The West Must Insist that the Palestinians Change Their Narrative


Institute for Contemporary Affairs

Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation

Vol. 16, No. 14

Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser

Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser

  • The fight against Zionism defines the Palestinians. The Palestinian narrative denies the assumption that there is a Jewish people. If there is no Jewish people, then the Jews do not have the right of self-determination and only the Palestinians have such a right.
  • Since the Palestinians are taught to believe that the Jews have no history of sovereignty in this land, that is why they fight in UNESCO against the idea of recognizing the Temple Mount, since they say there was no Temple.
  • The Palestinians also say they are fighting for Islam as well. When they fight against the Jews to liberate a piece of land that is Islamic in its nature because it was conquered by the Muslims in the early years of Islam, they are actually performing an Islamic duty. That is why if they die in this war, they are an Islamic martyr.
  • The West does not interfere with this indoctrination. The West accepts Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, but it doesn’t demand that the Palestinians change their narrative. As long as Western nations keep giving the Palestinians money as if they are not doing anything wrong, then it doesn’t have any impact on the Palestinians.
  • The U.S. State Department’s 2010 definition of anti-Semitism says very clearly that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism in a new form, and anti-Zionism is exactly what the Palestinians are preaching. Demonization of Israel, double standards toward Israel, and delegitimization of Israel are all forms of anti-Semitism. We would have expected the West to do something about it, but it doesn’t.
  • In order to start real peace negotiations, the international community has to tell the Palestinians that they are not going to get any more money to support this kind of indoctrination. They have to adopt a different approach that enables real peace with Zionism and the Jewish people, an approach that would eventually lead to mutual recognition where everybody recognizes the other’s identity as the nation-state of their people.

Elements of the Palestinian Narrative

The Palestinian leadership tries to make sure that the Palestinian people stick with the Palestinian narrative and to indoctrinate this narrative into the minds of the Palestinians.

Incitement comes on top of this indoctrination. The leadership tells the Palestinians that now that they have accepted the principles of this narrative, they have to do something about it, and what they have to do is carry out terror attacks. This is the relationship between indoctrination and incitement.

What are the elements of this Palestinian indoctrination? First of all, it is important for them to deny the assumption that there is a Jewish people. Every Palestinian should believe that there is no Jewish people. That is why the purpose of the Palestinians is to oppose Zionism because Zionism is all about the right of the Jewish people to have self-determination. If there is no Jewish people, then the Jews do not have the right of self-determination and the only people who have any such right in the land of Palestine/Israel is the Palestinian people because they are the only people who are actually a people.

On top of that, Palestinians have to believe that the Jews have no history of sovereignty in this land. That is why they fight in UNESCO against the idea of recognizing the Temple Mount since they say there was no Temple. It’s only the site of an Islamic shrine.

The Palestinians also have to believe that the Jews in general, and especially the Zionists, are terrible creatures. They were born like that and there is nothing that can be done about it; this is their nature.  And because of that, the Europeans decided to get rid of them and send them over to Palestine. And there is no justification for the Palestinians to suffer from this colonialist move by the Europeans.

If you add all that together, then you come to the conclusion that in the fight against Zionism, which defines the Palestinians, all sorts of means are legitimate including terrorism. There are many ways of fighting against Zionism. You can fight by planting a tree, by writing poems – you can even conduct negotiations with the Jews in order to weaken Zionism. But terrorism is also legitimate. This explains why they pay salaries to terrorists and their families.

The Palestinians speak of the “armed struggle/jihad” or “popular peaceful resistance,” which is stabbing, throwing firebombs, driving over people with your car, and throwing stones. These are all elements of “popular resistance” because they do not involve the use of explosives or firearms.

Other principles that are part of this indoctrination include the idea that the Palestinians are the only victims in this conflict between them and the Jews, and as such they should never be asked to show any responsibility or accountability. That’s why nobody can ask them what they have done with all the money they received from foreign donors.

The Palestinians also say that their fight is not only a national fight, but that they fight for Islam as well. When they fight against the Jews to liberate a piece of land that is Islamic in its nature because it was conquered by the Muslims in the early years of Islam, they are actually performing an Islamic duty.  That is why if they die in this war, they are an Islamic martyr, a ”shaheed.” They are guaranteed a place in heaven.  It is not only a national act, it is an Islamic act, and as such it is part of the wider conflict between the West and Islam. This is very important in their narrative.

