To understand the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict, look no further than two recent sets of events.
First, there were the comments of two Palestinian Authority (PA) leaders.
In a speech broadcast to supporters in Gaza, PA President Mahmoud Abbas invoked the names of the “martyred’ in the pantheon of Palestinian history.
Among those mentioned were convicted terrorists with the blood of innocent victims, including Israeli children, on their hands. But most troubling of all was his reference to Haj Amin al-Husseini.
He was the mufti of Jerusalem during World War II, who became notorious for his collaboration with Adolf Hitler. History records the meetings they held, the photos they took, and the plots they hatched. Indeed, al-Husseini helped recruit Muslims for the infamous Nazi Waffen-SS.
If the goal was to widen still further the gap with Israel, Abbas could not have cited a more despicable figure than al-Husseini.
Moreover, in the same speech, Abbas spoke again of the Palestinian “right of return.’ This is a non-starter, as every reasonable observer of the conflict understands. It would flood Israel with millions of Palestinians and end the Jewish state. Apropos, Palestinian “refugees’ are defined differently than all other refugee populations in the world. The designation not only applies to the original refugees from the 1948 war – triggered by an Arab invasion against Israel – but also, astonishingly, to all their descendants in perpetuity.
To add insult to injury, the PA’s Minister of Religious Affairs, Mahmoud Al-Habbash, recently repeated another Palestinian claim – that the Jewish people have no historical link to Jerusalem. The late Yasser Arafat said the very same thing, to the consternation of U.S. President Bill Clinton, during the 2000-1 Camp David talks. At that time, the Palestinians could have achieved an historic two-state accord but, as documented by the American leader, Arafat was unwilling to do so.
Jerusalem and the Jewish people have been intimately connected – metaphysically, spiritually, and geographically – for literally thousands of years. To deny this link is to ignore history, undermine trust, and insult intelligence.
Peace is made between the parties to a conflict committed to a settlement. Four consecutive Israeli governments have publicly supported a two-state deal. The PA, unlike the terrorist group Hamas, is meant to be the partner in that process.
But how can it be if its leaders laud the legacy of Nazi collaborators, insist on solutions that would destroy Israel, and pretend no Jewish connection to their ancestral land?
Then there were the comments of Mohamed Morsi in 2010, only now brought to light. In a speech and a television interview, the Muslim Brotherhood leader, who became Egypt’s president in 2012, railed against Israel, Zionism, and Jews.
As reported by The New York Times, Morsi declared “We must never forget, brothers, to nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred for them: for Zionists, for Jews.’ Egyptian children, he said, “must feed on hatred; hatred must continue.’ “These bloodsuckers,’ he went on, “who attack the Palestinians, these warmongers, the descendants of apes and pigs… They have been fanning the flames of civil strife wherever they were throughout their history. They are hostile by nature.’
This is not the first vile anti-Semitic tirade from an Arab leader, though Western media have paid far too little attention to this unadulterated hostility. But coming from an individual who today is the leader of the Arab world’s most populous country, and who is charged with maintaining the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, it carries special weight.
Since these comments were first reported, Egyptian spokesmen have claimed the quotes were taken out of context, but were they? Looking at the entirety of both the speech and the television interview does not change their thrust one iota.
We have also been told the Arab world employs hyperbole, so the literal meaning should not be taken too seriously. But what Morsi said is what the Muslim Brotherhood, his long-time political base, has preached for decades.
Some Egyptians claim that Jewish leaders say the same insulting things about Arabs, but if there are such people, they do not occupy the presidency of a country or remain for a single moment unchallenged.
And finally, the flimsy assertion has been floated that anti-Semitism is, in fact, alien to Egyptian society. If so, why has virtually every Jew from Egypt left the country, part of the mass exodus of Jewish refugees from the Arab world?
Arab-Israeli peace is a vital goal, but it demands a climate conducive to the building of trust. Inflammatory, insulting language and bigoted beliefs, tragically, take the region in precisely the opposite direction. And countries like Spain, which wish to have a voice in the Middle East peace process, would do well to remind Presidents Morsi, Abbas and other Arab leaders to remember this fact.
David Harris is the executive director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC). This article was originally published by El Pais.