Trump Is to Blame for Palestinian President's Dramatic Attack on Israel and the U.S., Says J Street

While most pro-Israel groups slam Abbas for 'anti-Semitic' remarks, the left-wing group claims it's Trump's bumbling that's led to the icing of the two-state vision

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, speaks during a meeting with the Palestinian Central Council, in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on Jan. 14, 2018.
Majdi Mohammed/AP

The left-wing advocacy organization J Street was widely slammed for blaming Sunday's controversial speech by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on "inept and disastrous misstep" by U.S. President Donald Trump. By contrast, other American pro-Israel groups focused their criticism exclusively on what they called Abbas' "vitriolic rhetoric" and "anti-Semitic" and "ahistorical" account of the establishment of the Jewish state.

In his dramatic address in Ramallah, Abbas called U.S. President Donald Trump's Mideast peace plan "a slap in the face," and declared "we will not accept America leadership of a political process involving negotiations." His position was echoed the next day by the Palestinian Central Council, the legislative body of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

J Street, which describes itself as a "pro-Israel, pro-peace" organization, asserted that Abbas' "unacceptable speech" and "the undercutting of America's role as a mediator in this conflict, would not have come about if it were not for President Trump's inept and disastrous missteps regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

The group's statement noted that the Trump administration was more interested in "pandering to its right-wing political base than seriously mediating the conflict."

The president "bears full responsibility for bringing us to the tragic juncture we've reached today – with Israel's creeping annexation of the West Bank accelerating, the two-state solution on ice and moderate Palestinian leadership throwing up its hands in despair," the statement said.

"[By] appointing a settlement movement ally as ambassador to Israel, refusing to endorse the two-state solution and upending long-standing U.S. policy on Jerusalem, the president and his team have taken one step after another to destroy the chances of peaceful resolution," according to J Street.

Both journalists and activists on the pro-Israel right in the United States charged, however, that J Street was unjustly blaming the Palestinian leader's long-held hostility toward the Jewish state on Trump, scorned the description of Abbas as "moderate" and pointed to similar assertions that he had made in the past.

While J Street noted that Abbas' frustration was "no excuse" for "calling into question either the Jewish connection to, or Palestinian recognition of, the State of Israel" – which was "justifiably" resulting in widespread condemnation – its statement focused on Trump's behavior.

'Peddling conspiracy theories'

By contrast, other Israel advocacy organizations kept the spotlight sharply focused on the content of Abbas speech. The Israel Policy Forum, which describes itself as a non-partisan "pragmatic, pro-Israel voice" and advocates for a two-state solution to the conflict, released a statement that said the speech contained "vitriolic rhetoric" and expressed "disgust over President Abbas remarks before the Fatah council, delegitimizing Zionism, denying the Jewish connection to the land of Israel and peddling conspiracy theories about the plight of European Jewry."

The forum declared that it was "impossible to view Abbas as a viable negotiating partner when he continues to deny the right of the Jewish people to their own national movement and when he continues to insist that the basic recognition of a Jewish homeland is the original sin of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

"The injustice of Palestinians remaining stateless cannot and will not be rectified by a fever dream that wishes for a world in which Jews would also be stateless and in which Israel would not exist."

The statement also noted that "if Abbas' commitment to nonviolence is worthy of praise, his commitment to vitriolic rhetoric is equally worthy of condemnation. Abbas' unhinged screed provides ammunition to those who insist that the sole obstacle to peace is Palestinian denial of Israels legitimacy, making his hateful words instrumentally harmful as well as being utterly without merit in their own right. With his distortion of history and denial of reality, Abbas makes himself part of the problem rather than part of the solution."

For its part, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations said: "The intemperate and extreme language used by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will not better the situation of Palestinians or promote meaningful negotiations.

"Quite the contrary, with Abbas alleging that the Trump administration committed 'the crime of the century' for recognizing the simple fact that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. The true 'crime of the past century' has been the refusal by Arab and Palestinian leaders to engage in serious negotiations that could have brought about a permanent resolution and meet the aspirations of the Palestinian people."

The statement by the presidents organization, issued by chairman Stephen M. Greenberg and CEO Malcolm Hoenlein, added that in his speech, Abbas "chastised virtually every party that could be helpful in bringing about successful talks, showing that his diatribe was not really aimed at the United States actions, but at his own failures and unwillingness to show true courage and commitment to his people."

'Bizarre claim'

On Monday, the Anti-Defamation League expressed great concern that President Abbas' "anti-Israel diatribe was a sober reminder that the core of the conflict was the Palestinian leadership's long-standing refusal to recognize the historic Jewish connection to the Land of Israel."

"Abbas' argument that Israel was founded as 'a colonial project that has nothing to do with Judaism' is rooted in an anti-Semitic rejection of the undeniable Jewish connection to Israel," the ADL statement continued, asserting that his comments "raised serious doubts" regarding the PA's willingness to negotiate a peace settlement in good faith.

"We are also greatly disturbed by the Palestinian president's bizarre claim that even during the Holocaust Jews chose to undergo 'murder and slaughter' rather than seek refuge in the Land of Israel," said the ADL. "There is simply no denying the anti-Semitic nature of this ahistorical statement."