Analysis |

Scent of anti-Semitism in Abbas' Speech Doesn't Change His Support for Two States

The president's speech before the Palestinian National Council reflected his authoritarian style and habit not to listen to criticism

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas gestures as he chairs a Palestinian National Council meeting in Ramallah on April 30, 2018
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas gestures as he chairs a Palestinian National Council meeting in Ramallah on April 30, 2018Credit: \ MOHAMAD TOROKMAN/ REUTERS
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

The history of the Jews was forced upon the Palestinians and therefore the latter are addressing it at every opportunity. All Palestinians see themselves as entitled, and they are indeed truly entitled, to present the historiography of their land and people – as a counterweight to the Zionist narrative.

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This is what Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas does as well, in speeches at public events, and he did so again on Monday evening at the opening of the long-overdue 23rd meeting of the Palestinian National Council, which is meant to be the parliament of all Palestinians.

>> EU joins U.S. in slamming 'unacceptable' Abbas remarks about Jews: Harms the two-state solution <<

Abbas’ summary of Israel’s historiography is that the establishment of a state for the Jews was a colonialist project undertaken by Christian nations, and that the proponents of the project were Jew-haters who did not want them to live in their countries. But the Palestinian president’s legitimate précis contains embarrassing mistakes, important omissions and also a claim with a harsh scent of anti-Semitism: In Europe they hated the Jews not because of their religion, but because of their professions involving money-lending and banking.

His insistence on falling into the trap of declarations that will aid Israeli hasbara (public diplomacy), which also completely ignores his relevant messages related to the path to peace, reveals something about the man and his style of rule: He is consistent in his positions, does not listen to criticism and does not consult others – or, he chooses advisers who will not tell him anything he does not want to hear. He also chooses to be updated only on what suits him.

These are some of the traits Abbas has needed to succeed in becoming the authoritarian leader of Fatah, the PLO and the Palestinian Authority, along with his control of the finances and the support he continues to get from European countries because of his commitment to the Oslo Accords. These characteristics have allowed him to continue with what Yasser Arafat began: Emptying the PLO of its pan-Palestinian content and, in practice, subordinating it to the PA.

As the sole ruler, Abbas consistently ignores the decisions of representative institutions. As a result the security coordination between the Palestinians’ security apparatuses and Israel continues, despite decisions made in recent years by Fatah and the PLO to end it.

The historiographic part of Abbas speech on Monday is not the important part. His covert warning to residents of the Gaza Strip and to Hamas that he intends to stop including them in the PA budget or to reduce even further their share of it, is of much greater importance and has worrying implications for the future.

The PA president also noted that “what is called the Arab Spring” was fake news invented by America as a means to dismantle Arab countries. Such a declaration shows a fundamental, profound contempt for the popular uprisings and underestimation of the suffering of civilians under their authoritarian regimes.

Given this disrespect, Abbas’ statements to the effect that the road to a Palestinian state will pass through a popular (unarmed) struggle against the Israeli occupation in conjunction with diplomatic steps, can be interpreted as nothing more than ceremonial declarations. A popular struggle is much more than demonstrations in contentious areas against the Israel Defense Forces, and demands a fundamental change in the PA’s attitude toward the Oslo Accords, as senior Fatah members have said. The message underlying Abbas’ comments on the Arab Spring is that as long as he remains in power, such a change will not happen.

Abbas’ historiographic synopsis ended with this conclusion: “We say: We will not uproot them. We say: We will live with you together on the basis of two states.”

In his remarks he repeated a few times that “we are committed” to this solution to the conflict with Israel (i.e., within the 1967 borders), with East Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Palestine. Here his authoritarianism allows Abbas to stick to a long-proposed solution that has lost its meaning and logic, particularly in the eyes of the younger generation.

Abbas said he bases his views on Jewish, and even Zionist, writers, beginning with Arthur Koestler the “Zionist,” he emphasized, and on the thesis proposed in Koestler’s “The Thirteenth Tribe,” according to which Ashkenazi Jews originated from the Khazar people. These people are not Semites, Abbas asserted, “They have no connection to the Semitic [peoples] or our lords Abraham and Jacob.”

These Jews (in other words, the converted Khazars), he added, moved into Eastern and Western Europe and, every 10 or 15 years, suffered from a massacre in one country or another, from the 11th century up until the Holocaust. “And why did it happen? They will say ‘because we are Jews.’ And I would like to present three Jews in three books, and they are: Joseph Stalin ”

At this point in Abbas’ speech, which was meant to explain that the Jews were persecuted because of their professions in money-lending and banking, there was murmuring; someone whispered to him that Stalin was not a Jew. In the written text of Abbas address on Monday, which was released by the official Palestinian Wafa news agency, Stalin was still described as a “Jewish writer.”

Later in the text the names “Abraham and Yishaq Notsherd” are mentioned – two individuals whom this writer does not recognize. During the PA president’s speechitself, broadcast live on the Palestine channel, it sounded as if he had said Isaac Deutscher, a Marxist historian.

Abbas also noted that the establishment of a state for the Jews in Palestine originated as an idea of Christians and statesmen such as Cromwell and Napoleon, and the “American consul in Jerusalem in 1850.” Before Arthur Balfour drafted his famous declaration, Abbas said, “he made a decision that would prevent the entry of Jews into Britain because of his hatred for them ” (He was actually referring to the Aliens Act passed by the British Parliament in 1905, when Balfour was prime minister. The law limited immigration from places that were not part of the British Empire, and was understood to be a response to the mass immigration of Jews, in particular, from Eastern Europe since 1880.)

Such an interpretation of the Balfour Declaration and its association with Balfour’s dislike of the Jews is not uncommon. Abbas did not fail to mention the “Transfer Agreement” between the Nazi authorities and Jewish Agency (or with the Anglo-Palestine Bank in Jerusalem, as Abbas said), which enabled wealthy Jews to emigrate from Germany to Palestine.

Abbas is not going to change. During the four days of the PNC meeting, it will become clear whether his critics were mistaken when they said he will deepen the internal Palestinian split and, in practice, ultimately bury the PLO as a pluralist, pan-Palestinian organization.

His covert warning to Gazans and Hamas that he intends to stop including them in the PA budget is of greater importance.

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