Within the last four months, Morocco and Bahrain have managed to accomplish something that the Palestinian Authority has failed to do for decades: adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) definition of anti-Semitism, which recognizes Jewish self-determination as a core component of Jewish identity. Unless lessons are learned from Israel’s recent peace agreements with Arab countries, Palestinians are unlikely to see their status quo change any time soon.
For decades, pundits speculated that the key to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be unveiled once Israel managed to normalize ties with Arab countries across the Middle East and North Africa. They were correct. What most did not expect, however, is that Israel’s ongoing peace deals with Arab countries would provide blueprints for what a long-lasting, meaningful, and reconciliatory peace agreement with the Palestinian leadership would look like. Looking back at nearly forty-two years of cold peace with Egypt—filled with academic, cultural, and athletic boycotts—why should have we expected peace with the UAE, Bahrain, and Morocco to be any different?
Days after King Mohammed VI’s announcement that Morocco would normalize relations with the Jewish state, Rabat announced its decision to include both Jewish history and culture lessons in its primary school curriculum. This stands in stark contrast to the education offered by the Palestinian Authority (PA), the West Bank entity that rules over the majority of Palestinians. Under the PA, eleven-year-old children are subjected to the anti-Semitic indoctrination program. Children in Morocco, however, will learn about the near 250,000 Jews that existed in Morocco before the establishment of the State of Israel. As a result, children there will grow up knowing that Jews are indigenous to the Levant and not an extension of the century-long European colonialist system.
Nearly a month after the Kingdom of Bahrain decided to join the historic Abraham Accords, Sheikh Khalid bin Khalifa Al Khalifa, head of the King Hamad Global Centre for Peaceful Coexistence, signed a memorandum of understanding on combating anti-Zionism—a core principle outlined in the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. Capitalizing on the importance of Jewish education, Israel welcomed a delegation of prominent Emirati and Bahraini activists who toured the country and learned about the Jewish connection to the land of Israel. The delegation was even taken to Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum where they heard stories about the Holocaust in Arabic. This means that while prominent activists throughout the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain share their experiences in learning about the Holocaust with their audiences and its impact on modern Israeli society, Palestinians in the West Bank continue to be led by a man who wrote his dissertation on the premise that the movement for Jewish self-determination conspired with the Hitler’s Third Reich—a Ph.D. in Holocaust denial.
The new wave of peace in the Middle East promises to be one between peoples and not just government. This is the only sort of peace that should be deemed acceptable for activists desiring to see a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As such, there are three main lessons that should be learned from Israel’s recent peace agreements with Arab countries in the Gulf and North Africa and applied to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. These must happen before the State of Israel makes any further concessions to the Palestinian Authority.
First, Mahmoud Abbas’ government must immediately and unconditionally accept the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. Such an acceptance would demonstrate the Palestinian leadership’s commitment to recognizing Zionism as a basic tenant of Judaism and, as a result, accept to coexist with a sovereign, Jewish state. Moreover, such a move is likely to positively impact the Israeli electorate’s hope that the Palestinian leadership is able and willing to move forward with a meaningful and comprehensive peace process—a 2020 poll indicated that over 80 percent of Israelis believe peace with the Palestinians is unlikely to happen within the next five years.
Second, the PA’s next step must include the dismantling of the pay-for-slay policy. Established by Yasser Arafat in the late 1960s, the policy encourages the murder of Israeli civilians by promising perpetual salaries to terrorists and their families. In fact, in 2017 the Palestinian Authority’s total expenditure for this program totaled nearly $355 million. The Palestinian leadership’s commitment to this horrendous policy is deemed of such importance that, even amidst a pandemic, the PA decided to prioritize payments to convicted terrorists and their families over the distribution of salaries to social welfare recipients. This policy has only helped to further demonize Israelis in the eyes of Palestinians—it is no surprise that a September 2020 poll indicated that only 24 percent of Palestinians believe in a peace process based on negotiations.
A long-lasting peace agreement can only be sustained if both peoples are allowed to humanize one another and believe in the potential of economic, security, and cultural relations with one another. The decades-long Palestinian Authority pay-for-slay policy runs counter to this spirit.
Lastly, the Palestinian Authority’s system of anti-Semitic indoctrination in its schooling system must be eradicated. From a young age, Palestinian children are taught to view Zionism as an inherent threat to their nationalist aspirations and that Jews are a European people who have colonized their ancestral homeland. A foundation of lies will not hold up the structure of peace.
Palestinian children must be exposed to studies that detail Jewish connection to the land and to the region. They must be taught about the horrific legacy of anti-Semitism and its modern shapes and forms.
Unless these three steps are endorsed by the stakeholders of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a resolution is unlikely to happen in the near future, and—even if one is found—it is unlikely to last long.
These three steps will grant Palestinians and Israelis the promise of a prosperous and peaceful future. The same future that we are beginning to see for the people of Morocco, Bahrain, and the UAE.
Yoni Michanie is a Middle East Analyst and Ph.D. student at Northeastern University. He tweets at @YoniMichanie.