Mahmoud Abbas's recent op-ed in The New York Times is "worth reading," not because he "speaks some of the most important truths" about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict but precisely because of the lies and distortions it purveys, which tell us—unfortunately—something about the elite that has directed Palestinian politics since the 1960s.
Yasser Arafat, who led the Palestinian national movement from the late 1960s until his death in 2004, was notoriously duplicitous—a serial liar, in fact—and was distrusted by all Middle Eastern leaders across the board, Arab and Israeli. Most breathed a sigh of relief at his passing—as did many in Washington and other Western capitals.
But many happily hailed his successor, Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestine National Authority and the head of the Fatah party, the chief constituent of the PLO, as a worthier politician, a "moderate." Perhaps it was the suits that replaced Arafat's absurd martial uniforms; perhaps the donnish glasses; perhaps it was the softer verbs and adjectives. They dismissed as youthful whimsy his Ph.D. thesis from the 1980s, published in Arabic as The Other Side: the Secret Relations between Nazism and the Leadership of the Zionist Movement.
In that book, Abbas declared that the gas chambers were never used to murder Jews and dismissed as a "fantastic lie" that six million Jews had died in the Holocaust; at most, he wrote, "890,000" Jews were killed by the Germans. And they were killed, Abbas wrote, in part as a result of Zionist provocation orchestrated by Ben-Gurion from 1942. Or, as he put it: "The Zionist movement led a broad campaign of incitement against the Jews living under Nazi rule, in order to arouse the government's hatred of them, to fuel vengeance against them, and to expand the mass extermination." All of this was designed somehow to facilitate the victory of Zionism.
So Abbas's distortions of subsequent history in the New York Times need surprise no one (though one wonders why the paper's editors, who probably have some inkling of what actually happened in the Middle East in 1947-1949, should publish such malicious nonsense).
First, Abbas tells us that in May 1948, as "a 13-year-old Palestinian boy," he was "forced" and "driven" out of his home in Safad by the Zionists. But on 6 July 2009 he told an interviewer on Falastina TV, in Arabic, that his family had actually fled Safad, fearing Jewish retribution for a massacre the Arabs had committed against the town's Jews two decades before.
The truth, of course, is that Safad's Arabs fled the town as it was mortared and then conquered by Haganah troops on 9-10 May 1948; there was no "expulsion" (a word Abbas later in the article uses to describe what happened to all the Palestinians displaced by the first Arab-Israeli war).
But this is a minor distortion compared to the outright lies that follow. These are embedded in the short, following text that describes the chain of events in 1947-1948:
In November 1947, the [UN] General Assembly made its recommendation [to partition Palestine into two states, one Jewish, the other Arab] and answered in the affirmative. [The meaning here is unclear: Did the Arabs respond to the resolution "in the affirmative", as perhaps Abbas is intimating? Did the General Assembly respond to its own recommendation "in the affirmative"?] Shortly thereafter, Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened. War and further expulsions ensued…Our Palestinian [Arab] state remained a promise unfulfilled.