Journalists Press State Dept. Over Silence in Response to Anti-Israel Incitement by Chief Palestinian Negotiator

Comments made last Friday by chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat – in which Erekat accused Israel of poisoning former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and expressed concerns that Jerusalem would similarly kill sitting Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas – became fodder for a tense exchange at today’s State Department briefing, with journalists pressing Deputy Spokesperson Marie Harf on Washington’s stance regarding Palestinian incitement.

It would seem to me if that you give an interview to a major Arabic-language newspaper which is going to be read online and in print all over the region in which he asserts – the chief Palestinian negotiator asserts that Israel killed Arafat, and you guys don’t come out and publicly say, one, we don’t believe or we think or we know that that’s factually inaccurate; and two, this is not the kind of thing that’s going to get progress anywhere; or three, it’s certainly not the kind of thing that prepares or helps prepare the Palestinian people for what you hope will be an eventual peace deal. It gets back to what Prime Minister Netanyahu said about incitement when he was standing next to Kerry. Either you believe that the prime minister is right and that this Palestinian official is wrong, or you don’t.

Harf responded by delineating between public and private conversations, prompting journalists to ask whether Washington, as a declared “honest broker,” had “an obligation to speak out when someone says something that is not honest, when something is dishonest.” Harf eventually said that she had not yet seen Erekat’s comments and would examine them further. By the end of the afternoon Associated Press reporter Matthew Lee noted that that State Department was continuing to resist taking a public position on the incident specifically or more broadly on Israeli complaints regarding Palestinian incitement. A spike in Palestinian terrorism against Israeli civilians has deepened Jerusalem’s concerns regarding statements and actions made by top Palestinian figures that demonize Israel and celebrate violence. Abbas, for instance, has embraced Palestinian terrorists freed in both December and October as “heroes.” Israel’s cabinet this weekend blasted what Israeli officials described as the Palestinian “culture of hate.”

“This is a very grave phenomenon,” said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, reiterating a theme he stressed Thursday during a statement to the press he made alongside US Secretary of State John Kerry. “True peace cannot exist without stopping the incitement against Israel and educating for peace,” he said. “The refusal of the Palestinians to recognize Israel as the state of the Jewish People and declare the end of national demands – this is the root of the conflict. This is also the reason why we are insisting on significant security measures, so that we will be able to defend ourselves by ourselves in any situation.”

[Photo: U.S. Department of State / Flickr]