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July 29, 2016 4:31 am

Mahmoud Abbas’ Desperate Gesture

avatar by Ben Cohen /

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PA President Mahmoud Abbas, addressing the EU in Brussels. Photo: Screenshot.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas, addressing the EU in Brussels. Photo: Screenshot. – It’s been a long time since I saw a gesture this desperate.

At the recent Arab Summit in Nouakchott, the capital of Mauritania, the Palestinian Authority (PA) foreign minister, Riyad al-Maliki, announced that his boss, PA President Mahmoud Abbas, had asked the Arab states prepare a legal case against Britain in retaliation for the Balfour Declaration of 1917. The Balfour Declaration, which took the form of a letter from British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour to the Zionist leader Lord Rothschild, confirmed Britain’s favorable view of a “national homeland” for the Jewish people in Palestine, which came under British control towards the end of World War I. For that reason, the PLO’s National Covenant dates the beginning of the “Zionist invasion” to 1917 — any Jews who arrived in the land after that date are considered to be illegal settlers.

These days, that’s basically every Jew in Israel.

Of course, Abbas has been able to get away with this kind of incitement many times in the past, so there was no reason for him to expect any moral condemnation from Western leaders. Had he stuck to denying the link between Jews and the city of Jerusalem, or named another public square after a terrorist, he would probably have been spared the ridicule which has greeted his tactical error of going after the British — and therefore going too far.

Similarly grandiose gestures by Abbas in the past, for example his failed to campaign for international recognition of a Palestinian state outside of negotiations, have also gone south, so it should be no surprise if his threat to sue the Brits comes to naught. Within a couple of days of Maliki’s Nouakchott announcement, British diplomats were reporting their Palestinian counterparts telling them that there was no substance behind it.

Yet given that Abbas has been fixated on gesture politics for several years now, substance may not be the point here. Rather, it’s to remind the world that the Palestinian question has not been resolved, and no matter what happens in the coming years — a Donald Trump presidency, thousands more refugees fleeing the atrocities in Syria, terrorist attacks in Europe on a weekly basis, Iran flouting the nuclear deal—the peace the world craves will not come without the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Abbas’s woes are compounded by the fact that among the Arabs themselves, never mind the rest of the world, the worthiness of the Palestinian cause is diminishing. The combined threats of Iranian ascendancy and Islamist barbarism have drawn Arab states from Egypt to Saudi Arabia further into Israel’s orbit. One senior Israeli army office even volunteered to a reporter for The Economist: “The Egyptians now are more anti-Hamas than even we are. They’re actually pressing too hard now on Gaza.”

Even if this remark is slightly overstated, the Arab drift away from the Palestinians is unmistakeable. Abbas’s PLO fears that Israel’s ultimate goal is formalize peace with the Arab states without creating a Palestinian one in the process. This view seems to be shared in the Palestinian street. A recent poll among Palestinians found 78 percent of them acknowledging that their cause is no longer the leading priority in the Arab world, with another 59 percent angrily accusing the Arab states of allying with Israel against Iran.

But much the regional balance tilts against the Palestinians, there is precious little internal reckoning going on. The implications that accompany the difficult truth that they could have achieved meaningful statehood in the last days of Bill Clinton’s presidential administration, were it not for the intransigence of the late Yasser Arafat, are still to be grasped. The West Bank and Gaza are still split between Fatah and Hamas, with both factions gaining in unpopularity. And yet rather than tearing up the old playbook, the Palestinians persist in advancing initiatives that question their own commitment to the two-state solution they insist the Israelis are wrecking.

Like the BDS campaign and the other campaigns ostensibly focused on securing justice for the Palestinians, Palestinian diplomacy has become just another vehicle for sullen grievance politics that bear little correspondence to the historical record. Anyone who examines British policy in Mandatory Palestine will find numerous episodes that undermined the Balfour Declaration’s intentions towards the Jews. Pressure from Arab leaders meant that in 1939, at just the time that the need for a Jewish “national homeland” had never been greater, Britain decided to limit Jewish immigration to 75,000 during the next five years, with any future immigration requiring explicit Arab consent. In the years immediately after the Holocaust, British soldiers imprisoned, beat, and deported thousands of Jews who had escaped from the killing fields and concentration camps of Europe.

