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Trapped in their public narrative

By Alon Ben-Meir - posted Monday, 15 December 2014


The Palestinians' constant acrimonious public narrative against Israel has and continues to damage their credibility in the eyes of many Israelis. The Palestinian Authority, not to speak of Hamas, seems to want to win the public relations campaign with their own people more than winning the peace. They are now increasingly focused on evoking international sympathy to their cause, but have failed time and again to appeal to the Israeli public, which matters the most to realize their stated objective of a Palestinian state.

The Palestinians appear to be trapped in their rancorous public narrative against Israel, even during the peace negotiations. Coupled with widespread anti-Israeli teaching in schools, regular media attacks, and indoctrination in many public and private institutions, this is what the Israelis see, hear, fear, and believe.

The Palestinians fail to understand that they have nurtured pervasive anti-Israeli sentiment among the Palestinians and strong anti-Palestinian feeling among the Israelis, which is to the detriment of peace.

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It is time is for the Palestinians to reexamine the shifting political landscape in Israel and among themselves and change course now, however incongruous that may be, because it is indispensable to their overall objective.

The Palestinians need to recognize that there is a psychological dimension to their conflict with Israel, traced back through decades of mutual hatred and distrust. The frequent verbal attacks and the characterization of Israel as a racist and apartheid state only reinforce the Israelis' resentment and distrust of the Palestinians.

The PA seems to ignore the fact that their constant anti-Israeli public sentiments play into the hands of the powerful right constituency while weakening the hands of the center and left-of-center, which represent the majority of Israelis.

Leave it to hardcore Israeli leaders such as Netanyahu to point out the Palestinians' tenacious enmity toward Israel in order to justify his obdurate policy toward them.

The Palestinians haven't learned that they cannot have it both ways: demand a state of their own and threaten Israel's very existence.

The limited moderate voices of Palestinians are drowned out by the extremists, especially Hamas and Islamic Jihad, who seek popular support while undermining the Palestinians' quest for statehood.

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The Israeli political parties from the center and left want to hear a language of reconciliation, a language that focuses on legitimate rights and claims rather than threats and ultimatums and be encouraged to rally the Israeli public around the single most critical issue-ending the debilitating Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Palestinians cannot expect the Israelis to dismiss their public onslaught as empty rhetoric intended only for public consumption. Only the Palestinians themselves can change the Israeli public perception-not by mere political slogans, but by demonstrating that they can be trusted and a worthy negotiating partner.

The upcoming March 2015 Israeli elections provide the Palestinians a momentous opportunity to engage in reconciliatory public narratives by stating their readiness, willingness, and ability to negotiate in earnest to achieve a lasting peace based on a two-state solution.

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About the Author

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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