices in school history textbooks, Israeli teachers have a choice of a more diverse range of material that has gone through more refinement.
Despite U.S. statements condemning Palestinian incitement, Baskin predicted that the State Department would not be on board with the Netanyahu administration.
The Americans are not going to allow this to be the issue to derail the process.
Joshua Mitnick is an Israel correspondent; Gary Rosenblatt is editor and publisher.
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