10 Years Later: Does the PA Recognize Israel?

At a staff meeting on December 10th, 1993, our news agency made a policy decision: to find out firsthand how the new Palestinian Arab entity would view Israel, and to determine if their recognition of Israel would indeed be real. We raised funds to hire Palestinian journalists and Arabic-speaking Israeli reporters.

David Bedein

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credit David Michael Cohen
At a staff meeting on December 10th, 1993, our news agency made a policy decision: to find out firsthand how the new Palestinian Arab entity would view Israel, and to determine if their recognition of Israel would indeed be real. We raised funds to hire Palestinian journalists and Arabic-speaking Israeli reporters.

Over the past ten years:

* We covered PLO leader Yasser Arafat's speeches, some of which we filmed, some of which we downloaded from Palestinian Authority TV;

* We monitored public statements of the PA;

* We watched their new TV station and listened to their new radio station;

* We bought their new (revised) maps and their new school textbooks;

* We attended the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo;

* We made it our business to make timely visits to the UNRWA refugee camps;

* We followed the PA's new religious leaders and participated in Islamic-Jewish dialogue;

* We visited PA military bases and interviewed PA security officials; and

* We covered the Palestinian National Council meeting in, which met in special session to cancel the PLO Covenant.

A decade later, we can now answer the question of whether or not the new PLO entity recognizes Israel, based on our hands-on coverage in each of the foregoing areas.


The theme that Yasser Arafat has consistently preached throughout the past seven years revolves around the liberation of "all of Palestine". When Arafat mentions his commitment to "the peace of the brave", it is in terms of "the right of return" for five million Palestinian Arab refugees to flood Israel and to take over all of Jerusalem. He never mentions "East Jerusalem". Arafat has never made a statement to his people in the Arabic language that even hints at recognition of the State of Israel, nor has he ever asked for a cessation of terror. In November 1996, I asked Arafat when he would ever speak in Arabic about recognizing Israel or denouncing terror. He replied that he does so all the time, to which I responded that we have no record of such. I asked Arafat the same question in November 1998 at a U.S. State Department briefing as I held a thick booklet of his words in praise of terror, following the Wye Conference in 1998. His unfazed (unblinking, immediate) reply was that he "loved the Jews".


We have received the position papers of the Palestinian Authority since its inception in 1993, and followed the Fatah website (www.fatehorg.org) since it was inaugurated in 1998. Seeing these reports, one prominent Israeli peace leader observed that what bothered him was not the themes of war that one might expect in the intermediate stages of a rocky peace process, but rather that they were entirely devoid of peaceful sentiments.

One of the "interactive" projects of the Fateh website in February and March of 2003 was a questionnaire circulated by the Fateh website as to where the respondent would prefer to murder Jews - in the areas conquered by Israel in 1967, in the areas conquered by Israel in 1948, in both areas, or not in any area at all. 67% of the respondents said that they would like to murder Jews in both areas, while only 19% rejected the idea of murdering Jews altogether.


Since its inception in the Fall of 1995, we have followed PA radio and PA TV. Indeed, a laboratory that monitors the PA radio and TV - not connected with our office - now operates full time. Although the air waves for both PA radio and TV were provided by the IDF and the initial funds for the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) came through the U.S. government and visiting UJA groups, the official Palestinian Authority electronic media regularly calls for Israel's destruction, the liberation of Palestine and praises terror. In 1997, I arranged for a colleague in the peace movement to meet with Radwan Abu Ayash, the head of the PBC, to ask him why the official media of the PA was devoid of any program for peace. Ayash responded that the Palestinian people were "not ready" for any such program.


On the maps of the new Palestinian state sold at the PLO headquarters at Orient House in Jerusalem, the name "Israel" does not appear. The new Palestine replaces the State of Israel. All 531 Arab villages that were abandoned in 1948 are returned to their locations within Israel proper, while hundreds of Jewish communities have been obliterated. The current tourism map of the PA Ministry of Tourism, financed by the United Nations Development Program for Palestine, simply wipes Israel off the map and shows all of the Old City of Jerusalem under PLO control, with no mention of Israel whatsoever.

On May 15, 2000, our agency brought Arafat spokesman Dr. Walid Ayad to speak. Ayad said in his defense, "Well, your Israeli maps make no mention of Palestine," at which another speaker whipped out the new Israel Ministry of Tourism map, which clearly delineates the areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority.


