Abbas' departure should be decided by Palestinians, not the New York Times

Abbas' departure should be decided by Palestinians, not the New York Times
Comment: Palestinians may have many reasons for a change in leadership, but a proud people won't allow a foreign power to dictate a suitable time, writes Daoud Kuttab.
6 min read
11 May, 2018
Abbas insisted that Palestinians were not in favour of 'uprooting' Jews from Israel [AFP]
The two-hour speech that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gave at the opening session of the Palestine National Council meeting in Ramallah on 30 April included a review of the status of Palestinians, and Israel's refusal to give up its lust for Palestinian land.

Abbas also made an attempt at reviewing the history of the region and the crimes committed against Jews in Europe which led to their emigration to Palestine and attempts to usurp Palestinian land and forcefully establish what they called a national homeland for the Jewish people.

But the Palestinian president's cherry-picking of historical narratives and attempts to justify them by quoting Jewish authors doesn't match the historical context of the discriminatory and deadly European attitudes to Jews that are called anti-Semitism, and which eventually caused the mass killing of Jews and other minorities in Europe.

Abbas' incoherent conclusions aimed to refute the narrative that Jews came to Palestine out of a "longing for Zion".

By doing so, the Palestinian president ignored an overwhelming amount of evidence surrounding the suffering of Jews at the hands of Christian Europe. Nevertheless, accepting the facts around anti-Semitism and the Holocaust doesn't and shouldn't justify the illegal and inhumane Zionist and subsequent Israeli policies aimed at uprooting Palestinians.

While the media focused on Abbas' mistaken description of the history of Europe, no one remembered to quote his most important conclusion.

Mahmoud Abbas insisted that Palestinians today are not in favour of "uprooting" Jews and Israeli society. "We are for living with them on the basis of two states," Abbas told the delegates of the PLO's highest body.

Abbas' political career both in words and actions shows clearly that he is genuinely interested in peace based on a historic compromise. His acceptance that he would visit his own birthplace - Safad, now in Israel - rather than attempt to return to live there is evidence of his moderation and willingness to accept and live alongside Israel.

If the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians were restricted to rhetoric and historical narratives, it would be a slam dunk for Palestinians

What is important here is not the words and interpretations of people's motives, decades or centuries ago. Instead, we should focus on today's reality: 70 years have passed since the expulsion of Palestinians, and 50 years since Israel occupied the remaining areas of Palestine, in addition to the continued Israeli violations of international humanitarian law.  

After the heinous crimes of the Holocaust and the prolonged Nazi occupation of Europe, the international community vowed "never again", and drew up various agreements including the Fourth Geneva Convention which regulates what an occupying power can and can't do. 

The Geneva Convention totally bans settlement activities, collective punishment, theft of archeological treasures, the transfer of civilians to occupied areas, the transfer of prisoners to occupied lands, and many other acts that violate international humanitarian law.

Read more: It's time to talk about Israel's nuclear weapons

Despite the fact that Palestinians have a legal right to fight off the illegal Israeli occupation and its colonial settlement activities, Mahmoud Abbas has been opposed to any military resistance. Since becoming president he has practiced and preached the policy of banning any form of armed resistance - a position that has cost him politically and a possible reason why his Fatah movement was routed from Gaza.

Palestinians want a leader with vision and integrity - but neither The New York Times, nor the occupant of the White House has the right to dictate to a proud Palestinian people who their leader should be, or when the time might be right for them to leave the political scene.

If The New York Times editorial board really wanted the peace they think new leadership would have a chance at reaching, they should focus their attentions on Tel Aviv and Washington.

Israel has blatantly rejected UN and Security Council resolutions, the latest of which was passed in Obama's last days in office, declaring Israeli settlements to be illegal and calling on Israel to stop them.

Israel has blatantly rejected UN and Security Council resolutions

And instead of adhering to international law, the Trump administration has conveniently renamed the status of the Palestinian territories by removing the term "occupied" from his speeches without giving an explanation or providing a legal precedent for this takeover of land in violation of international law.

If the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians were restricted to rhetoric and historical narratives, it would be a slam dunk for Palestinians, whose land was taken based on the myth that Palestine was "a land without a people for a people without a land".

The New York Times, as well as European, American and UN leaders who had a problem with Abbas' historical narrative have little credibility unless they are willing to tackle all parties' narratives. To name a few here is a list of what Israelis have said about Palestinians:

·        Prime Minister Golda Meir - "Who are the Palestinians?"

·        Chief of state Rafael Eitan: "When we have settled the land, all the Arabs will be able to do about it will be to scurry around like drugged cockroaches in a bottle."

·        Israel's minister of education says "I've killed lots of Arabs in my life - and there's no problem with that."

·         Israel's Minister of Justice on her Facebook page: "[Palestinians] are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads; now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses."

·         Minister of Culture proudly proclaims she is "happy to be a fascist".

The New York Times editorial board said that Palestinians need "a leader with energy, integrity and vision, one who might have a better chance of achieving Palestinian independence and enabling both peoples to live in peace".

No leader has been pushing for peace and presenting a moderate posture more than Mahmoud Abbas. If the US and its paper of record think that the next leader will be more moderate, they are entirely mistaken.

For a major newspaper such as The New York Times to call for the departure of a duly elected Palestinian leader is shameful and downright worrisome.

Palestinians may have many reasons for a change in their leadership, but a proud people will not allow a foreign power to dictate to them.

The US has, in the past, mistakenly followed advice from Netanyahu on trying regime change in Iraq, and is about to follow him again on calling for regime change in Iran.

The call by The New York Times editorial board following Israel's anger at Abbas' comments, and refusal to accept Abbas' apology is no different than George W Bush's disastrous mission in Iraq.

Daoud Kuttab is an award-winning Palestinian journalist and former Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. 

Follow him on Twitter: @daoudkuttab

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.