Institute for Contemporary Affairs
Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation
- Mahmoud Abbas’ remarks about the “50 holocausts” carried out by Israel and the subsequent international criticism catalyzed Palestinians to support the Palestinian leader, echoing and intensifying his antisemitic messages.
- Abbas’ claims are part of the distorted and antisemitic Palestinian narrative according to which there was no history of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel compared to the ancient indigenous Palestinian people with historical roots in Palestine, so the solution to the Jewish problem should not be in this land.
- This narrative also states that the Palestinians are the only victims of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, suffering the expulsion, the refugees, and the various Israeli measures against them. As long as Palestinians have not achieved their goals and eliminated the injustice done to them, they must engrave in the world consciousness their suffering and perpetuate it, as Abbas did at the press conference in Germany.
- Despite Abbas’ relentless promotion of this narrative that encourages the struggle against Israel, Israel’s defense establishment and government are fully committed to the arguments that justify the dialogue with the PA and its strengthening. Their primary consideration is to prevent an outbreak of violence in the near future, and they believe, based on questionable arguments, that strengthening the PA contributes to this while ignoring the medium and long-term repercussions.
- The best way for Israel to deal with the dilemma is to recognize that the status quo is the least of the evils and must be lived with. A gradual improvement in the situation may be achieved by directly encouraging the many Palestinians who do not promote the problematic narrative and are not involved in terrorism through measures that will improve their quality of life and do not harm Israel’s ability to prevent security risks to the extent possible.
The uproar caused by Mahmoud Abbas’ remarks about the “50 holocausts” he claimed Israel had carried out against the Palestinians since 1947 catalyzed Palestinians, with all their factions, spokespersons, and media, to support the Palestinian leader, echoing and intensifying his antisemitic messages. The Palestinians claim that the attack against the PA chairman’s allegation is an attack against the Palestinian narrative, which has faced many challenges in recent years. The mobilization to defend the narrative has once again exposed Abbas’ “seven pillars” of Palestinian misinformation (mostly unfounded and partly antisemitic) of which it is composed.
- First, there is no Jewish people, and therefore it has no right to its own state.
- Second, there was no history of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel compared to the ancient indigenous Palestinian people with historical roots in the land of Palestine, so the solution to the Jewish problem should not be in this land; moreover, the Ashkenazi Jews are not descendants of the Jews who lived in the Land of Israel in the past, but descendants of the Khazars.
- Third, the Jews, in general, and the Zionists, in particular, are intolerable creatures, which caused Europeans to try to get rid of them. The cruelty and condescension that characterize Zionist policy toward the Palestinians, including the perpetration of 50 holocausts and the establishment of an apartheid regime, are a clear and undeniable expression of this.
Fourth, and here is the focus of the current discussion, the Palestinians are the only victims of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, suffering the expulsion, the refugees, and the various Israeli measures against them. As long as Palestinians have not achieved their goals and eliminated the injustice done to them – for example, by the return of the refugees – they must engrave in the world consciousness their suffering and perpetuate it, as Mahmoud Abbas did at the press conference in Germany.
The Palestinian media intensively and daily portrays Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in Judea and Samaria, Gaza, the prisons, refugee camps, and even of Israeli Arabs as cruel and inhumane. As victims of Israel and the West, Palestinians have the right to act in any way to advance their goals, including terrorism, and their victimizers have no right to criticize them (and therefore, there is no room for an apology for the massacre of Israeli athletes at the Munich Olympics). The distortion of history, for example, by trimming the scope of the Holocaust, concealing Palestinian support for the Nazis led by Haj Amin al-Husseini, misrepresenting the ties between the Zionist movement and the Nazis, as Mahmoud Abbas did in his doctoral dissertation, and presenting Israel’s policy toward the Palestinians as a holocaust no less serious and perhaps even more severe than what the Nazis did against the Jews, are familiar elements of this concept. It is obligatory for every Palestinian to adopt it.
The attack on Mahmoud Abbas threatens this right and the Palestinian ability to portray their suffering as one that justifies their actions and requires international and Arab mobilization for their cause, hence the Palestinian outrage, which for a moment raised Abbas’ prestige at home. Moreover, the attack on Abbas reflects, in the Palestinian perception, an Israeli plot to characterize the suffering of the Jews during the Holocaust not only as more severe than that of the Palestinians but as relevant to the conflict because it justifies the establishment of a Jewish nation-state in the Land of Israel/Palestine, and thus must be fought to the fullest.
- Fifth, in light of all this, the Palestinians are committed to a multifaceted struggle against Zionism until it is resolved. As Abbas wrote in his book Zionism: From Its Beginning to Its End, there is no doubt that the Palestinian struggle, together with the activity of anti-Zionist Jewish elements, will lead to the end of Zionism and will enable the Palestinians to live peacefully in “their country” again. This struggle can be expressed in political and economic activity, adherence to the land, a “civil jihad” to strengthen the standard of living of the Palestinians (as defined by Israeli MK Mansour Abbas), and of course, a violent struggle. This struggle combines, according to cost-effectiveness considerations, a popular uprising (which Mahmoud Abbas called to adhere to in his remarks in Berlin as well), i.e., violence without the use of firearms and explosives, which Abbas has long preferred, and the occasional use of firearms favored by the more radical organizations such as Hamas and Islamic Jihad, as we experienced in early August 2022, and more recently also by Fatah and unorganized elements.
