As Israeli-Palestinian negotiations restart, Palestinians are determined to begin by tackling the issue of borders, before working backwards toward deciding how to implement the establishment of a Palestinian state. Once agreement is reached on borders, the thinking goes, it will become clear who has the right to decide whether or not settlement activity can continue.
Naturally all this talk must have a reference point. While exact borders are a matter for negotiation, it is hard to begin talks if one side insists on anticipating a fixed outcome. Yet the most recent maps published by the governemt unilaterally annex Palestine to Israel while ignoring the existence of many Palestinian communities.
It is hard to accept the Israeli argument that this is merely symbolic issue. Symbols are important, and in preventing the realization of a Palestinian state, Israel has given them plenty of attention.
For years it was Palestinians who were confronted with their own symbolic issues, whether in the PLO charter or the maps in Palestinian school books. Israel and Israeli propagandists use Palestinian maps to question Palestinian recognition of Israel. Palestinians are asked why certain Palestinian maps lack a demarcation of the West Bank and why Israeli towns such as Tel Aviv disappear from these maps while nearby Jaffa is listed.
In the past, Palestinians often responded by asking what the borders of Israel are. Do they include or exclude Jerusalem? Do the Israelis in fact accept Palestinian statehood at the same time as asking Palestinians for recognition of Israel?
Yet despite the rhetoric, they have quietly made the shift and followed the advice of their international friends to make changes on maps and especially in textbooks.
Since 1994, the Palestinian Authority has revised older textbooks, leading Nathan Brown, professor of political science at George Washington University, to publish an authoritative study exonerating the Palestinian Authority from claims it has misrepresented regional geography.
“The new books tell history from a Palestinian point of view but they do not seek to erase Israel, de-legitimize it or replace it with the ‘state of Palestine’," Brown wrote.
"Each book contains a foreword describing the West Bank and Gaza as 'the two parts of the homeland'; the maps show some awkwardness but do sometimes indicate the 1967 line and take some other measures to avoid indicating borders; in this respect they are actually more forthcoming than Israeli maps. The books avoid treating Israel at length but do indeed mention it by name.”
Despite these changes, the issue continues to haunt Palestinians internationally. According to Brown, almost all recent accusations can be traced back to a single organization, the Centre for Monitoring the Impact of Peace, a pro-Israel NGO. The group, Brown says, relies “on misleading and tendentious reports to support their claim of incitement”. A few years ago the United States Congress also made a study and reached a similar conclusion.
While these conclusive investioogations should put an end to the accusations, few have asked the obvious: What is the Israeli position towards the Palestinians, and how do Israeli maps demarcate Palestinian territory?
A look at Israel's latest tourism drivesupplies a strong answer. The 2009 government campaign eliminates any Palestinian presence.
Tourism Minister Stas Misezhnikov is an MK for the radical rightwing Yisrael Beiteinu party, led by Foreign Minister Avigdor Leiberman. Under his extremist leadership, the ministry has completely wiped the West Bank and any Palestinian areas from its materials. Mandatory Palestine is portrayed without any borders or demarcations. All maps used in the campaign (available online at www.goisrael.com) omit Palestinian areas and towns
As negotiations begin, is it not now time for Israel to replace empty talk with action? And is it time the international community made the simple request that Israel stop ignoring Palestinians and Palestine, at least on maps it officially produces?
Daoud Kuttab is an award winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. He commutes between Jerusalem and Amman. His email is email@example.com
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