The horrific attack on worshippers at a West Jerusalem synagogue on Tuesday was the sixth Palestinian terrorist act against Jews in the last month. However, it was the first one to be condemned by PA Chairman Mahmud Abbas (Abu Mazen).
In theory, the condemnation represents a positive shift in the stance of the PA president. But does it in fact have practical significance?
Let’s start with the bad news.
First, the previous five attacks weren’t simply met with silence by the PA leadership. Each one was openly praised by Abbas’ Fatah movement and/or by his senior advisors. And Abbas himself sent a personal condolence note to the family of the would-be murderer of religious rights activist Yehuda Glick. In the letter, Abbas called the attempted assassin a martyr who “rose to Heaven while defending our people’s rights and holy places.”
Secondly, Abbas’ condemnation was partially offset by the actions of his apparatus. A short time after Abbas’ statement, the Fatah website posted an interview which strongly hinted that the PA leader’s denunciation was insincere. And not only did no other senior PA or Fatah officials criticize the act, but several leaders applauded it. Abbas advisor Sultan Abu Al-Einein called it a “heroic operation” and posted photos of blood-drenched victims on his Facebook page. Fatah spokesman Ahmad Assaf said “the attack was a natural response to the Israeli violations in Jerusalem.” And the Fatah Facebook page boasted of “handing out candy in the cities of the West Bank to celebrate the Jerusalem operation.”
Worst of all, there is a general tendency in the PA leadership to negate the value of human life and glorify hatred and murder. This is expressed not only in the attitude to recent terror attacks, but also in textbooks, electronic and print media, and the celebrity status awarded to released murderers. What Abu Mazen really feels may be hard to determine. But as long as he and his regime prove unable or unwilling to take a firm stand in favor of life, the PA and the society it governs remain morally dysfunctional. In the contemporary Middle East, morally dysfunctional societies don’t make real peace.
And yet the Abbas condemnation also provides an encouraging precedent.
When Israeli PM Netanyahu tied the first of the recent terror attacks to incitement by the PA and Abbas, he was ridiculed by Israeli politicians and pundits alike. Bibi’s accusations were called “bizarre” and “disingenuous.” A social media post asked: “Will Bibi also blame Abu Mazen for the rise of ISIS?”
Fortunately, Netanyahu was not dissuaded. His goal at this juncture was not merely to play a “blame game,” but to cause the cessation or amelioration of the incitement. The efforts included an unofficial mini-summit in Amman, at which Abbas is said to have agreed not to encourage violence in Jerusalem.
Although some Israelis remain dismissive, Bibi’s emphasis on the link between incitement and terror has struck a chord with important Western leaders. This can be seen in the responses to the synagogue massacre, in which the leaders censured not only the act but also the incitement. EU Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini denounced “all statements calling for or praising such attacks.” French President Hollande condemned all “who dare to praise” the murders.U.S. Secretary of State Kerry said: “I call on Palestinians at every single level of leadership to condemn this in the most powerful terms. This violence has no place anywhere, particularly after the discussion that we had just the other day in Amman.”
It is this diplomatic pressure which finally caused Abbas to condemn a terror attack.
Unfortunately, the PA incitement will probably not end in the near future. The terror attacks might also continue. But we’ve learned an important lesson: if a focused, well-argued Israeli initiative can affect the diplomatic landscape within a short period, a sustained and determined approach can yield more significant long-term results.
Just such a comprehensive Israeli campaign is needed to help counteract incitement and hatred not only in the PA, but throughout the Middle East.
But first we might have to change how our politicians relate to the problem of incitement and hate-education. Many on the left would prefer to ignore the issue, seeing it as an inconvenient hurdle in the path to a peace agreement. And while some on the right correctly point out that hate education and true peace can’t coexist, they rarely attempt to remedy the problem.
The time has come for the Israeli polity as a whole to understand that hate education is the single greatest obstacle to real peace in the Middle East. Consequently, overcoming it must be the single greatest focus of our foreign policy.