Israeli and Palestinian peace activists who planned to hold a conference in Jerusalem and Bethlehem this week were forced to cancel the event after receiving threats from Palestinians.
The conference was organized by the Israeli Palestinian Confederation, a group that seeks to promote peace and coexistence between the two peoples.
The organizers of the conference were hoping to hold elections for a new "parliament" that would consist of Israelis and Palestinians and that would offer itself as a third government to the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority.
The first conference, which was supposed to take place at the Ambassador Hotel in Jerusalem, was cancelled at the last minute after angry Palestinian protesters demonstrated in front of the hotel. The protesters shouted slogans denouncing the event "because it promotes the culture of peace" and is designed to "normalize" relations between Israelis and Palestinians.
The demonstrators also shouted slogans strongly condemning Al Quds University President Sari Nusseibeh, who was supposed to be one of the main speakers at the conference. Because of the protest and out of fear for his safety, Nusseibeh decided not to come to the hotel.
The Palestinian protesters later stormed the conference hall, forcing the frightened Israeli representatives to leave the hotel.
The following day, a similar "anti-normalization" demonstration forced the Israeli and Palestinian peace activists to cancel an event that was scheduled to take place in the town of Bet Jalla near Bethlehem.
The protesters later explained that their move was in line with the Palestinian Authority's policy of banning any form of normalization with Israel. This is the same authority that signed the Oslo Accords with Israel and whose senior leaders carry Israeli-issued VIP cards that enable them to move around freely – a privilege denied to most ordinary Palestinians.
Some Palestinians said that the demonstrations were in fact initiated by top Palestinian officials in Ramallah who do not want to see Israeli and Palestinian representatives working together to promote peace and coexistence.
By banning such public gatherings, the Palestinian Authority leadership is further radicalizing Palestinians.
This was not the first time that the Palestinian Authority or some NGOs had come out against activities that supposedly promote normalization between Israelis and Palestinians. Over the past few years, they have cancelled many events of this type under the charge that it is forbidden to normalize relations with Israel.
The Palestinian Authority and these NGOs are also coordinating their activities with other "anti-normalization" groups in the Arab world, specifically Jordan and Egypt.
At the end of the day, it is such activities that drive Arabs into the open arms of Muslim fundamentalists. The "anti-normalization" campaign also serves to undermine the minority of moderate Arabs who still believe in coexistence and peace.
The Palestinian leadership in the West Bank is shooting itself in the foot. In the future, its representatives will be afraid to return to the negotiating table or conduct dialogue with any Israel out of fear for their lives. If Palestinian academics such as Nusseibeh are afraid to appear in public with Israelis such as Uri Avineri, Ruth Dayan and Shlomo Ben-Ami, this speaks volumes about where Palestinian society is headed.