Where is the Issue of Education for Peace in the Olmert-Rice-Abbas Initiative?

, September 25, 2007

Vol. 7, No. 15    25 September 2007

 

  • When former U.S. negotiator Dennis Ross sought to understand the failure of the Oslo peace process of the 1990s, in which he was an active participant, he zeroed in on the need to bring about a “transformation” of political attitudes that the Palestinian leadership failed to encourage. Ross pointed to the education that Palestinian children received, concluding “that no negotiation is likely to succeed if there is one environment at the negotiating table and another on the street.”
  • The Roadmap insists in Phase I that “all official Palestinian institutions end incitement against Israel.” There are no negotiations whatsoever about Palestinian statehood, according to the Roadmap, until the Palestinians’ Phase I obligations are fully met. Only after Phase I obligations are met, the Quartet then convenes an international conference in order to “launch a process, leading to establishment of an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders.”
  • In the past, the U.S. Congress has taken the firm position that a Palestinian state should not be recognized until the Palestinian Authority takes “effective steps to ensure that its educational and communications systems promote the acceptance of Israel’s existence and of peace with Israel and actively discourage anti-Israel incitement.”
  • The current effort of Secretary of State Rice to facilitate Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for a November 2007 joint declaration in Washington over the parameters of a future Palestinian state essentially circumvents the Bush administration’s own 2003 Roadmap sequence.
  • The planned Olmert-Abbas declaration, it will be argued, is only an outline of a “political horizon” for the future. But how can Israel obligate itself on sensitive issues of borders or security already if it is in the dark over what kind of Palestinian neighbor it will have, especially if that neighbor still teaches the toxic hatred that undermined previous efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace?

 

Why Oslo Failed

The U.S. and Israel are in the midst of intense negotiations to prepare a joint Israeli-Palestinian declaration for the planned Washington peace conference scheduled for November 2007. The intended purpose of the declaration is to provide a “political horizon” for the future Palestinian state that presumably will strengthen politically moderate elements in the Palestinian Authority (PA) who prefer a negotiated settlement of the conflict with Israel over the Hamas strategy of ongoing “resistance.” The underlying assumption of this diplomatic approach is that Palestinian moderation will grow by focusing on the most difficult permanent status issues – and giving the Palestinians a taste of the shape of a final settlement – instead of getting bogged down in other interim goals of peacemaking.

Yet one of the glaring oversights in this strategy is the whole issue of the Palestinians’ commitment to undertake programs for their schools to advance education for peace and to halt incitement more generally. Since Yasser Arafat’s death in November 2004, incitement has abated in some respects. There are no calls in Palestinian Authority-controlled media on the Palestinian population to enter into active conflict with the Israel Defense Forces as there were at the height of the Second Intifada. Nonetheless, in 2007 there has been an ongoing use of hostile terminology, even in Fatah-dominated news outlets, including references to towns within pre-1967 Israel, like Ashkelon and Sderot, as being “occupied.” And virulent anti-Semitism continues in the Hamas media. Worse still, throughout 2007, political cartoons in the official PA daily al-Hayat al-Jadida utilized anti-Semitic motifs which dehumanize Jews as insects or as a sinister worldwide force with blood on its hands.1

When former U.S. negotiator Dennis Ross sought to understand the failure of the Oslo peace process of the 1990s, in which he was an active participant, he zeroed in on the need to bring about a “transformation” of political attitudes that the Palestinian leadership failed to encourage.2 Yasser Arafat, according to Ross, “continued to promote hostility toward Israel.”3 Ross pointed to the education that Palestinian children received at summer camps. He concluded “that no negotiation is likely to succeed if there is one environment at the negotiating table and another on the street.”4 Given the critical importance that Ross assigns to this issue in his effort to grapple with the lessons of the peace process from nearly a decade of experience, it is striking that in the public discourse concerning the upcoming peace conference, almost nothing has been said about Palestinian incitement or the Palestinian educational system.

