Israel says Palestinian ‘incitement’ could undermine peace talks

Israel asserted Monday that media messages from Palestinian leaders are creating “a culture of hate” that could undermine U.S.-led peace talks.

The Israeli government, which tracks social and news media sites in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, says incitement against Israel and its Jewish majority has intensified in the five months since Secretary of State John F. Kerry relaunched negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.

The Israeli government’s “incitement index” report includes short Internet video clips and screen shots of Facebook pages.

Among the examples are video of children’s shows in which Palestinian youngsters call Jews “barbaric monkeys” and a quote from Adolf Hitler on the Facebook page of a Palestinian high school.

Other examples show Palestinian children at a summer camp enthusiastically proclaiming that their land extends from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea — which would obliterate Israel — and university students marching on the Israeli flag.

The Israeli government made its case in a PowerPoint presentation. The slides often lacked citations or precise dates, making it difficult to determine whether the material is still online or how many Palestinians have seen it.

On Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cabinet spent two hours reviewing the material, which includes interviews and speeches by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas suggesting that Israelis had poisoned Palestinian prisoners and were undermining the foundation of Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam.

Palestinian officials said the Israelis were recycling old claims to stall the peace process. They said Palestinians are the victims of daily provocations by Israeli authorities who limit their movements, demolish their homes and confiscate their land.

“I have news for you: In the history of the world there has never been an occupied people who loves their occupiers,” said Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the executive committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization. “I think that Netanyahu is desperate to find a way to scuttle the talks and blame the Palestinians, including clutching at straws and providing these fabrications.”

Ashrawi said: “You can always find quotations from somebody. Anybody can call a radio station and say that Israel should not exist on Palestinian land. The real language you should be looking at is what is happening in Israel.”

Netanyahu shared examples of the alleged incitement with Kerry in Rome in October, according to Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz, who presented the government’s evidence to the news media Monday. Steinitz called the video clips, cartoons and excerpts of rallies “vicious anti-Semitic propaganda” and “a systemic incitement they inject into Palestinian children to create a deep hatred against Jews and the Jewish state.” 

He said the images were not just generated by “some random zealots” saying “something crazy” but were presented on social media pages, YouTube channels and public television stations controlled by the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

When Netanyahu met with Kerry on Thursday, the prime minister’s first public comments were complaints about his counterpart Abbas, who had recently called freed Palestinian prisoners “heroes.” Israeli politicians and news media call them “terrorists.”

Netanyahu said that the alleged incitement by Palestinians lies at the root of the conflict and that no peace deal can succeed if the incitement continues. Kerry did not address the issue publicly.

Israeli leaders have often complained of Palestinian incitement. But Netanyahu has suggested it could derail the talks.

A study released last year examined textbooks in Palestinian and Israeli schools. Funded by the U.S. State Department, the study was conducted by a joint Israeli and Palestinian team and overseen by a Yale University professor.

The researchers found, overall, that maps in both Israeli and Palestinian textbooks ignored each other’s existence and that both sides presented their histories as “unilateral national narratives.” But the study of thousands of pages of textbooks also found that “dehumanizing and demonizing characterizations” of the other side were “rare.” It called the presentations “typical of school books of societies in conflict.”

Palestinian officials have their own allegations of incitement by Israeli leaders. Members of Netanyahu’s political party last week proposed annexing the Jordan Valley, a move that would take away 25 percent of a future Palestinian state.

Last year, Israeli Economy and Trade Minister Naftali Bennett suggested that Palestinian terrorists should be shot, not arrested and released. He also said, in a cabinet meeting, “I already killed lots of Arabs in my life, and there is absolutely no problem with that.”

Ruth Eglash contributed to this report.

William Booth is The Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief. He was previously bureau chief in Mexico, Los Angeles and Miami.
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