- As far as the Palestinian Authority is concerned, all forms of struggle are legitimate. Therefore, Abbas stresses that he will continue to pay the salaries of all the terrorists imprisoned in Israel and all the families of terrorists who died in their terrorist attacks, despite foreign attempts to persuade him to end this policy. This is despite the high cost of this commitment (more than NIS 1.3 billion, which is about 7 percent of the PA’s budget) and a possible loss of revenue if the United States and Israel implement the punitive measures enacted against the PA for this terrible practice.
- Sixth, the Palestinian struggle is national and Islamic simultaneously, and these two components are intertwined. Therefore, the violation of the sanctity of Islam attributed to Israel, with an emphasis on the Al-Aqsa compound, is also an expression of the dangerous nature of Zionism. The ability to portray the struggle as representing the national component, that is, the Arab nation to which the Palestinian people belong, suffered a severe blow because of the Abraham Accords. Still, the Palestinians refuse to accept the implications of this development.
- And seventh, at this stage, recognizing the inability to reach the final goal of defeating Zionism, an arrangement based on an independent Palestinian state along the 1967 lines, with east Jerusalem as its capital, and an Israeli acceptance of the principle of the refugees’ right of return, should be sought as an interim solution. Under no circumstances can Palestinians accept Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people and thus surrender the final goal of liberating all of Palestine within the framework of the “theory of stages.” Therefore, the current Palestinian goal is the two-state solution and not two states for two peoples, one of which is the Jewish people (which, remember, does not exist).
To this end, Mahmoud Abbas promotes academic and political initiatives to derail the Zionist narrative and instill the Palestinian narrative, inter alia, through the idea of unilateral international recognition of the State of Palestine as a full member of the UN. He works to inculcate the narrative among Palestinian youth; hence his refusal to change the Palestinian textbooks that teach this account with many elements of incitement. In fact, much of the Palestinian Authority’s activity is dedicated to promoting this narrative.
Why Support Abbas, Then?
In light of this, the question arises as to why it is so essential for Israel to strengthen Mahmoud Abbas and the PA he heads. This question becomes even more acute in light of the fear that Israel is strengthening a leader and a body who are not only hostile to Israel and committed to the struggle against the Jewish state but also suffer from great weakness at home, so there is no guarantee that Israeli assistance will benefit them. It is also likely that the Palestinian body will manage, perhaps even better, even without Israeli aid, which presents them as collaborators with someone they define as an enemy. As evidence, when the PA, on its own initiative, stopped receiving tax payments from Israel and ended its security coordination with Israel in 2020, its functioning was not impaired at all.
Israel has several reasons and excuses for this policy. These are presented and perceived as a deplorable necessity or an expression of sober realpolitik (Mahmoud Abbas is not Mother Teresa, but since the conflict cannot be resolved, Israel is working to reduce it, in the words of Defense Minister Benny Gantz).
- First, Israel operates on the basis of a (baseless) assumption that the PA is liable to collapse at any moment if it is not strengthened and that the alternative to the current situation may be worse. While this is not necessarily the case, and there may be less bad alternatives (for example, the strengthening of pragmatic and/or regional elements in Palestinian society), the likelihood of chaos or the rise of Hamas, which may require an Israeli takeover of part of the territory after the Abbas era, is perceived as significant and justifies mobilizing on behalf of the PA and its leader even now.
- Second, and following the same line, Israel sees the PA as a tool that exempts it from the need to manage the lives of the Palestinian population in Judea and Samaria, which is perceived as a heavy and undesirable civilian, economic, and security burden. As far as the security establishment is concerned, the PA is actually an effective arm of the Israeli Civil Administration, which takes care of education, health, and other governmental and economic services for the Palestinian population. The better the PA can play this role, the more it will serve Israel’s needs.
- Third, coordination with the PA’s security apparatuses contributes to Israel’s security. The Israeli security establishment generally exaggerates the value of security coordination since the PA does not act against the terrorist elements operating in its territory. Nevertheless, security coordination ensures that the PA’s security apparatus does not interfere with Israel’s counterterrorism activities and detentions within the PA, returns Israelis in distress in PA territory, and acts against opposition elements that threaten the PA itself, thereby restraining Hamas. In an editorial last week, the editor-in-chief of the PA’s organ Al-Hayat Al-Jadeedah said that the security coordination was intended solely to help maintain order and security in the PA territories and was not directed against terrorist elements (the “Resistance,” as he put it). That, he said, was in contrast to Hamas, whose security coordination with Israel during Operation Breaking Dawn was directed against the “Resistance” (i.e., Islamic Jihad).
