Friday, June 11, 2010

The Misunderstood Statement of Mahmoud Abbas

By Barry Rubin

A great deal was made of a statement by Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to a closed meeting of Jews in Washington that there is a historical tie between Jews and the land of...well let's leave the name a blank for the moment. Mass media outlets made this sound like a big step forward in the Palestinian recognition of the right for a Jewish state of Israel to exist.

For example, Haaretz reported: "Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told U.S. Jewish leaders on Wednesday that he would never deny Jews their right to the land of Israel, according to participants of the two-hour roundtable discussion." In the past, Abbas has repeatedly ridiculed this idea. See for example here.

(Abbas also lied that he had proposed a commission to monitor and punish incitement but that Israel rejected it. Once I heard a high PA official publicly say something like that, went up to him and asked about how it could be arranged, and he laughed in my face for thinking he might possibly have been sincere.)

But now we know that all Abbas said was that the Koran recognized that there were historic Jewish links to the land of...well, again let's hold off on the name for a moment. But this is now 2010.

As early as the mid-1970s, the PLO had a declaration saying Jews could live as a minority in a Palestinian Arab state. Abbas is well known to be passionately attached personally to the idea that all Palestinian Arabs who lived in what is now Israel before 1948 and all their descendants should have a "right of return" to Israel.

So what Abbas said is merely a slight advance over Yasir Arafat's denial at the 2000 Camp David summit that there was never any Jewish connection to Jerusalem and that the Jewish Temple there never existed. In political terms, it is meaningless.

Indeed, it means the exact opposite of the interpretation being given by those who want to be fooled. In 2010, the leader of the PA dare not say even to a closed meeting of Jewish doves in English in Washington DC that he is ready to accept Israel as a Jewish state alongside a Palestinian Arab Muslim state.

In other words, what Abbas is saying is that the Jews, too, have a historic link to the land of ...Palestine (as the Romans named it since they didn't want to say "Judea" any more after conquering that land). But, of course, he will not close the door to saying to all belongs to the Palestinian Arabs.

Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are The Israel-Arab Reader (seventh edition), The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley), and The Truth About Syria (PalgraveMacmillan). His new edited books include Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict and Crisis; Guide to Islamist Movements; Conflict and Insurgency in the Middle East; The West and the Middle East (four volumes); and The Muslim Brotherhood. To read and subscribe to MERIA, GLORIA articles, or to order books. To see or subscribe to his blog, Rubin Reports.

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