The Israeli government has refused a Palestinian-American initiative to convene a tripartite committee to address incitement and education toward peace both in Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
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A senior Israeli source said that Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, who was authorized by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to deal with the issue, made it clear to the Americans that a condition for participating in such a committee would be a Palestinian confidence-building measure, like deleting provocative content from official PA websites.
Since taking office in 2009, Netanyahu has restored the issue of Palestinian incitement as a government talking point. Netanyahu has raised the issue at least once every few months to present the Palestinians as obstructing peace or creating an atmosphere that encourages terror.
In early January Netanyahu once again accused the Palestinians of systematic incitement against Israel in the media controlled by PA President Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu called an urgent cabinet meeting on the matter, during which the Strategic Affairs Ministry presented its “incitement index,” which it has been keeping since 2009 and presents every few months. Afterward Steinitz conducted a series of briefings for the local diplomatic corps and foreign press that included the screening of videos from the Palestinian media that he described as anti-Israel incitement.
According to a senior Israeli official, several weeks ago, shortly after Israel renewed its anti-incitement campaign, American peace process envoy Martin Indyk and other American officials suggested to Netanyahu and Steinitz that a committee be established to discuss incitement and peace education. A similar committee had existed during the early Oslo years but has been inactive for more than a decade. At one point U.S. envoy George Mitchell decided to stop addressing the issue, believing it would only intensify the blame game between the two sides. Now, however, the Americans made clear to Netanyahu and Steinitz that they support forming such a committee and believe it could be helpful.
The senior Israeli official said Steinitz rejected the Palestinian proposal, claiming there is no symmetry between the systematic official Palestinian Authority incitement, and the Palestinian claims of Israeli incitement against them. Steinitz told the Americans that setting up such a committee would just allow the Palestinians to avoid dealing with the issue themselves on the grounds that there was a committee handling it.
“This is Palestinian hypocrisy and we do not intend to take part in it,” Steinitz reportedly told the Americans. “We don’t need to explain to the Palestinians where the incitement is. It’s everywhere and President Abbas controls it – in the educational system, on official television and even on the website of his Presidential Guard.”
Steinitz told the Americans that Israel would consider establishing such a committee only after the Palestinians demonstrated they were serious about changing their tone toward Israel. He suggested removing anti-Semitic material from several official websites as a confidence-building measure. “They could show a change from one minute to the next if they only wanted to,” he said.
Steinitz’s office responded by saying, “There is no place for a committee that would serve as a cover for the PA’s continued incitement. We’ve given the Palestinians some major examples, but it was superfluous because they know what they’re doing. We made it clear to the Palestinians that if they want us to even consider such a committee they should stop the incitement in the [Abbas]-controlled media outlets for at least a few weeks.”