Moreover, the need to address the fundamental issue of incitement in the Palestinian education system appears to be growing. During the visit of a delegation of U.S. Congressmen led by Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) to Ramallah in August 2007, Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayad frankly admitted that the Palestinian Authority was not promoting a program of education for peace: “You wouldn’t call our curriculum a ‘peace curriculum.'” This response came after successive questions on the subject by members of Congress, who perceived Fayad’s statement as an admission that efforts to stop the incitement had not been successful. Cantor interpreted his response to mean that there wasn’t willingness on the part of the PA to insist on a peace curriculum.5

 

Little Improvement in Palestinian Textbooks

The Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace, which has prepared five analyses over the years on the content of Palestinian Authority textbooks, is now completing a sixth analysis of PA textbooks for the years 2006 and 2007. Dr. Arnon Groiss, who is heading the project, noted some improvements in eleventh grade Palestinian textbooks during 2005 in which the name “Israel” appeared for the first time in maps in the text. References to ancient Jewish history were also mentioned, as well as the importance of inter-religious tolerance. However, there now seems to be a regression to the use of more hostile language including references in the latest twelfth grade texts to jihad and martyrdom. Emphasis on the need for steadfastness against the enemies of Islam returned to the texts for the twelfth grade as well. “Israel” was removed from all the maps in the text. Moreover, religious education in the West Bank is being handled through the Palestinian Ministry for Religious Endowments (Awqaf) – even under the Fatah-dominated government in the West Bank – which still uses older textbooks. This arrangement allows the Palestinian Authority to circumvent any minimal reforms instituted in the Palestinian Ministry of Education and to maintain hostile propaganda against Israel in Palestinian schools.

 

Education for Peace was an Oslo Requirement

The idea of halting Palestinian incitement and promoting education for peace has been a legal undertaking that the Palestinian leadership took upon itself throughout the Oslo peace process. In Article XXII of the September 1995 Interim Agreement (Oslo II), Israel and the PLO agreed “to foster mutual understanding and tolerance.” They specifically obligated themselves to “abstain from incitement, including hostile propaganda, against each other.” Finally, Israel and the PLO agreed to “ensure that their respective educational systems contribute to the peace between the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.”

Abbas personally agreed to defining “preventing incitement and hostile propaganda” as a “Palestinian obligation” in the January 1997 Note for the Record that accompanied the Hebron Protocol. The Note for the Record was signed by Dennis Ross, on behalf of the United States. In the October 1998 Wye River memorandum, the Palestinians undertook to issue a decree which built on the Interim Agreement and the Note for the Record, prohibiting all forms of incitement to violence and terror “and to establish an enforcement mechanism.”6

To its credit, on the declarative level the Bush administration has repeatedly spoken up about the problem of incitement. For example, in January 2005, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on Arab states to boost the peace process by ending anti-Israel incitement.7 In March 2007, she revealed that the U.S. was discussing with the Palestinians an end to incitement against Israel in schools, and to print maps that included the State of Israel.8

These statements aside, the primary question is how combating incitement is woven into the legal fabric of the obligations of the parties as the peace process proceeds. What happens if the Arab states or the Palestinians persist to foster racial hatred? Does the international community just move on and expect fresh concessions from Israel in order to keep up forward momentum? What happened to past U.S.-Israel understandings on reciprocity – that Israel does not proceed forward until the Palestinians fulfill their obligations?

 

The Road Map: End Palestinian Incitement Before Negotiations

The April 2003 Quartet Roadmap, drafted under the auspices of the U.S., the European Union, Russia, and the UN Secretariat, also touched on the issue of incitement, but it is less detailed than the Oslo Agreements. The Roadmap envisions a three-phase diplomatic process toward the establishment of a Palestinian state. At the outset of Phase I, the Roadmap obligates the Palestinian leadership to issue an “unequivocal statement reiterating Israel’s right to exist in peace and security.” There are no negotiations whatsoever about Palestinian statehood, according to the Roadmap, until the Palestinians’ Phase I obligations are fully met.

Besides demanding an “unconditional ceasefire,” the Roadmap insists already at this initial phase that “all official Palestinian institutions end incitement against Israel.”9 This language makes only an implicit reference to Palestinian educational institutions. Subsequently in Phase I, the Palestinian Authority is supposed to begin dismantling the military infrastructures of terrorist organizations, while the Arab states must halt all funding to them (e.g., Saudi aid to Hamas).

 

Bypassing the Roadmap?

