Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has long styled himself as a political “moderate,” the sensible alternative to the terrorists of Hamas. The theme is implicit in Abbas’s September 19 op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, in which the Palestinian leader promises that Israelis and Palestinians “can achieve a lasting peace.” But while his piece sounds reasonable, a closer look reveals it to be a triumph of political distortion that belies the putative pragmatism of its author.
Consider Abbas’s claim that he is seeking an agreement based on “1967 borders.” By this Abbas means, roughly, Israel within the Green Line as it existed before the 1967 Six-Day war. But there are no 1967 borders. These were no more than armistice lines, drawn at the end of Israel’s War of Independence in 1948-49. They were never intended to be permanent. In fact, when Jordan signed an armistice agreement with Israel, written into it was an acknowledgement by Jordan that the armistice line would not prejudice future negotiations on final borders.
If Abbas is aware of this fact, he disguises it well. Palestinians cannot accept less than the territory beyond the 1967 line, he insists, because of “the enormous historic compromise we already made in accepting the two-state solution and the creation of our state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip on only 22% of our historic homeland.”
This is a startling inversion of the truth: In 1922, the League of Nations granted the Mandate for Palestine to Great Britain. This mandate—thoroughly rooted in international law—was founded on the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which declared Great Britain to be in favor of “the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” Britain was charged with facilitating “Jewish immigration” and encouraging “close settlement by Jews on the land.” “The land” included everything between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, which means that it incorporated what Abbas now refers to as the West Bank. In point of historical fact, it also included the east bank for a short while—territory on the eastern side of the Jordan River, which was subsequently given to the Hashemites for the establishment of TransJordan.
As to the area, which has been linked to the Jews for 3,000 years, being the “historic homeland” of the Palestinians, there are several problems. For centuries Palestine was only an appendage to one empire or another (most recently the Ottoman Empire). Arabs who resided in Palestine identified simply as “part of the Arab nation,” and actually were often transients who had moved into the area from places elsewhere, such as Syria. Now the situation has been reframed so that the Palestinians are seen as a separate people who called Palestine their home for untold generations.
The reality, underscored by the fractiousness of Palestinian politics, is that there are no “Palestinian people.” Very recently it has been Hamas, in seizing Gaza, that has put the lie to the concept. In that instance, ideology trumped peoplehood. Islamic expert Daniel Pipes, among others, maintains that the Arabs in Gaza are more closely connected culturally to the Egyptians than to the Arabs of Judea and Samaria, and just this week the PA has sounded new warnings of impending attacks by Hamas on PA leaders in Gaza and the West Bank. Yet Abbas persists in speaking about a non-existent “Palestinian national consensus and unity” that will require Hamas to come to the table.
Abbas laments that there has been a growth of Israeli settlements since Oslo, but he neglects to mention that this was perfectly legal: nothing in the Oslo agreements prohibited the settlements that have been built. It is not the case, as Abbas claims, that Israel has been expanding settlements in Gaza and the West Bank. All of the approved building beyond the Green Line being protested by the PA is within existing settlements.
The most serious calumny in Abbas’s op-ed is his very deliberate observation that “pockets of land” in which the Palestinians find themselves are “reminiscent of the Bantustans of South Africa,” a reference to the racist policy of apartheid. Designed to delegitimize and vilify Israel, this charge has no basis in reality. In contrast to blacks in apartheid-era South Africa, where racism was codified in law, Israeli Palestinians not only enjoy full political and social equality but they are afforded privileges – including exemptions from military service – denied to most Israeli Jews.
Even more disturbing than what Abbas says about Israel is what he leaves out. While Abbas protests the security fence and other Israeli security measures, not once does he refer to the reason for these measures: Palestinian terrorism. That is because there is no terrorism in the Palestinian lexicon. There is, within this narrative, only legitimate “resistance” against Israeli “occupation.” The Palestinians are always the victims. This approach was learned long ago by Arafat, instructed by General Vo Nguyen Giap of North Vietnam.
Lastly, there is the issue of Jerusalem, which Abbas blithely speaks of dividing: east for the Palestinians and west for the Israelis. This envisioned dichotomy is founded upon the fallacious notion that eastern Jerusalem is intrinsically “Arab.” We need to return to the period between 1949 and 1967 to understand how this concept arose: While the heart of Jewish residence and ancient heritage was found in eastern Jerusalem, when Jordan seized the area after the war, it rendered it Judenrein. Moreover, if Palestinians were to be given all of eastern Jerusalem, they would be in possession of Judaism’s holiest sites: The Temple Mount and the Western Wall. This would be an unacceptable infringement of Jewish rights.
This in the end is the major flaw in Abbas’s reasoning – and the Palestinian narrative more broadly. Although Palestinians have excelled in playing the role of the aggrieved party, they have shown little interest in the concerns of Israeli Jews. As the tenor of his recent op-ed suggests, Abbas may sound more conciliatory than his predecessor Arafat. But the substance of his politics – and its deep-seated hostility to Israel – remains unchanged.