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Is incitement to blame for growing Middle East violence? – Part 2

November 18, 2014 at 6:40 PM EST
Judy Woodruff talks to Dennis Ross of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and Shibley Telhami of the University of Maryland about what's behind the recent escalation of violence in Jerusalem.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: We now turn to two longtime Palestinian-Israeli watchers. Dennis Ross was a U.S. diplomat and Middle East envoy who served in the George H.W. Bush, Clinton and Obama administrations. He’s now a counselor at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. And Shibley Telhami is the Anwar Sadat professor of peace and development at the University of Maryland. He’s also a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and the author of the book “The World Through Arab Eyes.”

We welcome you both.

Shibley Telhami, to you first.

Worst violence in Jerusalem in six years. Why has the situation deteriorated?

SHIBLEY TELHAMI, University of Maryland: You know, we were talking about this just before the Gaza war, and I suggested that we’re maybe upon a third intifada.

I think we’re there already. This is the third intifada. And Jerusalem is really the most potent mobilizer, not just among Palestinians, but beyond Palestine in the Arab world and Muslim world. It’s there. We see it. It’s been awful.

Now, what we see is really horrific. Obviously. what happened ought to be condemned by anyone, leaders and public. But what we need to understand is when you lose hope, when there’s nothing there, both on the Israeli and Palestinian side, hearts harden.

And in polling I did among Palestinians, among Israelis how they react to civilian casualties in conflict, the first reaction is not empathy with the other. The first reaction is, they brought it upon themselves, when they don’t think peace is going to happen and conflict is coming. It’s really a function of the loss of hope.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Dennis Ross, how do you see it? Why do you think the situation has gotten to this point?

DENNIS ROSS, Former U.S. Envoy to Middle East: Well, I do think there’s not just a loss of hope. I think there’s actually a disbelief on each side that peace is even a possibility.

I also think there’s been an ongoing demonization, and it’s — it’s simply unrealistic to assume that you can have ongoing demonization, and not have a consequence of it. So, I do think there’s been more incitement of late, and that incitement I think creates a context.

Look, what we saw today was an attack on a religious site where people were praying. They were attacked because they were Jews who were praying. And it’s simply unacceptable. But it also highlights specifically this kind of demonization. And steps have to be taken to stop the demonizations. Steps have to be taken to defuse the reality.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you mean by demonization? Who is doing the demonization and whom are they demonizing?

DENNIS ROSS: Well, certainly there is. What Secretary Kerry referred to was incitement on the Palestinian side.

There’s no doubt that’s taken place. When you, in a sense, as President Abbas did — even though he condemned this action, President Abbas also gave a speech where he spoke about the possibility of a holy war because of contamination, Jewish contamination of the Noble Sanctuary. That’s not the sort of thing that’s going to defuse tensions.

And I would say when you pay people who are terrorists, that sort of contributes, I think, to a certain reality where this is somehow condoned, even while you criticize the act. It isn’t to say that the Israelis haven’t done things as well as it relates to those who want to go up and change the status quo on the Temple Mount or what the Arabs see as the Noble Sanctuary.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Shibley Telhami, a couple of things that were raised there, but what about his statement that there’s been incitement on the Palestinian side and that President Abbas is blaming the wrong people?

SHIBLEY TELHAMI: First of all, When have you a horrific attack, it ought to be condemned, no ifs and buts. This is absolutely unacceptable under any circumstances.

Put that aside for a minute. The question is whether what the Palestinians are doing or saying is really — or the Palestinian leaders or Abu Mazen is saying is really the reason for why these things happen.

There’s no connection whatsoever, in my opinion. Here’s why. For one thing, people aren’t even listening to him anymore. And we don’t understand that incitement — and I served on an anti-incitement committee, as Dennis would remember, during the negotiations in the 1990s on the American side, trying to reduce incitement.

Incitement itself is a function of how much belief there is in the possibility of peace or conflict. People essentially incite when they think conflict is coming. It’s not a function of what people say. People will disregard Mahmoud Abbas, regardless of whether he says — what he says is right or wrong.

This is not a function of it. And people who are carrying these out are people who don’t even care about Mahmoud Abbas, whether they’re on — Islamists or ultra-leftists.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Dennis Ross, he’s saying that it doesn’t matter what the leaders are saying, that it’s what people feel at street level.

DENNIS ROSS: Look, A, there’s a context that exists. B, leaders contribute to that context. C, the fact is, when there’s a constant demonization, when you watch Palestinian TV, or when you listen to Palestinian radio, as your report indicated, that the Palestinian radio was lauding what had taken place, when there’s that kind of a context that is perpetuated, it creates a reality.

Yes, there’s a lot of anger out there. And that anger is obviously contributing to this. But the fact is, you have leaders who have to step in — step up and say, this is wrong. There’s no justification for this kind of action. And you have to deal with what I think is a reality where the effort to demonize and dehumanize the other side makes it a lot more — makes it a lot more plausible than in fact these kind of actions take place and somehow are accepted.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Do you want to respond?

SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Well, you know, first of all, if I were a leader, I would condemn it with no ifs and buts, undoubtedly. Put that aside.

But to think that what that leader’s going to say is going to be the reason why people are going to do or not do the thing, when they’re facing settlements in Jerusalem that they think are illegitimate and illegal, in comparison to what Mahmoud Abbas will say or not say, the weight here is — is in the wrong place.

The weight is — their anger is not derived from what the Palestinian leader is going to say. It’s derived from what they live every single day. That’s what the anger is.

JUDY WOODRUFF: And you’re saying what the Israelis are doing.

SHIBLEY TELHAMI: What the Israelis are doing and how Palestinians see it in East Jerusalem in particular.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Let me ask both of you…

SHIBLEY TELHAMI: And let’s just remember one more thing, that this is taking place in East Jerusalem. And the Palestinian president doesn’t have really hardly any control over issues. It’s under Israeli control.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In just the little time that we have left, Dennis Ross, what is it going to take to stop this? Is it intervention from the outside or are we spiraling to a — spiraling to a third intifada, as Shibley said a few minutes ago?

DENNIS ROSS: Well, I’m worried that this is taking on a life of its own, and I am worried as well that these are East Jerusalemites.

If you go back to the second intifada, there were bombings in Jerusalem, but they were not carried out by East Jerusalemites. It’s worrisome that you see that they’re doing this. There’s a climate and there’s frustration. I think what’s required, it’s not so much external intervention, although I do think what Secretary Kerry did last week, meeting President Abbas separately in Amman, seeing the prime minister of Israel and the king of Jordan, and trying to ensure that actions that were being taken and what was being said about the actions that were being taken on the Temple Mount or on the Noble Sanctuary, that you defuse this, you take steps to try to reduce the tensions.

I think right now leaders on both sides have a responsibility to do everything they can to avoid what are provocative acts. To assume that leaders can’t have an impact is to ignore that the role that leaders have is to affect what the realities are.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Shibley Telhami, your response.

SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Well, I think we have it a third intifada under way.

And I think a lot of people don’t understand it because it doesn’t look like 1987, it doesn’t look like 2000. This is going to be a hybrid. We are going to have the lone wolf attack. We’re going to have the militant Islamists. We might have extremists on the left.

And it’s going to combine, unfortunately, violence, but also peaceful attempts by a lot of the mainstream. But it’s here. I don’t think it’s going to go away.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s grim.

Shibley Telhami, Dennis Ross, we thank you.

SHIBLEY TELHAMI: My pleasure.

DENNIS ROSS: Thank you.

 

 

 

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