Only after Phase I obligations are met, the Quartet then convenes an international conference in order to “launch a process, leading to establishment of an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders.” Indeed, in the past, the U.S. Congress has taken the firm position that a Palestinian state should not be recognized until the Palestinian Authority takes “effective steps to ensure that its educational and communications systems promote the acceptance of Israel’s existence and of peace with Israel and actively discourage anti-Israel incitement.”10 Up until this time, there has been strong bipartisan backing in Congress which has included Senator Hillary Clinton’s (D-NY) embrace of the February 2007 Palestinian Media Watch report on Palestinian textbooks in the U.S. Senate.11

The current effort of Secretary of State Rice to facilitate Israeli-Palestinian negotiations for a November 2007 joint declaration in Washington over the parameters of a future Palestinian state essentially circumvents the Bush administration’s own 2003 Roadmap sequence. Under such conditions, critical Palestinian obligations appearing in the Roadmap tend to be superseded in preparatory discussions by the larger permanent status issues, like borders, Jerusalem, and refugees.

It is in this context that the Palestinian obligations to educate schoolchildren for peace – and not jihad – can fall between the cracks, despite the lessons from the Oslo years of the importance of assuring a transformation of Palestinian attitudes and eradicating incitement. This leaves Israel highly exposed, for while Rice has been working with Abbas and Olmert, according to Ahmed Yusef, political advisor to Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, Fatah and Hamas have been engaging in secret backchannel negotiations to restore their relationship.12

The planned Olmert-Abbas declaration, it will be argued, is only an outline of a “political horizon” for the future. But how can Israel obligate itself on sensitive issues of borders or security already if it is in the dark over what kind of Palestinian neighbor it will have, especially if that neighbor still teaches the toxic hatred that undermined previous efforts to broker an Israeli-Palestinian peace?

*     *     *

Notes

1 “The Distribution of Virulent Anti-Israeli and Anti-Semitic Hate Propaganda Continues in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Although Incitement in the Official Media Has Abated under Abu Mazen,” Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Center for Special Studies (C.S.S.), December 5, 2005, http://www.terrorism-info.org.il/malam_multimedia/html/final/eng/eng_n/incitement_e1205.htm. See also “PMW Cartoons,” Palestinian Media Watch, September 11, 2007, http://www.pmw.org.il/car/Animals/c212242.html.

2 Dennis Ross, The Missing Peace: The Inside Story of the Fight for Middle East Peace (New York: Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2004), p. 765.

3 Ross, p. 766.

4 Ross, p. 769.

5 Author’s e-mail exchange with Rep. Eric Cantor, September 23, 2007.

6 “The Wye River Memorandum,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, October 23, 1998. See http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/Peace%20Process/Guide%20to%20the%20Peace%20Process/The%20Wye%20River%20Memorandum.

7 “Rice Says Syria Risks Long-Term Rift with U.S. Over Iraq Role,” Voice of America, GlobalSecurity.org, January 18, 2005, http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/library/news/2005/01/mil-050118-3e7c51c6.htm.

8 “Rice to Palestinians: End Incitement Against Israel,” YNetnew.com, March 21, 2007, http://www.ynetnews.com/Ext/Comp/ArticleLayout/CdaArticlePrintPreview/1,2506,L-3379571,00.html.

9 “A Performance-Based Roadmap to a Permanent Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict,” Press Statement, Office of the Spokesman, U.S. Department of State, Washington, DC, April 30, 2003, http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2003/20062.htm.

10 Aaron D. Pina, “Palestinian Education and the Debate Over Textbooks,” Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, April 27, 2005, http://fpc.state.gov/documents/organization/47093.pdf.

11 “Senator Hillary Clinton Introducing PMW Report on Palestinian Schoolbooks,” Palestinian Media Watch, February 8, 2007, http://www.pmw.org.il/getresults/political/i211849.html.

12 Khaled Abu Toameh, “Abbas Ready to Settle Tough Issues,” Jerusalem Post, September 20, 2007, http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?c=JPArticle&cid=1189411449545&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull.

*     *     *

Dr. Dore Gold, Israel’s ambassador to the UN in 1997-99, is President of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and author of The Fight for Jerusalem: Radical Islam, the West, and the Future of the Holy City (Regnery, 2007).