RAMALLAH, West Bank, Feb 23 (Reuters) - Concerned that its image abroad is suffering, Israel is going on the offensive to show that Palestinians, not Israelis, are responsible for perpetuating the region's cycle of violence.
With the peace process at a standstill since its war in Gaza a year ago, Israel is trying to paint the Palestinian Authority as the source of incitement to violence -- a violation of Palestinian obligations under peace agreements.
Citing usage of the word martyr to honour dead Palestinian fighters and speeches recalling the noble heritage of armed struggle, Israel's incitement accusations put the onus on Palestinian leadership for failure to return to negotiations.
In January, Israel's Center for Near East Research stepped up the anti-incitement campaign with the launch of a monthly Incitement Report. Aimed at Western legislators, it chronicles language its writers say encourages violence.
Israel's Ministry for Public Diplomacy is also inviting ordinary citizens to get involved, with a program to teach volunteers how to present a positive image of Israel abroad. Palestinian incitement is included as a talking point.
Palestinian officials insist their speeches do not incite violence. Their political rhetoric, however, pays homage to a past of violent resistance to Israeli occupation.
Fatah, the dominant force behind the Palestinian Authority, calls its legislative body the Revolutionary Council. Its charter still does not recognize Israel, even as its leaders promote a two-state solution and peace with the Jewish state.
Palestinians say rhetoric from their side about guns or bloodshed is nothing compared with the physical subjugation and humiliation they suffer at the hands of Israeli occupation troops manning West Bank checkpoints and armed patrols.
Real incitement isn't just words, they say, it is actions.
The Israelis keep taking Palestinian land to build settlements, their settlers provoke Palestinians by cutting their trees or taking their homes in Jerusalem. It goes on and on, says Ghassan Khatib, Palestinian Authority spokesman.
Israeli behaviour is the most effective incitement to the Palestinian public, he said.
The incitement debate stems from the Roadmap to peace, a 2003 Middle East peace plan whose first phase required Palestinian authorities to end violence, and Israel to help normalize Palestinian life and freeze settlement activity. Each side is called on to end incitement against the other.
Palestinians insist they are meeting their obligations but can only do so much to muzzle individuals.
A few weeks ago, a Palestinian official missed his appointment to give a sermon on non-violence at a small mosque in the West Bank village of Burin, on the frontline of skirmishes between Jewish settlers and Palestinians.
While he was held by Israeli troops at a checkpoint, a replacement speaker stepped up to the minbar (dais) and delivered a blood-curdling call on Muslims to kill Jews.
The PA, which has gagged the cleric, said such incidents can be hard to stop in places like Burin, where a neighbouring mosque had just been attacked and Israel settlers were suspected. The Koran was burned and Hebrew graffiti scrawled on the walls, vandalism denounced by Israeli ministers and rabbis.
Palestinians say some Israeli examples of incitement are unrelated to violence.
In a speech last week, Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon named Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad as sources of incitement because they go from capital to capital to defame Israel...to vilify Israel.
We need to have common definitions as to what incitement is and what it is not, said Khatib, who suggested creating a joint observation committee.
But others say no consensus is possible.
Media analyst Nebal Thawabteh of Birzeit University in the West Bank recalls a joint incitement study by Israeli and Palestinian organizations a few years ago.
They had completely different criteria. You can't even discuss the issue because there are no guidelines. It all depends on political views, she said.
By Erika Solomon
(Editing by Douglas Hamilton and Jon Boyle)