May 26, 2019

Pity Mahmoud Abbas

Only a confirmed hater of Palestinians — and a confirmed anti-Semite — could believe that they have the leadership they deserve.

Permit me to explain.

Last week, Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas blamed the Jewish behavior of usury and money lending for causing the Holocaust. This isn’t the first time that Abbas has engaged in bizarre theories of history. Year ago, his doctoral dissertation, written while he was a student at Patrice Lumumba University in Russia, was on the “secret” relationship between Nazism and Zionism. Six million was exaggerated. He was a soft-core Holocaust denier.

Only this year, he reiterated that often repeated myth that the Jews have no attachment to the Temple Mount, none to Jerusalem or to the land of Israel, the Bible — archaeological evidence and religious practice of 2,500 years notwithstanding.

Now an elderly, sick man of 82, Abbas has been president of the Palestinian National Authority — to some, the State of Palestine — for 13 years and will go to his grave with no accomplishments to his name as the leader of his people. Divided between Gaza and the West Bank, they are ever more distant from statehood.

His achievements: He has become the No. 1 ally of Israel’s right-wing intent on having a one state solution, a Jewish state.

And he has become the No. 1 enemy of those of us who support a two-state solution because he has little credibility and alienated all but the most extreme for support for Palestinian statehood. Any possibility of a two-state solution will have to await not only a change in Israel’s current attitude but, more significantly, a change in Palestinian leadership.
He twice has rejected reasonable offers from former Israeli Prime Ministers Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, walking away, as did the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat before him, without even countering an offer of his own, afraid that he might be assassinated or go down in history as having betrayed his people’s most maximalist goals.

One must view Mahmoud Abbas as a pathetic figure and pity his people who hold onto him because they can’t imagine another way.

He even has alienated support within the Arab world, which no longer sees the Israel-Palestinian conflict as the central issue of the Middle East. Many Arab leaders view the Sunni-Shite conflict as more fundamental, and Israel as an indispensable force against Iran dominance.

I am beyond anger. Anger is based on expectations and disappointment when those expectation are not met, but I have no expectations from Abbas. Time has passed him by, his place in history is now secure. He has achieved nothing. Challenge yourself to name one positive accomplishment by him.

So one must view Abbas as a pathetic figure and pity his people who hold onto him because they can’t imagine another way.

Still, I cannot rejoice in the magnitude of his defeat because unlike the Israeli right and their American-Jewish supporters, I think that Israel desperately needs a two-state solution because it cannot sustain a Jewish state and a democratic state while still retaining control over so sizable a population that has no desire to be ruled by Israel. Day in and day out, we witness the cost of occupation not only to the Palestinian people but to Israeli democracy.
Nothing can happen until Abbas is no longer in power; the only way for something to happen is for the Palestinians to reverse the pressure on Israel by presenting a credible possibility of co-existence.

And again, the hypocrisy of some global institutions is glaring. When Abbas touched the sacred cow of the Holocaust, he was forced to retreat. He offered an apology: “Sorry to offend,” “didn’t mean to attack Judaism as a religion.” Yet when he denies Jewish ties to the land of Israel and to Jerusalem, its capital under David and Solomon and the locus of Jewish prayers since 70 C.E., many are silent and UNESCO and others endorse his fantasies. And then they wonder why Israel turns rightward and inward, scorning those institutions that should be pressing Palestinian leadership not to follow the path to perdition.

Michael Berenbaum is director of the Sigi Ziering Institute and a professor of Jewish Studies at American Jewish University.