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.
In fact, what actually happened was this: The Arab states and the Palestinian national leadership, headed by Haj Amin al-Husseini, opposed the partition of Palestine, claiming all of Palestine for the Arabs. When the General Assembly voted in favor of partition, on 29 November 1947, the Palestinian leadership rejected the resolution and the Palestinian militias launched hostilities to abort the emergence of a Jewish state. They were aided by money, arms and volunteers from the Arab states. In the course of this first, civil-war half of the 1948 War (roughly from 30 November 1947 until 14 May 1948) the Palestinian militias attacked Jewish traffic and settlements for four months. But eventually the Jewish militias, chiefly the Haganah, went over to the offensive (in early April) and routed the Palestinians, and some 300,000 were displaced from their homes and lands. On 15 May 1948, the day after the Zionist leaders declared the establishment of the State of Israel, the armies of Egypt, Syria, and Iraq invaded Palestine, in defiance of the will of the international community, as embodied in the partition resolution, and attacked the Jewish state. The army of Jordan, the fourth invading army, occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the core of the territory earmarked in the partition resolution for Palestinian Arab statehood. (The Palestinians failed to declare statehood, and Jordan did not allow the Palestinians to establish a state and subsequently formally annexed the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Egypt emerged from the war in control of the Gaza Strip.) During the weeks and months after 15 May, the Israeli army contained the invading armies and eventually drove them out of most of Palestine. Another 400,000 Palestinians were displaced from their homes in the course of the fighting: Some were expelled by Jewish troops (for example, from Lydda and Ramle in July 1948), some were advised to leave or ordered out by Arab leaders and officers (for example, from Haifa in April 1948 and Majdal in October). But most of the 700,000 simply fled out of fear of being caught up and harmed in the fighting. In summer 1948 the Israeli government decided not to allow the displaced Arabs—most of whom ended up in refugee camps in other parts of Palestine, i.e., the West Bank and Gaza—to return to the area of the State of Israel, deeming them inimical (they had just assailed the Jewish community and tried to destroy the Jewish state) and a potential Fifth Column.
Abbas's twisted history deliberately omits mention of the first half of the 1948 War, the civil war half, in order to portray the Palestinians as innocent victims. In fact, they were primary agents in the events that followed 29 November 1947, and in launching their assault on the Jewish community provoked and generated the Zionist counter-attack that resulted in the collapse of Palestinian society and the creation of the refugee problem. In history, peoples often pay for their aggression and mistakes, and this is what happened in Palestine.
Abbas and his authority have now launched a campaign for international recognition of Palestinian Arab statehood, which he promises will be formally declared in September. This, he tells us, will "pave the way for us to pursue claims against Israel at the United Nations, human rights treaty bodies and the International Court of Justice."
What Abbas does not tell his readers is that the Palestinians, as in 1947, were offered statehood in a two-state compromise settlement in 2000 and rejected it (and he, Arafat's aide, did not object); and that he, Abbas, was again offered a state, a two-state settlement, by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert in 2008, and he (again) rejected it. The compromises offered by Barak-Clinton and Olmert were based on a Palestinian state consisting of some 94% of the West Bank, 100% of the Gaza Strip and the (Arab) eastern half of Jerusalem, including half or three-quarters of the Old City. In return, the Palestinians were expected to recognize Israel, give up their demand for a mass refugee return and agree definitively to an "end of claims" and an "end of conflict."