In the fog and smoke of the constantly churning Middle East, a change in the tone and substance of Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas’ public remarks since the Palestinians were granted non-state member status by the UN General Assembly, has been little noticed in world media.
On Jan. 4 in Ramallah, on the occasion of the anniversary of the founding of the El-Fatah militia of the PLO, Abbas delivered a fiery speech that could have been written for PLO founder Ahmad Shukeiry or his benighted successor Yasser Arafat.
Ignoring every paragraph of every page of every bilateral agreement the PA has signed with Israel since 1993, Abbas exhorted his people to embrace a future burning with the stinging vapours of exploding bombs and discharging rifles.
So shockingly sharp was Abbas’ swerve from previous speeches, Prof. Dore Gold, Israel’s former ambassador to the United Nations, noted that it “may have marked a turning point in the relations between the Palestinian Authority president and the State of Israel.”
Islamic affairs expert Jonathan Halevi, writing for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, characterized Abbas’ Jan. 4 message as “a radical political doctrine.”
What struck Gold and Halevi as gravely surprising, if not a bit unnerving too, was Abbas’ frequent resort to themes of violence and non-accommodation.
“Abbas chose to re-emphasize that the Palestinian people remain on the path of struggle to realize ‘the dream of return’ of the Palestinian refugees and their millions of descendants,” Halevi wrote.
It was especially noteworthy for Halevi that Abbas invoked the names of some of vilest slaughterers of Jews in Palestinian history as fit and worthy role models for the youth of his nation.
“Abbas pledged to continue the path of struggle of previous Palestinian leaders, mentioning the Mufti of Jerusalem, Haj Amin al-Husseini, who forged a strategic alliance with Nazi Germany, and heads of Palestinian terror organizations who were directly responsible for the murder of thousands of Israeli civilians. All are equal and suitable partners in the Palestinian struggle, and their ideological platform – even if it is terrorist and/or radical-Islamist – is a source of inspiration for the Palestinian people,” Halevi wrote.
Of course, the commonly heard rejoinder to Halevi’s observation is that “one person’s terrorist is another person’s hero.” But stretching the notion of hero to include Adolf Hitler and his confederates attests rather revealingly and disgustingly to the character of the individual suggesting that stretch. There is absolutely no room, not the tiniest, milli-measurement of light, for any moral relativism on the suggestion of Hitler/Mufti as hero.
Gold speculated that vast geo-political and geo-cultural changes in the region since 1993 account for the sudden shift in Abbas’ demeanour.
“With the uprisings in the Arab world since 2011,” Gold wrote, “a new rejectionist front has come to power through Islamist parties that are now ruling from Tunisia to Egypt.”
Accommodation with the Jewish state is plainly at odds with the core dogma of the Islamists whose rising tide of rejectionism and confrontation seems to be washing across much of the Arab world.
It may be that Abbas does not want to stand on the wrong side of Arab history, as he perceives it. He may be reorienting PA policy. Or, alternatively, he may simply be doing what he does with an expert’s finesse: saying one thing to the West and quite the opposite to Ramallah. Was it a coincidence that Abbas delivered his Jan. 4 message during the Israeli election? Perhaps he wished to push the Israeli electorate further to the right to enable him to continue proclaiming his people’s victimhood to Israeli intransigence?
But, much as they confounded the many vaunted Mideast pundits, the Israeli voters confounded him too.
The majority of Israelis clearly voted to try to find a mutually respectful, secure way in which to find an agreement with the Palestinians. They may be forgiven, however, for not yet reposing all of their trust in Mahmoud Abbas, who urges his people to regard Hitler’s henchmen and accomplices as great figures of history.
The most compelling observation about Abbas’ recent behaviour belongs to Halevi. He concluded, rather sadly, “Anyone who expected that Abbas would follow a more moderate course after the UN General Assembly resolution of Nov. 29, 2012, upgrading the status of the PLO’s observer mission to that of an observer state, was undoubtedly disappointed with Abbas’ remarks. He was not preparing the Palestinian people for making peace, but rather reverting to rhetoric perpetuating and even escalating the conflict.” –MBD