The Middle East Quartet’s report on the peace process — delayed several times and finally issued on late Friday afternoon as Israelis learned about yet another deadly terror attack — contains no true bombshells.
Similar to the joint communique published after the June 3 peace summit in Paris, the Quartet’s report mostly reiterates consensus positions. The document expresses grave concern over the future of the two-state solution and makes some predictable recommendations to try and salvage it.
Violence and terrorism are dreadful, says the report, issued jointly on behalf of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, US Secretary of State John Kerry, European Union foreign policy czar Federica Mogherini and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Indeed, they “are greatly exacerbating mistrust and are fundamentally incompatible with a peaceful resolution.”
Israelis should cease expanding settlements and “denying Palestinian development,” the report also urges. Palestinians should be allowed more control over civil institutions in the West Bank.
So far, so predictable.
The Palestinians, for their part, should “improve governance, and develop a sustainable economy,” and reunite the West Bank and Gaza, the report recommends. “The illicit arms buildup and militant activity by Hamas, the lack of control of Gaza by the Palestinian Authority and the dire humanitarian situation, exacerbated by the closures of the crossings, feed instability and ultimately impede efforts to achieve a negotiated solution.”
No surprises there, either.
But there was something relatively remarkable about the otherwise routine report: its clear condemnation of Palestinian incitement.
And that centrality of focus on Palestinian incitement as a factor in the dire Israeli-Palestinian reality marks a success for recent Israeli government efforts to highlight the issue as a root cause of terrorism.
A document undersigned by pretty much the entire international community has rarely, if ever, spoken so forthrightly about the subject. The report goes to considerable length in describing how Palestinian terrorists are glorified and, more importantly, takes the Palestinian leadership to task for failing to curb the ugly phenomenon.
“Many widely circulated images depict individuals committing terrorist acts with slogans encouraging violence,” the report states. Incitement to violence on social media, affecting especially young people, has increased since October 2015 (coinciding with the ongoing wave of Palestinian terrorism; RA), and is particularly affecting the youth, the Quartet further establishes.
The text notes that Hamas and “other radical factions” are behind the worst examples of incitement. “These groups use media outlets to glorify terrorism and openly call for violence against Jews, including instructing viewers on how to carry out stabbings.”
But the report doesn’t stop there. It fingers some “members of Fatah,” the party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, for having “publicly supported attacks and their perpetrators, as well as encouraged violent confrontation.”
It even cites a senior Fatah official who praised terrorists as “heroes and a crown on the head of every Palestinian.”
The PA has publicly renounced terrorism against civilians and commitment to nonviolent resistance, the report notes. “Regrettably, however, Palestinian leaders have not consistently and clearly condemned specific terrorist attacks. And streets, squares and schools have been named after Palestinians who have committed acts of terrorism.”
For balance’s sake, the report goes on to state that hate and racism exist “on both sides,” citing Israelis who commit “price tag” hate crime attacks and call for “Death to Arabs.” The text also accuses “some Israeli leaders and officials” of supporting the killing of Palestinian would-be terrorists.
The unusually substantive discussion of Palestinian incitement appears to be the result of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policy to raise the issue at every possible forum. While at times his constant talk of incitement may appear to some critics as a means to distract attention away from settlement expansion, he evidently succeeded in getting the world to pay attention to a topic that used to be mostly ignored in discussions of the peace process.
To be sure, the report contains many passages that the Israeli government will reject as biased, unrealistic and outright unfair. But overall it’s a rather balanced assessment of the situation, certainly by the relative standards of some of those in the Quartet; Jerusalem has seen plenty of worse reports.
Ramallah did not wait long to make known its displeasure with the report. A little more than half an hour after the report was issued, senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Saeb Erekat issued a response rife with disappointment.
“Our first reading of the Quartet Report is clear. It does not meet our expectations as a nation living under a foreign colonial military occupation,” his statement read. The document “attempts to equalize the responsibilities between a people under occupation and a foreign military occupier,” Erekat protested.
By contrast, Netanyahu quickly issued some words of praise, at least for the reports sections on incitement. Israel, he said, “welcomes the Quartet’s recognition of the centrality of Palestinian incitement and violence to the perpetuation of the conflict. This culture of hatred poisons minds and destroys lives and stands as the single greatest obstacle to progress towards peace.”
In a statement that was issued as terror-battered Israel hunted for the gunmen who killed Rabbi Miki Mark and left several members of his family injured in a drive-by shooting, and a day after the horrific killing of 13-year-old Hallel Yaffa Ariel as she slept in her bed, the prime minister added that “Palestinian praise for murderers today inspires those who will strike tomorrow.”
Words of condemnation and concern which, most unusually, were essentially echoed in the Quartet’s own text.