The Palestinian Authority's "Israeli Affairs Committee"
by Khaled Abu Toameh
What is really needed is a "Palestinian Affairs Committee" that would go to every mosque, school, university, village and refugee camp in the West Bank and Gaza to talk about peace and coexistence with Israel. To win the support of the Israeli public for peace, it should start by showing the Israelis that it is making every effort to convince Palestinians to support peace.
Instead of preparing Palestinians for peace with Israel, the Palestinian Authority leadership has decided to focus its efforts on winning the support of the Israeli public for a peaceful settlement based on the two-state solution.
In the context of its efforts to "convince" Israelis to accept the two-state solution, the Palestinian Authority recently established a special "Israeli Affairs Committee" with the goal of promoting the idea among the Israeli public.
The committee's main task, in fact, is to scare Israelis that failure to accept all Palestinian demands would plunge the region into another cycle of violence and bloodshed. The Palestinian Authority is hoping that to avoid another intifada, intimidated Israelis would put pressure on their government to comply with Palestinian demands.
Over the past few weeks, in a bid to "influence" public opinion in Israel, this committee organized a series of meetings between Palestinians and Israelis, Palestinian sources told the London-based Al-Hayat newspaper.
The Palestinian committee, formed by Mahmoud Abbas, includes top PLO and Fatah officials Yasser Abed Rabbo, Nabil Sha'ath, Jibril Rajoub, Hanan Ashrawi and Mohamed Madani.
"Why should any Israeli believe the Palestinian Authority when most Palestinians appear to be opposed to the resumption of the peace talks?" asks Khaled Abu Toameh. In this photo, U.S. Secretary of State Kerry, Israeli Justice Minister Livni, and Palestinian Chief Negotiator Erekat address reporters in Washington, D.C., on July 30, 2013. [State Department photo/ Public Domain]
Last week, the committee organized visits by Israeli parliamentarians to Ramallah, where they held talks with Abbas and other Palestinian officials to discuss prospects for peace in the Middle East.
One of the committee members explained, "Those we are meeting are the leaders of Israeli society and they will decide its fate. The Israeli public no longer knows what is happening here in the Palestinian territories."
It is always nice, of course, to see Israelis and Palestinians meeting and talking to each other.
But instead of devoting its efforts and energies to trying to persuade the Israeli public to support peace, it would be more helpful if the Palestinian leaders in the West Bank also tried to win the backing of their own people for the peace process.
Why should any Israeli believe the Palestinian Authority when most Palestinians appear to be opposed to the resumption of the peace talks?
Abbas does not even have the backing of the PLO and Fatah leaderships for his recent decision to return to the negotiating table with Israel, and returned to the peace talks with Israel against the advice of the PLO leadership.
Instead of inviting Israeli parliamentarians to Ramallah, Abbas might have tried to persuade the PLO and Fatah to support his efforts to achieve peace with Israel.
The Israeli parliamentarians who met with Abbas in his office last week already support the two-state solution and the peace process.
But most PLO and Fatah leaders remain opposed to the resumption of the peace talks.
As Abbas was meeting with the Israeli parliamentarians, thousands of Palestinians in the streets of Gaza City were demonstrating against the peace talks and two-state solution.
These are the people with whom Abbas needs to work to change their hearts and minds. These are the people who need to be told that peace with Israel will only do good for the Palestinians.
Why should any Israeli believe Abbas when his own supporters continue to wage a campaign to combat "normalization" with Israel?
While Abbas feels free to receive Knesset members in his Ramallah office, other Palestinians continue to receive threats for talking to, or doing business with, Israelis.
What is needed is a special "Palestinian Affairs Committee" that would work toward preparing Palestinians for peace with Israel.
The committee members should be asked to go to every mosque, school and university in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to talk about peace and coexistence with Israel.
The members also need to visit every village and refugee camp to talk to as many people as possible about the importance of peace.
They should also meet with representatives of all Palestinian factions to try to win their support for the peace process.
It would also be a good idea if such a committee would ask the Palestinian Authority to "lower the tone" and stop rhetorical attacks against Israel that drive Palestinians towards more extremism.
Inciting Palestinians against Israel through the media and mosques only serves the interests of Hamas and other radical Palestinians. Moreover, the anti-Israel rhetoric eventually undermines Abbas and anyone who conducts peace talks with Israel.
The Palestinian Authority has chosen to "educate" Israelis about the significance of peace while it has done almost nothing to persuade its own people to move towards moderation and pragmatism.
If the Palestinian Authority really wants to win the support of the Israeli public for peace, it should start by showing that it is making every effort to convince Palestinians to support the peace process.