Success or failure. Truth or dare. The future of the Palestinian Authority lies in the hands of one man, President Mahmoud Abbas.
The decisions that Abbas makes will shape the future, long term and short term, of the Palestinian people. The choices are his to make. The commitments are his to undertake.
Some decisions, like cracking down on terror, like taking control, are actually, physically difficult. But Abbas must tame the Palestinian Wild West or it will consume him. And if or when the first democratically elected president of the Palestinian Authority falls, anarchy will set in. And if anarchy enters, any chance of a decent life for the people of Palestine disappears. And when Abbas falls, any chance for rapprochement between the Palestinian Authority and Israel fails. If Abbas is consumed, Palestinian society will never flourish, it will become, instead, a Nicaragua or a Belfast.
How does one tame the lion?
Disarming the gangs of hooligans that roam through the cities and towns, imprisoning, cutting off funds, making it unlawful to incite, all those are obvious ways to recapture control. Physically difficult, but possible.
Convincing the masses of the importance of the mission, that's much, much, more difficult. And the reason it is more difficult is because re-education requires much more than a physical commitment, it requires an emotional commitment. And here, Abbas has failed miserably. Abbas has barely even attempted to re-educate the Palestinian people.
Education, or re-education, is central to the success of President Abbas. It is an essential tool for the implementation of a democratic, economically sound and productive future for his people. And yet, Abbas has not even begun to put in place the easiest of educational reforms. There are concrete actions that take no time to put in place and require no energy to implement. There are actions that take almost no money but which would have serious short and long term impact for the future of the Palestinian people.
All Abbas needs to do, as a first, simple, crucially important step is take one book off the school reading list. If Abbas is really committed to peace with the Israelis, if he is being truthful when he speaks of peace and progress in international diplomatic circles, he will push forward on the process of re-education now. He is already late, any later will be too late. But does he dare?
Israeli Minister Natan Sharansky has just sent an emergency letter to Israel's President Ariel Sharon and to United States President George Bush.
This is his issue:
The official 10th grade Palestinian school curriculum teaches The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion.
The edition used in the schools is published in Syria. The curriculum never mentions that the Protocols are a forgery of the Russian secret police created by the Czar in order to generate the notorious myth that the Jews control the world.
One must ask: Why teach The Protocols if not to expose the work as a conspiracy theory of Antisemites? In any other context, what is the educational purpose behind teaching The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion to impressionable 10th graders given today's social and political climate?
In order to perpetuate the myth. We all know the answer. The Protocols Of The Elders Of Zion has not been removed from the Palestinian school curriculum, the book has not been removed from school library shelves, only, ONLY, in order to perpetuate the myth.
The Palestinians continue to teach The Protocols because they are not yet committed to the reforms. And Mahmoud Abbas, as president, is the man responsible for re-educating or not re-educating his people, for implementing reforms or for letting them linger, ignored if not forgotten.
There's more. There are the maps.
In no official Palestinian Authority map is Israel identified. Not just school maps - any and all maps.
It is hard to imagine a civilized, long-term, interaction between peoples, between societies, between countries when the official maps of one of the partners still do not recognize the existence of the other.
Here's even more. Of the 160 schoolbooks the Palestinian Authority uses to teach from, not a single text refers to Israel as an independent state. Shocked? Not any more, I would think.
Yes, Palestinian President Abbas must break the backs of the terrorist thugs who might physically challenge his control over his society. But he must also transform an educational system, he must educate. Future Palestinian leaders should be groomed in schools, not in marauding packs.
One need not teach love, but neither should one perpetuate hatred.