Editorial | Time to Move Beyond Abbas


Problematic negotiating partners are nothing new in international relations. As the saying goes, you don’t make peace with your friends. But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ anti-Semitic rant last week was so incendiary that it offended even those who are normally sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

Addressing the Palestinian National Council in Ramallah, Abbas gave what he called a history lesson about the Jews and Israel. Turning to the Holocaust, he said the genocide was not caused by anti-Semitism, but by the Jews’ own behavior, including money-lending.

Mahmoud Abbas in 2017 (Mahmoud Abbas May 2017.jpg by Kremlin.ru licensed under CC BY 3.0)

It was one of a number of “arguments” Abbas used to deny the Jewish people’s connection to Israel. He said, “Their narrative about coming to this country because of their longing for Zion, or whatever — we’re tired of hearing this. The truth is that [Israel] is a colonialist enterprise, aimed at planting a foreign body in this region.”

He identified the “foreign body” as European Jews, who he claimed are not even the children of Israel, citing Jewish novelist and polemicist Arthur Koestler’s widely-debunked theory that Ashkenazi Jews are descendants of the Khazars of the Caucuses. And, of course, everyone knows that Ashkenazim — those usurious money lenders — have “no historical ties” to the land of Israel. It was classic anti-Semitism, of the kind promulgated by the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and undergirding the Nazi narrative.

Abbas is a longtime Holocaust denier. Indeed, his doctoral thesis claimed secret ties between Zionists and the Nazis. But supporters of a two-state solution have generally argued Abbas’ anti-Semitism and his warped historical perspective are less important than his general opposition to an armed struggle against Israel. And those who oppose the creation of a Palestinian state have used Abbas’ thesis as evidence that his is neither a credible nor worthy negotiating partner.

But last week’s tirade proved to be a #MeToo moment even for liberals. The New York Times called for the 83-year-old Abbas’ replacement. J Street, which typically goes out of its way to support the Palestinian position, said Abbas’ remarks “featured absurd anti-Semitic tropes and deeply offensive comments. … President Abbas only undermines the legitimate aspirations and concerns of the Palestinian people, and distracts from the need for international action” to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The remarks even drew a U.N. criticism.

Abbas’ tepid apology, sent by his office a few days later, barely registers: “If people were offended by my statement in front of the [Palestinian National Council], especially people of the Jewish faith, I apologize to them,” Abbas said.

We wonder how any member of the Jewish community could have been anything less than deeply offended. And we certainly do not accept his rote “apology.”

We have routinely been critical of Abbas’ penchant — like many Palestinian leaders — for speaking out of both sides of his mouth, and have made the point that he is either unwilling or unable to lead meaningful negotiations with Israel. He has proved that point once again.

If Palestinians want peace, they need to rethink their leadership.


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