With some expecting US-sponsored Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to resume this month, Israel is complaining of Palestinian government-sponsored "incitement'' against the Jewish state.
Israel is planning to highlight claims of demonization of Israel and glorification of terrorism by Palestinian leaders after months of being on the defensive over settlement expansion in the West Bank and Jerusalem, analysts said. Government spokesman Mark Regev said that progress on incitement would be a "crucial'' issue in peace negotiations.
"This is a very high priority for us,'' he said. "It’s a Palestinian obligation in the framework of the peace process. It’s a litmus test as to the seriousness of the Palestinian side as to their readiness to peace and reconciliation.''
Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat declined to comment on the Israeli allegations of incitement. He said that the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) is slated to meet over the weekend to give the final go ahead for the talks.
Nabil Amr, a former Palestinian Information Minister who negotiated with Israel on incitement issues six years ago, said that the charges are a pretext to derail the talks. "We can always find examples among Israelis and the Palestinians, but (if) we want progress we have to go directly to a peace solution,'' he said.
The Obama administration is on the verge of starting "proximity talks," with a US envoy shuttling between the Israeli and Palestinian sides, for the first time since taking office. US officials hope that mediation will lead to a resumption of actual peace talks.
But a March dispute over Israeli construction in predominantly Arab East Jerusalem postponed efforts by nearly two months.
The Palestinians want the talks to focus on final status issues like control over East Jerusalem, fixed borders, and Palestinian refugees. Israeli officials reportedly reject any sort of agreement without moving to face to face negotiations.
The incitement debate, which stirs up accusations of hate mongering on both sides, was first featured in peace talks by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his first term. Despite the 1998 Wye Plantiation peace memorandum which included a call for a three way US-Palestinian-Israeli committee to limit incitement, there's been little joint progress.
Israel accuses the Palestinian Authority of memorializing militants who killed Israeli civilians, using maps which don’t acknowledge the state of Israel, and permitting allegedly anti-Semitic sermons in government mosques. Israel also argues that an official boycott of Israeli goods and the burning of products produced in Israel's West Bank settlements constitutes incitement.
"Reducing incitement is something that should be part of any peace process, but using this as a trump card is in my mind hypocrisy,'' said Yossi Alpher, the co-editor of Bitterlemons.org and a former adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. Mr. Alpher said that the Palestinians have improved school textbooks while Israel has done relatively little to clamp down on incidents of incitement on its own side.
"It's scoring points to counter accusations that Israel is not forthcoming on settlements and Jerusalem,'' he said.
At a press conference on Monday at the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon hosted Palestinian Media Watch, a right-wing Israeli non-governmental group which has paid for television commercials in the US blaming President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad for incitement in order to influence the US congress.