- Fourth, Israel operates on the assumption that improving the quality of life of Palestinians reduces their inclination to encourage and carry out terrorism, although this assumption has no basis. The Palestinians indeed strive to improve their quality of life, but terrorism does not stem from feelings of economic distress but from a commitment to the narrative described above. The Palestinian Authority continues to promote this narrative whether it receives support from Israel or not, and the unrest among young Palestinians leading to their involvement in terrorism also continues despite all measures aimed at improving the quality of life of the Palestinian population.
- And fifth, the international system, headed by the United States, Egypt, Jordan, and to some extent Israel’s partners in the Abraham Accords, expects Israel to act in this pattern and strengthen the PA in order to justify their readiness to push the Palestinian issue to the margins of the international and Arab agendas, to prevent the strengthening of Hamas, to promote an improvement in the quality of life of the Palestinians, and to build an infrastructure for the future implementation of the two-state solution as they perceive it. That means establishing a Palestinian state based on the 1967 territories, with its capital in east Jerusalem. (Gantz’s statements to a Saudi newspaper may indicate that he espouses elements of this concept.) All this may be joined by electoral considerations in Israel and a lack of sufficient familiarity with the Palestinian narrative, which is sometimes the result of the willful blindness of some of Israel’s leaders.
Added to this in recent years is a mirage that has been blown out of proportion to justify Israel assisting the PA and separating from the Palestinians at almost any cost. This is the false threat of a single binational state that will force Israel to give up one of the components of its identity since it will not be able to remain Jewish and democratic simultaneously. Even if many speakers repeat this claim, it will remain baseless. The Palestinian Authority is not about to dismantle itself of its own accord, and the Palestinians continue to see it as the most important achievement of their national struggle, even if they are highly critical of its rampant corruption, detest the trampling of the human rights of its own citizens, and have feelings of anger toward its leadership. It is also the Palestinians’ largest employer. Israel will never agree to establish a binational state, abolishing its identity as a Jewish and democratic state. In practice, for some time now, the Palestinian Authority and the Gazan entity led by Hamas have been the political and administrative entities responsible for managing the lives of Palestinians, except in areas that directly affect Israel’s security.
This reality will not change whether or not Mahmoud Abbas is strengthened, and even if the PA collapses due to a Palestinian civil war after he leaves office, the common aspiration of almost all the Palestinian elements will be to reestablish it.
Israel faces a difficult dilemma. The more the commitment of the PA and its leader to the hostile and antisemitic narrative is exposed, the more difficult it is for Israel to justify the willingness to engage in a cordial dialogue with him and his senior advisors, as is the custom of the defense minister and prime minister. At the same time, Israel’s defense establishment and government are fully committed to the arguments that justify the dialogue with the PA and its strengthening. Their primary consideration is to prevent an outbreak of violence in the near future, and they believe that strengthening the PA contributes to this.
From the Palestinian perspective, it is difficult for Mahmoud Abbas to fulfill the role that he believes Israel sees for him as acting head of the Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria. As far as he is concerned, the PA’s mission is to promote the Palestinian narrative, or as he presents it to foreign audiences, to advance in the political sphere, and not only in the civil-economic-security domains, on which Israel and even the United States focus, because at this stage they are interested in securing quiet and reducing the conflict by improving the quality of life of the Palestinians, in a way which will be attributed mainly to the PA.
As a result of its perceived support for Mahmoud Abbas, Israel is portrayed as compromising its dignity and long-term interests. The international system, like Israel, refrains from any step that makes it clear to Abbas that there is a price for adhering to his absurd and antisemitic narrative. Something almost changed following the Israeli law to deduct the amount the PA pays the Palestinian terrorists imprisoned in Israel from the tax revenues transferred to it, but still, the government quickly compensated Abbas and provided him with a large loan. Even now, the rage will subside, and the Israeli government will not take any action. Therefore, a frustrated Abbas will continue his efforts to promote his problematic narrative while fostering the perception that Israel is a criminal state. This is liable to cause serious political, image, and security damage in the medium and long term, and encourage terrorism in the short term.
Perhaps the best way to deal with the dilemma is to recognize that the status quo is the least of the evils and must be lived with. A gradual improvement in the situation may be achieved by directly encouraging the many Palestinians who do not promote the problematic narrative and are not involved in terrorism through measures that will improve their quality of life and do not harm Israel’s ability to prevent security risks to the extent possible. Such a policy would not present these steps as a gesture to the Palestinian Authority, which is committed to the obnoxious multifaceted narrative. The PA does not like it (notice its rage over the new policy allowing Palestinians to travel abroad from Israel’s Ramon Airport), which proves the effectiveness of these steps. This should be done while simultaneously promoting and expanding the Abraham Accords to show the Palestinians that the interests of the pragmatic Arab states entail freeing them from the grip of this narrative and, moreover, offering a path for the Palestinians to follow and improve their lot.