Over and over, the Obama administration shows its capacity for misunderstanding Israel and decreasing its own popularity there. Even while bilateral relations are good, it reminds Israelis of why they shouldn’t fundamentally trust this government and that Washington doesn’t understand them at all.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (AID) — which is supposed to help countries raise their living standards — gave a $250,000 grant to the H.L. Peace Education Program of the Geneva Initiative. (I wonder if the U.S. Congress considers this to be within AID’s mandate!) The money isn’t paying for potable water, health clinics, or small factories. It’s paying for billboards and videos in Israel, featuring the faces of Palestinian and Israeli officials asking:
We are partners — what about you?
Typical, isn’t it? The implication of the signs and film clips is that the Palestinians are ready for peace, the question is only whether Israel wants it. Should be very effective with Israelis, right? If you have any doubts on that point, read the article about what went on behind the scenes during production from Israel’s leading newspaper, Yediot Ahronot. Even the Israeli film crew members were making sarcastic cracks about what the “partners” were saying off-camera.
I should mention that there is also a series of billboards aimed at Palestinians with Israelis featured. Not a single heart or mind will be changed by this waste of money. One of the main Israelis featured is Yossi Beilin, plus others in the opposition in Israel but who were involved in some cases with the sponsoring group. In a sense, the campaign is an advertisement for themselves, not for peace, since these people aren’t in the government.
When writing a biography of Yasir Arafat, I had a long interview list of Palestinians, Israelis, and Americans. One of the few who simply would not respond to my requests was Beilin. One day, a friend said he was next going to meet Beilin, so I asked him to pass along my interview request.
An hour later I spoke again to the friend and asked him what happened. He responded:
Beilin told me that he won’t do it because if he gives an interview he will have to speak well of Arafat, and he told me he doesn’t want to say nice things about that SOB.
In other words, Beilin, pretty much forgotten on today’s Israeli political scene, is a propagandist who believes in what I call “lying for peace.” In this case he is also promoting himself by putting his picture on billboards.
Indeed, this is a public relations campaign for the Geneva Initiative group, financed by the United States. Even assuming that the U.S. government wanted to do this kind of thing, they went about it in a very stupid manner.
Those on the billboards from the Palestinian side include Saeb Erekat, Jibril Rajoub, Yasser Abed Rabbo, and Riad Malki. These are not the most hardline people in the PA. But they’ve said, not so long ago, some very extreme things about Israel — and Israelis know it. Malki, to cite one example, was for years the West Bank leader of the PFLP at the height of its terrorism. Abed Rabbo was a hardliner during the Oslo process.
Jibril Rajoub’s record is mixed, and he can be called a relative moderate. Still, when an Israeli hotel near Sinai was attacked by terrorists in 2004, Rajoub blamed Israel for the bombing, calling Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon a terrorist who was engaged in “continuous and unprecedented aggression against the Palestinian people.” In 2009 he criticized a speech by PA leader Mahmoud Abbas as too moderate toward Israel. He extolled the unity efforts between Hamas and Fatah while cheering Fatah’s decision to adhere to its original program, which called for Israel’s destruction and explicitly stated that Fatah still retained the option of armed struggle.
They also have something else in common: none of them is a mainstream Fatah person, though Rajoub comes closest to being so. They don’t have much real power. Israelis know that.
Yet aside from all of this, there is something very revealing in this project regarding official and mass media attitudes in the United States. They think that the lack of peace is based on some misunderstanding, or on inexplicable Israeli suspicion. What they refuse to face is that the barrier to peace is Palestinian intransigence due to the PA’s weakness, the radicalism of Fatah, the effect of continual incitement on Palestinian public opinion, and other problems I’ve discussed in detail.
This project radiates naiveté, a characteristic Israelis find most repugnant when it comes to securing their future and survival. Aside from wasting taxpayer money at a time of economic crisis, this public relations scheme will have the exact opposite effect from what was intended.