For Palestinians, suffering -- and sympathy for suffering -- is a zero-sum game. Sympathy used up on the Holocaust means less for Palestinians in the territories. Even among Palestinian groups, while thousands suffer and die in Syria -- most heinously starved in the Yarmouk refugee camp -- Israelis joined relief efforts while Abu Mazen and Ismail Haniya have said hardly a word, lest it detract from the sympathy needed to support Fatah and Hamas.
What accounts for Abu Mazen's denunciation of the Holocaust as "the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era"? First, it was designed to keep the sympathies of Secretary Kerry. It worked; although Abbas has done everything he could think of to scuttle the "peace talks," Kerry still sees hope -- and money -- in the pipeline. Second, it was to continue to appropriate Jewish history and Jewish suffering for the purpose of increasing sympathy for the Palestinians.
If the Palestinians aren't lucky enough to have an enemy engaged in genocide (and they aren't), they can at least make odious comparisons between Nazis and Jews on one hand, and Jews and Palestinians on the other.
Abbas is not, contrary to conventional wisdom, the only -- or even one of very few -- Arab leaders who have called the Holocaust what it is. And one of the things it is for Palestinians, is over. It is neither difficult nor forbidden for Palestinians to be sorry that people in some other time and some other space died, with two important provisos:
1. Jewish suffering in the Holocaust (then) must be made comparable to Palestinian suffering in the territories (now). Jews were victims of the Nazis and now the Palestinians are victims of the Jews. It is forbidden to study the Holocaust with an eye toward understanding the Jewish people. Last week, 27 Palestinian students paying a respectful visit to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in the company of a Palestinian professor caused a ruckus at home. The visit was called "treasonous" by Palestinians and denounced by its sponsoring university for fear that students would discover sympathy for Jews.
But the students were well-trained before they got there. While they admitted they found sympathy for the victims of the Holocaust, the comparison to Palestinian life today was high on their minds -- and on the pain-scale, Jewish suffering has nothing on Palestinian suffering. “It was confusing, because you can’t understand in three or four days that much pain -- millions … killed in the gas [chambers],” said one female student. "They saw echoes of their own suffering.' 'At the same time, as a Palestinian, I started to compare it or connect it to the conflict here. It’s a mixed feeling,' says Hani Smirat, a student at Al Quds. 'I need to feel as a human that what happened with Jews is not acceptable, and the other feeling that I face the same situation. So it’s a conflict between my story and the other story.'”
Too bad the stories are not, in fact, comparable.
2. The second acceptable context for the Palestinians to discuss the Holocaust is to point out that the Holocaust was a European phenomenon. The Palestinians believe the establishment of the State of Israel was intended to make the Palestinians pay the price for European anti-Semitism. Yes, they say with their "moderate" hat on, perhaps the Jews did need to be resettled in 1945-50, but why in Palestine? Why did the Europeans have to gather up the survivors in a place where they had no history?
President Obama helped perpetuate the myth of no Jewish history in Israel prior to the Holocaust with his 2009 Cairo speech, tying the Jewish presence in the Middle East specifically to WWII -- not to 1,900 years of exile from their homeland, the last century and a half of which were spent physically and politically building a real country in the place from which their ancestors came.
With a deliberate decision not to understand the role of the Jewish Kingdoms and Jewish history in that place -- and more recently a decision to destroy the elements of Jewish patrimony found beneath the Temple Mount and elsewhere, Abbas makes his people victims once again of colonialist Europeans and colonialist Jews.
3. The first two points -- that sympathy is finite and the Palestinians need their share; and that Israel is an artificial creation to allow the Europeans to do penance for their cruelty, and have chosen Palestinians as the vehicle, make the third obvious. Abbas may have received kudos in the United States for his position, but if its possible, his standing fell even further among Palestinians.
On dozens of Arabic-language web sites, the overwhelming opinion of Abbas' comments were negative, with many saying that Abbas had either been brainwashed, or had become a “turncoat” who is “enslaved by the lies being spread by the Zionists.” according to Arutz Sheva in Israel. Other comments from Arutz Sheva include:
Before you recognize the Holocaust Hitler perpetrated against the Jews, demand that Israel recognize the Holocaust it commits against the Palestinians, demand that they acknowledge the mass murder they committed in Sabra and Shatilla. (The killings at Sabra and Shatilla were perpetrated by Christian militiamen.)
The Jews have succeeded in brainwashing the whole world, they control America and Europe, with their lies. The Jews are worse than the Nazis.
Several writers accused the Jews of “inventing the Holocaust” in order to blackmail the West into supporting Israel.
The Israelis, on the receiving end of both Holocaust denial and finely parsed comments on the possibility of its occurrence, seem to have retained their skepticism after this latest Abbas speech. Their skepticism seems to stem from his long history as a Holocaust denier and a prevaricator. His Ph.D. dissertation, "The Other Side: the Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism,” available in book stores on the West Bank and never repudiated by its author, seems to be the last word in Israel.