Inciting Hearts and Minds to Peace

By Silvan Shalom

Monday, July 14, 2003

After almost three years of unrelenting violence and terrorism, the world looks to the Middle East with renewed hope propelled by the performance-based road map. The present prospects for progress are a direct outgrowth of the strategic changes that have swept through the Middle East in the wake of 9/11: the war on terror, the defeat of Saddam Hussein and the emergence of a new, responsible Palestinian leadership. This new strategic reality has terrorists on the defensive and has given momentum to the forces of moderation and stability over those of tyranny and fear.

But these changes alone will not guarantee success. A deep and organic change within Palestinian society -- the end of Palestinian incitement and the creation of a new culture of peace -- can be the distinction that ensures that the road map transcends words on paper and succeeds in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, Tel Aviv and Gaza, and indeed throughout the Arab world.

Prior Middle East agreements demanded an end to Palestinian incitement to hatred and violence in the media, in mosques and in elementary school textbooks. But the incitement clause was often glossed over to make way for what were considered more important or pressing concerns. The conventional wisdom went like this: If peace is actually created on the ground, incitement will naturally stop. Unfortunately, we now know that the opposite is true: Stopping incitement is the only way to reach real peace.

Recently I met with Palestinian Information Minister Nabil Amr to launch this crucial effort. We inaugurated the anti-incitement committee, established to root out the glorification of suicide bombers and ensure that the next generation of Palestinians is taught tolerance instead of hatred. My colleague and I established mechanisms under which the committee will immediately begin its work.

All nations that support the process in the Middle East must now move to strengthen the efforts that Israelis and Palestinians have started together. The international community can play a significant role in contributing to the change of atmosphere and attitude that is a prerequisite for peace and stability in the region.

The new Palestinian prime minister, Abu Mazen, has the power to transform the status quo, to deliver results on the ground, but the responsibility lies not only with the Palestinian Authority. Arab action to reinforce the new drive for peace is central to his success. Europe can also play a lead role in fostering the new language of acceptance in the Middle East and beyond.

Working to rid U.N. forums of anti-Israeli committees and resolutions will aid in creating a no-tolerance approach to incitement. The international community can also bring its influence to bear in ensuring that Syria is no longer permitted to harbor, train and finance terrorist cells that carry out deadly attacks and that fill Web sites and the airwaves with violent and virulent anti-democratic provocations.

Israel has stepped up to the plate with renewed vigor. Indeed, Israelis and, I hope, Palestinians are saying to themselves that it has to be different this time -- we will make it different. Already Israel has redeployed from key points in Gaza and the West Bank, eased restrictions and extended additional work permits. In a true gesture of goodwill, Israel has even gone beyond the provisions of the road map with a series of prisoner releases. A true thirst for peace, directly linked to years of peace education, is what allows Israeli citizens to take such significant steps, even against the backdrop of 34 months of indiscriminate terror.

The region stands at a crossroads. Israel is ready to seize this opportunity and hopes that the Palestinians have finally made the strategic decision to pursue only the path of negotiation. Fostering a deep-rooted culture of peace will take years, but the first step, ending the systematic teaching and preaching of armed struggle, the elevation of death over life and the notion that killing will bring results, can be accomplished almost instantaneously. A determined government can easily put an end to incitement in government-controlled media and national curriculums.

When Palestinian children are taught about Israelis with acceptance, when maps of Israel appear in Palestinian textbooks as the place next door and not the land to be conquered, when coexistence encounters replace jihad kindergarten camps, peace will be on our doorstep. For as John F. Kennedy wisely noted, "Peace does not lie in charters and covenants alone. It lies in the hearts and minds of the people."

The writer is foreign minister of Israel.

© 2003 The Washington Post Company

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