After Mahmoud Abbas, the Deluge for the Palestinians

If the president were paying attention to reality, he would have spoken in Brussels about water as an illustration of the absurdity in which the Israelis trap the Palestinians.

Amira Hass
Amira Hass
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PA President Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech at the European Union Parliament in Brussels on June 23, 2016.
PA President Mahmoud Abbas delivers a speech at the European Union Parliament in Brussels on June 23, 2016. Credit: John Thys, AFP
Amira Hass
Amira Hass

Mahmoud Abbas has once again caused embarrassment. In his speech to the European Parliament, he repeated the nonsense in a “report” that had appeared in the Palestinian media a few days earlier, according to which the chairman of the “Settlements Council” had ordered the poisoning of Palestinian wells and drinking water in the West Bank.

In his speech, the Palestinian president changed this to “Just a week ago, a week, a group of rabbis in Israel announced, in a clear announcement, demanding their government, to poison, to poison, the water of the Palestinians.” A day later he retracted this statement, via his office.

But the damage was done. Abbas was accused of disseminating an anti-Semitic blood libel – a shopworn, predictable accusation that misses the real and serious problems that characterize the top Palestinian leadership: their obliviousness to the daily reality of their people; the lack of coordination and exchanges of information and ideas between different offices in the executive; and the reliance on cronies, yes-men and the local media, which don’t check things and all too frequently aren’t accurate and exaggerate even when the truth about Israeli policy is sufficiently incriminating.

According to Reuters, the sentence above wasn’t included in the official version of the (dull and shopworn) speech that Abbas’ office distributed in advance. It seems this was an improvisation, as happens at meetings of his Fatah movement, or at a meeting with Israeli students when he declared that security coordination with Israel was “sacred.”

According to The New York Times, the “report” had appeared on the website of some PLO office (it didn’t specify which), and from there was picked up by the official Turkish website Anadolu and a newspaper in Dubai. Palestinian Media Watch located a report broadcast by the official Palestinian television station on June 20, which asserted that an Israeli human rights organization had “revealed” the order by a rabbi named Shlomo Melamed.

But there is no organization called the Settlements Council, and there is no rabbi named Shlomo Melamed. And no Israeli human rights organization “revealed” his words, according to an article in The Jerusalem Post (cited by Palestinian Media Watch).

If Abbas were paying attention to reality, he would have spoken in Brussels about water – a burning problem for his people, especially during the summer – as an illustration of the absurdity in which the Palestinians are trapped. “We (and Europe with us),” he could have said, “are adhering to the Oslo Accords 17 years after it expired, as a corridor leading to the establishment of a Palestinian state. But look how Israel exploits our patience and continues imposing the same inhumane division of the only water source we have.”

Nizar Rayan with his ad-hoc collection of water containers for his plant nursery, in the West Bank village of Qarawat Bani Hassan.Credit: Emil Salman

Today, Israelis use 86 percent of the mountain aquifer, while the crumbs that remain – 14 percent – are thrown to the Palestinians. Instead of talking nonsense about poisoning water, he could have talked about the Mekorot water company, which is cutting the water supply in the Salfit area to meet rising demand in the settlements.

True, there’s no shortage of rabbis who have said terrible things about Arabs or non-Jews in general. Moreover, as part of the ongoing harassment of Palestinian villages in the West Bank by Jewish Israeli citizens, we have come across the method of throwing carcasses into cisterns – whether cisterns for gathering rainwater, as in the village of Kharruba in the South Hebron Hills, or cisterns to collect the runoff from springs, as in Madma south of Nablus.

Still, even a little logic would have been enough to realize that this “report” was dubious. Israelis and Palestinians drink from the same aquifer. Thus “poisoning the water” would hurt everyone. And a little historical awareness would have been enough to set off alarm bells for Abbas about combining water, poisoning and Jews.

But that’s the way things are when you’ve gotten used to the role of sole ruler whose word is law, who violates the decisions of the collective (and unelected) leadership, who repeatedly postpones elections in Fatah and the PLO, who benefits from a paralyzed parliament, and who won’t allow a democratic process to choose his heir or heirs so as to spare his people a dangerous political vacuum once he goes.

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