Will the real Moderate Palestinians Please Stand Up?

The Western media has been eager to proclaim that Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, and Saeb Erekat, the chief negotiator of the PLO, can be regarded as Palestinian moderates and believe in genuine peace with Israel. Indeed, Erekat did write recently that a two-state solution is the best for all concerned, though he added that the Israeli government does not admit it.

Yet, it is right to be wary of this characterization of moderation. Are there indeed Palestinian leaders whose position is more moderate than that of the acknowledged extremists? One must also ask the question about those Arab leaders who, according to mainstream media, may be pursuing policies of political moderation, given the revelations in recent days of the horrific extreme bigoted comments made by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi about Jews and Zionists, "bloodsuckers who attack Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs."

The stance of Hamas, and its leader Khaled Meshal, is clear to all except the majority bloc in the United Nations General Assembly which consistently proposes and votes for anti-Israeli resolutions. Not surprisingly, Meshal expressed delight when shells fired from the Gaza Strip reached Tel Aviv. He remains committed to violence as the way to victory and liberation. No one can misconstrue his words, "The West Bank is inseparable from Gaza, and they are both inseparable from Haifa, Jaffa, Beersheva, and Safed... Palestine, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, is our land, our right, and our homeland."

Does President Abbas agree with this view? In an interview on December 9, 2012 he spoke of the desirability of reconciliation of his Fatah group with Hamas, and the "unity of our people...when we are talking about a Palestinian state." The two Palestinian factions, Fatah and Hamas, are supposed to be seeking such reconciliation under Egyptian auspices. But it is difficult to envisage a compromise between the two groups and their positions if that of Fatah is considered a sincere one of moderation and of "peaceful popular resistance."

It is equally difficult to accept Fatah's behavior as responsible when President Abbas sought by taking unilateral action to have the United Nations agree to the existence of a Palestinian state. That action violated the legal commitments of the Oslo Accords of 1993-5 between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization according to which both sides would negotiate together the permanent status of the disputed areas.

An insuperable problem in any expectation of peace negotiations between Israel and Palestinians is the Palestinian resort, by both so-called moderates and extremists, to the big lie. In his speech to the United Nations General Assembly before the vote on November 29, 2012 on the resolution to upgrade the status of "Palestine" in the UN to become an observer non-member state, Abbas exemplified this. He said that the Palestinian people had "miraculously recovered from the ashes of al-Naqba of 1948, which was intended to uproot and erase their presence."

Obviously there are strong differences of opinion about the claims by Israel and the Palestinians to the disputed territories and on the issue of Israeli settlements. But these have nothing to do with the falsity of Abbas's statement. It is long overdue for Palestinian leaders, and indeed all commentators on the Arab-Israeli conflict in the media and in the academic world, to acknowledge the truth of the responsibility for the war of 1948-49 and its consequences, including the issue of a refugee problem, both Arabs and Jews.

It is time for Arabs, including Palestinians, to accept responsibility for their own fate and their actions or non-actions. Arab leaders refused time and time again to agree to a compromise partition of the disputed territories. At the ultimate moment they rejected the partition UNGA Resolution of November 29, 1947, a partition that the Jewish leadership in Palestine accepted and through which the State of Israel was created on May 14, 1948.
That new State was immediately invaded by regular armies of five Arab states, Iraq, Egypt, Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon. For Arabs the defeat of these armies is termed al Naqba (the Catastrophe), regarded by them as one of the greatest disasters in Arab history. The Arab aggression led to the collapse of any Palestinian community willing to live in peace. It was also counterproductive: the victory of Israel in the "War of Liberation" ended with it in control of about one-third more territory than that envisaged in the 1947 UNGA Resolution.

The statement of Abbas of Jewish intention to "uproot" Palestinians, and the consequent accusation of "ethnic cleansing" is the opposite of the truth. It was the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Azzem Pasha, who declared about the action of Arabs towards the Jewish community, "It will be a war of annihilation. It will be a momentous massacre in history that will be talked about like the massacres of the Mongols or the Crusades."
President Abbas does not talk of another massacre or of seeking to delegitimize the State of Israel. But in his UN speech of September 27, 2012 he continues to remind his listeners of the "catastrophe," that took place 64 years ago. He declared that "the brave Palestinian people will not allow themselves to be the victim of a new Naqba... There is no homeland for us except Palestine, and there is no land for us but Palestine." He spoke of "redress for the historic unprecedented injustice inflicted" on the Palestinians.

Is there no one to speak truth to power and inform Mr. Abbas that utterances of this kind do not betoken the path to peace?