When the Oslo peace process began in 1993, a cautious Yitzchak Rabin insisted that any exchange of territory for intangible promises of peace must include a provision calling for Palestinian leaders to cease from engaging in "hostile propaganda" against Jews and Israel. Toning down the rhetoric of hate was a necessary prelude to resolving all other issues. Unfortunately, Rabin's core request has never been addressed.
While Israel took the initial steps of relinquishing control of Gaza and 40 percent of the West Bank, and establishing and arming the Palestinian Authority, Yasir Arafat showed no indication he planned to deliver on his half of the "land for peace" equation. If he had, Israel and others were prepared to implement economic measures that would have vastly improved the quality of life for all Palestinians.
On the day the Oslo agreement was signed, Arafat could be heard on Jordanian radio pledging to take back all of Palestine. Soon after, during a speech at a South African Mosque, he vowed to carry the Jihad to Jerusalem. And so the pattern continued, with one message broadcast to western media, a very different one to the Arab World. By repeatedly reinforcing the notion that compromise was not an option, the groundwork for peace was never established.
Other elements of the Oslo accord designed to build trust were also ignored. The original PLO charter calling for the destruction of the State of Israel was never amended in writing. Terrorists who were required to be arrested and disarmed by the PA, have instead actually partnered with them in recent months. New Palestinian textbooks for grade school children released last September, which were supposed to reverse the cycle of hate, are designed to ensure its continuance. Unlike Israel's revised history curriculum that now examines portions of the recent past through Palestinian eyes, the books issued by the PA contain the same invectives against Israel and the Jewish People. Maps of the Middle East make no mention of Israel. The area is labeled only as Palestine.
Even more troubling, "Mein Kampf" and the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion" remain as bestsellers, and denial of the holocaust continues in materials distributed by the Palestinian Authority. Blatant incitement of the population is not uncommon. For instance, Ahmad Abu Halabiya, a member of the Palestinian Authority's appointed Fatwa Council, proclaimed live on Palestinian TV, "Have no mercy on the Jews, no matter where they are, in any country. Fight them, wherever you are. Wherever you meet them, kill them." Had an Israeli official uttered such an outrageous provocation against Arabs, the uproar by the U.N. and world media would have been deafening.
In fact, on a daily basis, the average Palestinian is saturated with messages of anger and hate against Israelis by the PA-controlled media. It's no wonder a recent Bir Zeit University poll found that 74 percent of Palestinians feel that even if East Jerusalem were to come under Palestinian control, Israel has no right to be in West Jerusalem. Predictably, although Israel continues to have a formidable peace movement with the goal of reaching out to their Arab brethren, no comparable movement exists among Palestinians.
The propaganda is aimed at young and old alike, with frightening effect. In one Palestinian video, a costumed girl no more than nine or ten shouts, "I will never, never compromise. In my right hand is a Koran, in my left hand is a knife." As the audience applauds, Chairman Arafat is seen tenderly kissing her on the cheek for her performance. Can any rational person blame the Israelis for questioning Arafat's true intentions? Although, to be sure, there are extremist elements in Israel who have caused much harm, such pervasive, state-encouraged hate simply does not exist, nor could it, in a democratic society.
As peace talks appeared on the verge of a breakthrough last summer, the New York Times reported of 90 two- and three-week summer camp programs attended by 25,000 Palestinian teenagers on the West Bank and in the Gaza Strip. Run by aides of Yasir Arafat, it was not your usual camp. Campers are given "the chance to stage a mock kidnapping of an Israeli leader by masked Palestinian commandos, ending with the Israeli bodyguards sprawled dead on the ground," the Times reported. "There is the opportunity to excel in stripping and reassembling a real Kalashnikov rifle." No doubt, the camp was organized in preparation for Arafatís "peace of the brave."
When Ehud Barak's Camp David offer of far-reaching concessions was spurned by Arafat, and violence ensued, a tragic consequence were the casualties sustained by rock-throwing youths standing among the Palestinian snipers. Arab leaders indignantly denied the suggestion that the teenagers had been deliberately placed in harm's way to gain sympathy points on the nightly news. However, their protests were muffled when USA Today reported on December 8 that Palestinian women from Tulkarm were outraged that their children were being picked up after school and brought into battle zones, and had written a protest letter to Arafat demanding that the Palestinian Authority "stop using our children as cannon fodder."
For those who point to the casualty totals and conclude that Israel must be the aggressor since more Palestinians than Israelis have lost their lives, consider what the numbers would have looked like if the situation were reversed and the Palestinian leadership enjoyed an overwhelming advantage in firepower and the ability to kill hundreds or thousands at a time if they so chose. Does anyone believe they would have shown a fraction of the same restraint, warning people, for instance, to evacuate buildings before conducting retaliatory strikes?
Similar to established dictatorships in the Arab world, Palestinian leaders recognize that to stay in power, they must deflect attention away from their own corruption by continuously rousing anger against a common enemy. Unfortunately, they have been quite successful at it, and, in the process, created a culture of hate. Until a leadership emerges that truly wants what's best for the people, resumption of the peace talks would be a fruitless effort.
Robert Isler is a research professional and a freelance writer