Sunday, January 1, 2012

Talking About Dual Messages

What we've been saying for years--that the difference between what Palestinian leaders say in English and what they say in Arabic represents a real and chilling issue for any kind of effective moves toward peace--is now the subject of a New York Times article, Finding Fault in the Palestinian Messages That Aren’t So Public.

JERUSALEM — A new book by an Israeli watchdog group catalogs dozens of examples of messages broadcast by the Palestinian Authority for its domestic audience that would seem at odds with the pursuit of peace and a two-state solution.
Instead, the authors say, their findings show a pattern of non-recognition of Israel’s right to exist, demonization of Israel and promotion of violence.

Of course, this is nothing new. For years, many Israeli and Palestinian analysts have said that what Palestinian leaders tell their own people in their own language — as opposed to English-language statements tailored to opinion in the rest of the world — is the truest reflection of their actual beliefs. This has had the effect of further entrenching the sides to the conflict and undermining confidence that it can ever be resolved.

“There is no doubt in my mind that in the mainstream of the Palestinian national movement, Israel is not considered legitimate,” said Shlomo Avineri, an Israeli professor of political science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, reflecting a widespread sense of disillusionment. “This is the inner truth of the Palestinians,” he said. “They really mean it. It is not what they say on CNN, but it is what they teach their children.”

This is in some ways a very positive article, but there is enough poison slipped in that I feel the need to point some of it out. The next paragraph goes on:

But for many, the subject of incitement and media monitoring has become as contentious as some of the messages, especially since these pronouncements are often used to score propaganda points.

Well, yes, when people are talking peace out of one side of their mouth, and endless war out of the other, it does make an oddly good propaganda point.

I'm also bothered by some of the counterexamples of Israeli bad faith that are provided, particularly the comment about the education minister planning to take schoolchildren to Hebron on field trips. Given Hebron's enormous historical significance to Jews, this does not strike me as an action which should be taken as threatening to the Palestinian position. Another example given is of the arrests made over the endorsements of The King's Torah, something that should in fact be a point in favor of Israel's promotion of peace. Set against the large, public, and officially sanctioned gestures of respect toward terrorists such as Dalal Mughrabi, whose face graces the banner in the photograph accompanying the article, this seems like desperate reaching for equivalency straws.

And, of course, this raised my hackles: Mr. Marcus, who set up Palestinian Media Watch in 1996, says that he wants to foster genuine reconciliation. His critics, however, note that he is a settler who lives in the Gush Etzion bloc south of Jerusalem, a contested area of the West Bank that Israel intends to keep under any agreement with the Palestinians.

Note the logic here. (Actually, first note the anonymity of the critics, and the neutral use of the word 'note'. Itamar Marcus declares that he wants reconciliation and peace. Set again this is the criticism that he is living on disputed territory. Clearly, the 'critics' who 'note' this believe that any Israeli (although no Palestinian) who claims to want peace must prove it by living in undisputed territory. Ironic, given that the whole point of Mr. Marcus' work is to point out that, according what Palestinian leaders say in Arabic, all of Israel is 'disputed'.

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