Finally, they have to remember that this fight is for all of Palestine. Even if they are now unable to liberate all of Palestine because the Jews are too strong, at least they have to make sure that they do not accept Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people because there is no Jewish people.  And they will remain committed to the ultimate goal of liberating all of Palestine.

These are all ideas that are indoctrinated day in and day out by the Palestinian leadership, by Fatah and the PLO and by Hamas as well. Based on that indoctrination, when the incitement comes and they are told, “now go stab a Jew,” this indoctrination guarantees that there will be enough people who will get up and take a knife and try to stab a Jew.

The Reaction of the West to Palestinian Indoctrination

The West is very much against incitement for terrorism. We saw this in the latest declaration of the Quartet. But they do not interfere with the indoctrination that is the basis for this incitement. The West accepts Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, but it doesn’t demand that the Palestinians change their narrative and accept Israel, with the exception of the United States which does so. But if this message is not accompanied by concrete measures, if Western nations keep giving the Palestinians money as if they are not doing anything wrong, then it doesn’t have any impact on the Palestinians.

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas can stand in the European Parliament and say that there are reports that Israel is planning to poison the wells used by the Palestinians, and when he finishes, hundreds of members of the parliament give him a standing ovation. And when, after Israeli pressure, he says there was no information to substantiate this claim, no one says to him, how could you even have believed such a claim? No one criticizes him for that. By closing their eyes, the Europeans and even to some extend the Americans enable this hatred to go on. How will we ever be able to start moving toward peace when this indoctrination of hatred goes on all the time?

A Double Standard

Of course there is a double standard here. Let’s say that Netanyahu was standing before the European Parliament and saying something similar about the Palestinians. This would not go unnoticed without a harsh reaction. But blaming the Jews is all right.

In this respect, this entire indoctrination is to a large extent about anti-Semitic beliefs that are still very much present in the international community that are standing behind this double standard, involving the demonization of Israel and the Jewish people. The anti-Semitism is still there, it has just changed its form.

The U.S. State Department’s 2010 definition of anti-Semitism says very clearly that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism in a new form, and anti-Zionism is exactly what the Palestinians are preaching. This is something that the West should have been standing against because they know better than anybody else (maybe with the exception of the Jewish people) where anti-Semitism may lead. The State Department clarifies exactly how anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism. Demonization of Israel, double standards toward Israel, and delegitimization of Israel are all forms of anti-Semitism. That’s why we would have expected the West to do something about it, but it doesn’t.

How to Encourage Real Peace Negotiations

In order to start real peace negotiations, the international community has to tell the Palestinians that they are not going to get any more money to support this kind of indoctrination. If they want the money, they have to adopt a different approach that enables real peace with Zionism and the Jewish people, an approach that would eventually lead to mutual recognition between a Palestinian state and a Jewish state where everybody recognizes the other’s identity as the nation-state of their people.  Only if the Palestinians adopt a policy like that will they be worthy of international support. If they do not adopt such a policy, we are not going to get anywhere and the international community is wasting its time and its money.

As long as this indoctrination and incitement continues, you find the West paying the salaries of the terrorists that kill Jews, and not only Jews. The British found that they are actually paying a salary to a person who killed a British woman in Israel several years ago. And the Americans are paying the salaries of Palestinians who killed many Americans. This is a ridiculous situation and something has to be done about it. Only when the Palestinians understand that their game has been exposed, only when they get a clear message from the West that this game is over, then they will have to reconsider their narrative.

Abbas has explained that if he accepts Israel as a Jewish state, he will have to change his entire narrative. He’s right. He has to change his narrative and the West has to tell him to change the narrative.

The Arab World and the Palestinians

There is a belief in the Arab world that they have to pay tribute to the Palestinian issue. But many Arab states understand better today that they don’t want the Palestinian issue to stand between them and their own security. And for their own security, they need Israel. They want to have close security relations with Israel. They also understand the benefits that they can get from Israel in the economic sphere and other areas. They are struggling now to see how it will be possible for them to be seen as if they are really concerned about the Palestinians and committed to the Palestinian cause, while at the same time become closer friends with Israel.

I am quite confident in the Arabs’ ingenuity and ability to come up with ways to overcome this tension. Once they do this, we should be able to move forward. Once this happens, there is also a good chance that this will also pave the way for progress on peace with the Palestinians, because once the Palestinians understand that they are on their own, they will have to reconsider their narrative.

About Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser

Brig.-Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser is Director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center. He was formerly Director General of the Israel Ministry of Strategic Affairs and head of the Research Division of IDF Military Intelligence.