If Palestinian journalists are banned from meeting Israelis, what will be the Palestinians' reaction the day they see Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas or his officials sitting at a negotiating table with Israel? The Palestinian representatives will undoubtedly be accused of committing treason, a crime punishable by death. Pictured: Palestinian protesters carry portraits of Abbas at a demonstration against the peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, in the city of Tubas, near the Jordan Valley, on September 27, 2020. (Photo by Jaafar Ashtiyeh/AFP via Getty Images)
If and when the Biden administration manages to revive the peace process between Israel and the Palestinians, it will have to take into consideration that the Arab campaign against normalization with Israel remains as aggressive as ever.
The anti-normalization campaign, which is also waged by Palestinians, means that any Palestinian leader or negotiator who is seen sitting with an Israeli will be condemned by Palestinians and possibly other Arabs as a traitor.
Two recent examples of the ongoing campaign:
On January 6, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate (PJS), a body dominated by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas's ruling Fatah faction and representing hundreds of Palestinian journalists, issued a warning to its members against engaging in normalization activities with Israelis.
The warning came in response to reports that the Israel Defense Forces had invited Palestinian journalists to participate in a Zoom briefing on Israel's measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
Some of the Palestinian journalists who reportedly received the invitation alerted the PJS, which swiftly issued the warning to all its members.
It is important to note the wording of the statement issued by the PJS, whose heads are considered loyalists of Abbas:
"The syndicate, while expressing its complete refusal of such invitations, affirms that these conferences and meetings, held by the occupation army, are dangerous, even if they are related to health issues. All these meetings, even if they are held through social media [platforms], only lead to normalization with the Zionist entity. The syndicate warns against participation in these meetings."
First, the Palestinian group is saying that it does not care about the subject of the meeting, even if it is related to a pandemic. It is opposed to any meeting with Israelis because that would promote normalization with Israel. If the journalists are strongly opposed to medical cooperation between Israel and the Palestinians, why did the PJS not condemn the Palestinian leadership for accepting vaccines from Israel on February 1? Why is it acceptable for the Palestinian Authority to receive vaccines from Israel, while Palestinian journalists are not permitted to attend an Israeli-sponsored Zoom conference on the coronavirus?
Second, the warning itself may be seen as a threat to those journalists who participate in any online conferences with Israelis. The threat implies that the journalists may be expelled from the PJS or have their names placed on a blacklist, which means they will be boycotted by their colleagues and branded as traitors for appearing with Israelis. In the past, the PJS has called for boycotting the Israeli media and banned its members from attending conferences with Israelis anywhere, including Europe and the US.
Third, by referring to Israel as the "Zionist entity," the PJS is signaling that, like Hamas and Iran, it does not recognize Israel. They consider the word "Israel" anathema, to the point that they cannot even bring themselves to mention it.
It is also worth pointing out that the PJS's warning shows that there is not much difference between Fatah and Hamas, especially when it comes to calling Israel the "Zionist entity" and banning any form of normalization with Israel.
Last year, Hamas arrested several Palestinian activists in the Gaza Strip on charges of treason after they participated in a "WEconference" with Israelis. Explaining the arrests, the Hamas-controlled Interior Ministry said: "Holding any activity or contact with the Israeli occupation under any cover is a crime punishable by law and a betrayal for the [Palestinian] people and their sacrifices."
Although they have been engaged in a bitter power struggle for the past 14 years, Abbas's Fatah faction and Hamas have nevertheless both denounced the normalization agreements signed last year between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. Fatah and Hamas are both ready to lay aside their bloody feud to oppose any form of normalization with Israel, not only by Palestinians, but by Arab countries as well.
The second example that the anti-normalization campaign is alive and continuing: Palestinian denunciations of an interview with Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz by the Egyptian-based TV station, Al-Ghad.
The TV station is now being condemned by Palestinians (and other Arabs) for allegedly promoting normalization with Israel by interviewing an Israeli. On Twitter, many Palestinians are calling for a boycott of the station, accusing it of "betraying" them.
If Palestinian journalists are banned from meeting Israelis, and if an Arab TV station is not allowed to interview an Israeli, what will be the Palestinians' reaction the day they see Abbas or any other Palestinian sitting at a negotiating table with Israel? The Palestinian representatives will undoubtedly be accused of committing treason.
If the Biden administration is serious about resuming the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, it needs to take into account that calls for boycotting Israel or banning normalization activities will terrify any Palestinian away from the negotiating table.
As long as the anti-Israel voices and campaigns are raging among Palestinians, Abbas and his entourage will think a thousand times before they agree to be seen sitting across a table from any Israeli.
The last thing any Palestinian officials wants is to be labeled a traitor because, in the world of Fatah and Hamas, that crime is punishable by death. If, on the other hand, Abbas wants to avoid such a fate, he must do an about-face and put an end to the anti-Israel incitement that is coming, first and foremost, from his very own loyalists.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.