Friday, April 21, 2017

The UNRWA book battle - Jonathan S. Tobin




by Jonathan S. Tobin

UNRWA's proposed changes are a step in the right direction. The ‎PA's opposition is more proof that it is an obstacle to any hope for a better life for ‎both Israeli and Palestinian children.‎

It is an article of faith for the international community and the Jewish Left that the ‎Palestinian Authority is a moderate force that wants to make peace with Israel. ‎That belief has been undermined by many of the PA's actions and statements since ‎its creation after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, yet somehow it survives and forms the basis for many of the assumptions critics make ‎about Israel's government. 

The latest proof that the PA is a principle obstacle to ‎peace rather than its best hope has not received any attention in the Western press. ‎But a discussion of the conflict that has arisen between it and the United Nations ‎Relief and Works Agency speaks volumes about everything that is wrong ‎with the PA.‎

UNRWA is the world body that is devoted solely to aiding Palestinian refugees. ‎Unlike the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which is tasked with helping all other refugees around the world, UNRWA doesn't try ‎to resettle refugees or resolve their problems. On the contrary, since its creation ‎after the Arab failure to destroy Israel in its War of Independence, UNRWA has ‎helped to perpetuate the clash between Israel and the Muslim and Arab worlds and ‎championed the "right of return" that would spell Israel's end. Its schools and aid ‎projects have been hotbeds of radicalism aimed at erasing the existence of the ‎Jewish state and have even been used by Hamas. In particular, critics have noted ‎the way UNRWA schools in the West Bank and Gaza have curricula and textbooks ‎that teach up to 600,000 Palestinian youngsters to reject Israel's legitimacy and ‎glorify the struggle to destroy it. ‎

But, like the rest of the U.N., UNRWA has been feeling some pressure to ‎reform. The Trump administration has shown a willingness to throw its weight ‎around that directly contrasts with former President Barack Obama's support for the U.N. Under ‎new Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who previously headed the U.N.'s other ‎refugee agency, efforts to promote the libel that Israel is an apartheid state were ‎rejected. So when the Arab press reported leaks about a shift in UNRWA's ‎education policy, this seemed to indicate that even that agency was feeling some ‎pressure to change its ways.‎

According to those reports, UNRWA was planning to alter the textbooks it uses ‎in its schools. Among the planned changes, cities inside Israel would stop being labeled as Palestinian, a practice that instills a sense in readers that the Jewish state is ‎merely a colonialist intrusion built entirely on "stolen" Arab land. Other changes ‎included an effort to tone down praise of Palestinians who commit terrorism ‎against Jews and Israelis. Its teaching about Jerusalem would treat it as a city that ‎is as holy to all three monotheistic religions, rather than just Islam. That's significant because Palestinian efforts to claim that shrines such ‎as the Temple Mount and even the Western Wall are ‎exclusively Muslim were part of a campaign of incitement that led to the recent ‎‎"stabbing intifada." Perhaps just as significant is that the new texts would also seek ‎to correct gender bias that was part of the old books.‎

But rather than welcome reform, the Palestinian Authority has reacted with fury. ‎Last week, the PA announced that it was suspending ties with UNRWA over the ‎proposed changes, which have yet to be formally announced. It said the revisions ‎to the curriculum were an "affront to the Palestinian people, its history and ‎struggles" and that the suspension would continue until the agency's "positions are ‎corrected."‎

The PA Education Ministry issued the following statement:‎ "Any distortion of the Palestinian curriculum is a flagrant violation of the laws of the ‎host country, and any change to any letter to appease any party is a betrayal of the ‎Palestinian narrative and the right of the Palestinian people under occupation to ‎preserve its identity and struggle.‎"

The implications of the PA position for the prospects for peace in this or future ‎generations cannot be overestimated.‎

For more than a century, Palestinian national identity has been inextricably tied to the war on Zionism. Throughout two decades of failed peace negotiations, the ‎supposedly moderate Palestinian Authority has consistently rejected Israeli offers ‎of independence that would obligate it to recognize the legitimacy of the Jewish ‎state within any borders. Any chance that this will change rests not so much on ‎more Israeli concessions but on a sea change in Palestinian political culture. ‎Leaving aside the role of Hamas, unless the PA's future leaders are able to embrace ‎peace without fear that doing so will be seen as a betrayal, the failure of more talks ‎is foreordained. UNRWA's proposed changes are a step in the right direction. The ‎PA's opposition is more proof that it is an obstacle to any hope for a better life for ‎both Israeli and Palestinian children.‎


Jonathan S. Tobin is the opinion editor of JNS.org and a contributing writer for ‎National Review. Twitter @jonathans_tobin.‎

Source: http://www.israelhayom.com/site/newsletter_opinion.php?id=18863

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