Prime Minister Netanyahu told American television interviewers on Sunday that Mahmoud Abbas’ new statement on the Holocaust was no more than a public relations move aimed at placating Western public opinion in the wake of the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation. Even if the prime minister’s diagnosis is correct, one has to admit that Abbas’ ploy is working wonders, with the active assistance, of course, of Netanyahu and other Israeli officials.
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This was the impression created by the unusually wide coverage given to Abbas’ Holocaust declaration in the U.S. media: A Palestinian leader who condemns the Holocaust as the “most heinous crime against humanity in the modern era” against an Israeli prime minister who refuses to say even one good word about the declaration, even when pressed to do so. A Palestinian leadership that appears to be stretching out its hand to Israel and to the Jewish people on their day of collective mourning and an Israeli leadership that seems resentful and petulant and determined to deploy Abbas’ statement as yet another weapon in its endless and largely futile “hasbara wars” over Israel’s image.
While Israel complains (not altogether accurately) that Abbas is violating the holy of holies by daring to compare Jewish trials with Palestinian tribulations, it’s apparently quite all right for Netanyahu to equate Hamas with the Third Reich and to accuse it of seeking another Holocaust. And to counter comments in the U.S. media that Abbas’ acknowledgement of the Holocaust is groundbreaking and significant, Israel pits an anonymous “senior official” who tells the New York Times that the new statement is worthless because if fails to condemn the Nazi-collaborating World War II Palestinian Mufti Haj Amin al-Husseini. Seriously.
It’s also unclear on what basis – other than wishful thinking – Netanyahu has decided that the Palestinians have suffered a grievous blow in Western public opinion. The righteous indignation that emanated from Jerusalem following the reports of a breakthrough in talks between Fatah and Hamas may have enthused die hard Israel supporters in the Jewish community and the American right, but to most observers and the small number of people who are paying attention, both sides are prisoners of their own slogans and both are equally to blame for the collapse of John Kerry’s peace efforts. As deputy National Security Adviser Tony Blinken said Sunday, repeating President Obama: “Both sides have not been prepared so far to make the hard decisions.”
In fact, Sunday’s indirect dialogue between Netanyahu and Blinken also exposed a looming dispute between Jerusalem and Washington, in the unlikely event that Hamas and Fatah translate their intentions into an actual working agreement. While Netanyahu repeatedly asserted on CBS’ Face the Nation and CNN’s State of the Union that Israel would not negotiate with a Palestinian government that was “backed by Hamas,” Blinken made clear that the American demand is that the next Palestinian cabinet abide by the three U.S. preconditions of renouncing terror and recognizing Israel and past agreements. Given that Abbas has pledged that this indeed will the case and that no active Hamas members are slated to be members of the next Palestinian cabinet, one can already envisage the headlines of yet another rift between Israel and the United States as well as allegations by unnamed Israeli officials that “Obama is capitulating to terror.”
The Israeli cabinet’s hasty and superfluous decision last week to unilaterally pull out of the peace contacts has already undercut whatever advantage Israel may have gained in public opinion from the proposed Palestinian reconciliation. Now, in the wake of Netanyahu’s miserly reaction to Abbas’ Holocaust statement, the tables have probably turned completely, with the Palestinians being seen as generous and considerate and the Israelis as resentful and obstinate. The perpetrator of such a dramatic turn of the tables could rightfully be described as a “magician,” the title given by Israeli commentators to Netanyahu, back in the days when it was he who was the master of American public opinion and was brilliantly calling the PR shots.