by Elliott Abrams
"I say in front of you, Mr. President, that we have nothing to do with incitement against
It is unfortunate for the prospects of
And yet there are countless examples of pronouncements or actions by Abbas and other Palestinian leaders that suggest a glorification of violence and terrorism and undermine the belief that they seek peace. This very month, for example, Abbas publicly mourned the death of Mohammed Oudeh, mastermind of the 1972 Munich Olympics massacre: "The deceased was one of the prominent leaders of the Fatah movement and lived a life filled with the struggle, devoted effort, and the enormous sacrifice of the deceased for the sake of the legitimate problem of his people."
Abbas also told Arab journalists in
Why should Israelis, or Americans for that matter, believe his commitment to peace in English, when in Arabic he treats war as an acceptable option?
President Obama is well aware that popular incitement remains a thorn in the side of serious talks. In May, the President said that he had "mentioned to President Abbas in a frank exchange that it was very important to continue to make progress in reducing the incitement and anti-Israel sentiments that are sometimes expressed in schools and mosques and in the public square, because all those things are impediments to peace."
At a dinner for Abbas during his
If peace is our goal, such a response is deeply inadequate. Abbas should handle incitement by stopping it, not seeking committee meetings - and especially not by denying that incitement occurs in the first place. Of course, it's easy to see why, politically, Abbas and others in the PLO and Fatah leadership avoid confronting these organizations' long involvement in terrorism, but if they cannot do so, the chances for real peace are slim. A leadership whose maps do not even show an entity called Israel is unlikely to tell Palestinian refugees that it has given up their "right of return" or that their long-hoped-for Palestinian state within the 1967 borders will not include control of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
In fact, the critical insight achieved by the Bush administration was that the character of that state, and of Palestinian society, are more important than final borders in achieving and maintaining peace.
Is terrorism defended and glorified by the top officials? Are terrorists who murder children branded as heroes whom schoolchildren should admire? Is war with
Obama is right to keep raising this subject with Abbas, but Presidents have been raising it for years. As the Palestinian leadership never seems to pay any penalty for its words,
If the Obama administration is dedicated to a major peace effort in the coming year, the incitement issue should be at the top of its agenda. Because when direct negotiations do finally begin, the key test of Palestinian commitment to peace will not be what Abbas and his colleagues say to Americans in English, but what they say in Arabic to Palestinians - about
Elliott Abrams is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.
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