In September 2000, our agency bought copies of the new schoolbooks of the Palestinian Authority, and submitted them for translation and evaluation by professional agencies in Jerusalem. These new schoolbooks were supposed to recognize Israel. No such luck. The maps and the curriculum portray all of Palestine as one great Islamic state, while the old schoolbooks that specifically instruct school children in the art of jihad and holy war remain in the school curriculum.


At the much-celebrated Nobel Peace Prize ceremony in Oslo in December 1994, I asked Yasser Arafat if this prize meant that he would indeed crush the Hamas and cancel the PLO Covenant. He responded very matter-of-factly that he made no such commitment.


One of the great hopes of the peace process was that the new Palestinian entity would absorb the Arab refugees who have been held in the UNRWA camps for more than 50 years, under the premise and promise of the right of return to the l948 homes that no longer exist. Our hands-on reporting for the past seven years has conveyed the opposite reality: The PA has disenfranchised the UNRWA camps, depriving the Arab refugees of millions of dollars of health, education, welfare and construction assistance, since the PA, with its ideology of the ?right of return?, does not subscribe to the notion that Palestinian Arab refugees should be repatriated to the West Bank or to Gaza.

Imagine the shock that one of my staffers experienced when she witnessed a Palestinian doctor in an UNRWA clinic refusing medical service to Arab refugee patients on the grounds that they can go back to where they came from - which is now the Israeli city of Ashkelon.


When Arafat appointed new clerics to man the mosques under his control, the initial press reaction was hopeful - perhaps this would provide a balance to the preaching of terror by Hamas clerics. Little did we know that the Arafat-appointed clerics would launch calls to jihad against the Jews with greater ferocity. As a participant in Islamic-Jewish dialogue, I was struck by the dissonance between the genuine grass-roots Palestinian Moslem interest in reconciliation and the incendiary messages they were receiving from the Palestinian Authority.


The reasoning behind Israel, the U.S., Canada and the E.U. providing weapons and weapons training to Arafat's security services was based on the assumption that Arafat would use his forces against the Hamas. It was therefore surprising for us to report the PBC news item in May, 1995, that the PA was going to supply Hamas with weapons; and the Al-Ahram December, 1995, news item that reported a PA-Hamas military and tactical agreement. Any visit or interview with Palestinian Authority security officials reveals that their goal is to liberate all of Palestine, despite any interim security co-operation with Israel.


We dispatched a TV crew to cover the historic meeting of the Palestinian National Council in April, 1996; a meeting reported to have cancelled the PLO Covenant calling for Israel's destruction. The United States Congress had mandated that Arafat would not be allowed into the U.S. unless that Covenant was cancelled. U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk misinformed President Clinton when he reported that Arafat had cancelled the Covenant. Our video, which we sent to Indyk, and later screened in the Knesset and the U.S. Congress, told quite another story. It revealed that the PNC had, in fact, merely voted to establish a committee to consider amendments to the PLO Covenant.

In short, although the Israeli government has used the past seven years of a peace process to prepare the Israeli people for peace, the PLO and its nascent Palestinian Authority have oriented the Palestinian Arab people to the continued non-recognition of Israel, while preparing their people for war.

The logical question would be whether Israel has made any significant changes in its academic curriculum during this negotiation process. Senior Hebrew University Education Professor Amos Yovel, a founder of Peace Now, was commissioned by the Center for Monitoring the Impact of Peace to conduct an exhaustive survey of Israeli school books, to see if peace is being taught, and to determine if Arabs are being demonized in the Israeli school curriculum.

On January 8, 2001, Professor Amos Yovel presented a study of 200 Israeli schoolbooks, which he had culled from both religious and secular Israeli schools, at the Truman Center for the Advancement of Peace at the Hebrew University. He declared that he had found no evidence of racism or demonization of Arabs in the curriculum that is being taught in the Israeli school system, and expressed satisfaction that the Israel educational system was preparing a new generation of Israeli Jewish students for peace and reconciliation. Yovel was challenged by the spokesman for Peace Now, Dr. Dan Bittan, as to why he did not report about the Israeli schoolbooks that demonize Arabs. His answer: "Should I publish a book like that to make you happy?" (Studies of the portrayal of Israelis in PA school books, and of Arabs in Israeli school books both appear on the same website: http://www.edume.org.)

It takes two to dance the tango of mutual recognition and reconciliation. Only one of the parties is dancing... And yet it is Israel that is being asked by the US and all of the nations of the world to dance with the PLO entity, as the common assumption of the Oslo Process and the Geneva Initiative is that the PLO entity recognizes Israel.