Just as hopes emerge for new Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, the official Facebook page of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah political party is lauding a convicted terrorist for killing 61 “Zionists” in a series of attacks.
The two sides' perceptions of Abdallah Barghouti, the bomb-making mastermind behind the infamous 2001 Sbarro attack and at least four other suicide bombings, is as good a measure as any for how far apart they are. Arrested in 2003, Barghouti is serving 67 life terms in solitary confinement in an Israeli prison. But to the party that rules the West Bank, Barghouti is a hero.
"The brave prisoner, Abdallah Barghouti, who has the longest [prison] sentence in the history of the Palestinian cause," reads the Facebook page, first reported on by Palestinian Media Watch.
Through its social media presence, Fatah glorifies five of the suicide bombings Barghouti organized between 2000 and 2003, including the attack at a Sbarro restaurant in Jerusalem that killed 15 people on Aug. 9, 2001.
“This just underscores the questionable commitment to genuine peace by Palestinian organizations that some say are ready for peace.”
- James Phillips, Heritage Foundation
The bombings were “self-sacrificing activity” and “martyrdom-seeking operations,” according to the Facebook page.
James Phillips, a Middle East analyst at the Heritage Foundation, said he found the posting to be “extremely troubling” ahead of possible peace talks.
“It’s extremely troubling that Fatah, which is purportedly committed to peace with Israel, continues to not only laud past terrorists, but to incite future terrorist attacks at the same time it’s supposedly negotiating the possibility of talks,” Phillips told FoxNews.com. “This just underscores the questionable commitment to genuine peace by Palestinian organizations that some say are ready for peace.”
The posting, Phillips said, is “one more instance” of confusing, sometimes conflicting messages emanating from Palestine.
“It’s another example of Palestinian leaders saying one thing in English that they know Westerners want to hear and another thing in Arabic to their own followers to continue terrorism against Israel,” he continued.
Officials at the Anti-Defamation League said they could not confirm the Facebook page's connection to Fatah, but said the organization has embraced terrorists and anti-semitism before.
“It is disturbing that some elements within the Fatah organization continue to venerate terrorists and acts of terror against Israeli civilians," said Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League. "We hope that through the peace process the United States will make it clear that, as part of any settlement, Palestinian incitement to terrorism must end.”
Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday that he’ll fast-track legislation allowing him to put any peace deal with the Palestinians to a national referendum. Netanyahu made the remarks three days after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry said progress had been made toward a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, which were stalled for five years.
Kerry has invited Israeli and Palestinian negotiators to Washington for preliminary talks, though wide gaps remain on the framework of the actual negotiations. Netanyahu said Monday that a referendum is necessary to prevent a rift in Israeli society, particularly among hard-liners in his party and coalition government.
Polls have suggested a majority of Israelis support the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, but many groups are vehemently opposed, including those among Israel's West Bank settlers.
"Any agreement that is not approved by the people is not worthy of being signed," Netanyahu said in an announcement from Israel's parliament. On an issue as fateful as a peace deal, "it is desirable that it be presented to every single citizen to decide," he said.
Also on Monday, Abbas reiterated that he would also put any peace deal to a referendum. Speaking to the Jordanian daily Al Rai, Abbas warned that "all options are open" if Kerry's efforts fail — an apparent attempt to pressure Israel to accept the Palestinian terms for a resumption of talks.
Palestinian officials have said key issues still need to be ironed out before the actual talks can begin, including a freeze on construction in Israeli settlements. They also want Netanyahu to accept Israel’s pre-1967 war lines and to release dozens of longtime Palestinian prisoners.
Netanyahu has so far refused to start border talks from 1967 lines and has also rejected a settlement freeze.
Phillips said he expects any agreement Israel theoretically signs with Palestine is likely to be “torpedoed” by Hamas within days. He said Kerry would be better served to focus his attention on other pressing U.S. foreign affairs matters, including the ongoing crisis in Egypt, the Syrian civil war and the looming confrontation with Iran regarding its nuclear program.
“It’s just not in the cards as long as Hamas has a stranglehold on Gaza,” Phillips said of peace in the region.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.