When the British finally threw in the towel on their mandate, the Arab states faced the choice between diplomacy and war. They chose the latter, and the consequences are still with us today, feeding the notion — expressed here by Sir Vincent Fean, a former British consul-general in Jerusalem, in an interview with The Guardian — that Abbas’s threat to sue the British was “a cry of anger and despair rather than a statement of intent…the problem is that the two-state solution that he has advocated and argued for for so long is rapidly drifting away.”

But depicting the Balfour Declaration as a crime against the Palestinians suggests the opposite: that Abbas still cannot stomach the idea of legitimizing Zionism. As Maliki, his foreign minister, put it, the Balfour Declaration “gave people who don’t belong there something that wasn’t theirs.”

There we have it, a tired staple of Palestinian propaganda — denying Jewish indigeneity — recycled yet again. The conclusion that the Palestinian leadership prefers continued Israeli occupation over an independent state is becoming inescapable.

Ben Cohen, senior editor of & The Tower Magazine, writes a weekly column for on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. He is the author own“Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism” (Edition Critic, 2014).

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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  • ariely shein

    Palestinian sue Paro because he failed preventing Moses to lead the Jewish people out of Egypt slavery marching as free people to the promise land.

    Palestinian sue king David because he made Jerusalem the capital of the Jewish people

    Imagine a absurd theater presenting a show of the thief and a killer suing god of giving the world the 10 commands.
    Now replace the thief and the killer with the Palestinians.

  • ariely shein

    Palestinian sue Youssef Ziedan ( an Arab)
    “” There is actually no connection between Jerusalem and ancient Islam ”
    Said by Prof. Youssef Ziedan, a specialist in Arabic and Islamic studies on a series of interviews to Egyptian television stations
    Palestinian sue Professor Azmi Bishara ( an Arab) because he said:
    “” There Is No Palestinian Nation ”
    Palestinian sue Sheikh Hadi Palazzi, Head of the Muslim community in Italy who declared:
    ” While the reality of the Jewish people is a known fact, the idea of the Palestinian people is something that was created recently for political reasons.”

  • Great article !!

    The final line gives one much food for thought, and it reflects an ironic reality.

    The current Israeli government does not want a 2-state solution because it will entain giving up holy ground (which is the messianic ideology driving most of the right wing) and it would entail compromising Israel’s percieved security situation by relinquishing military control of the West Bank, enabling Hamas (or worse) to take over as happened in Gaza.
    Nor does Israeli want a 1-state solution because there is already a Muslim majority between the Jordan and the sea, so this would entail either a new Arab state instead of the Jewish one, or imposing minority Jewish rule on a muslim majority – which is the definition of apartheid, a policy that simply cannot survive politically.
    So for the current Israeli government, maintaining the current status quo is perceived as the best solution.
    And the Palestinians ?
    If Abu Maazen (Abbas) tried to give the Israelis their minimal requirements for a peace settlement, he would be murdered within minutes. He is a weak leader, who for 7 years has not dared to hyold elections because Hamas would beat Fatah. Abu Maazen and Fatah survive politically only because of the military cooperation with Israel, who would simply not enable Hamas to militarily take over the West Bank as is Gaza. For many years, Jordan survived only due to a tacit, unspoken alliance with Israel. (When the Syrian army amassed on Jordan’s northern border to invade Jordan, Israeli jets patrolling over the northern border were the deterrent that kept the syrians at bay). So Abu Maazen’s best solution today is – the status quo, too.
    The problem with this policy is that the reality is changing.
    The new lines of the conflict is between the extreme Jihadists and the moderates. So, a solution imposed on the Palestinians by fellow Muslims from Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia is probably the only realistic path to take. Whatr abbas cannot do, his fellow Musllims can impose on him.
    And perhaps it is time for Israel to wake up and allow Marwan Bargouti out of Israeli prison, to offer the Palestinians a truer, supported leadership to lead them through this process. (Our terrorist is their Freedom Fighter)

  • morty mooze

    The Islamic invasion of Israel some 1500 years ago was simply a demonstration of Islamic and Arab colonization of the Jewish homeland.The Arabs displaced some of the original Jewish population and occupied the land.
    The Jews having now returned are seeking to be reinstated in their original ancient home land.
    The Arab colonists should return to Arabia, their Arab homeland and Jews inhabit Juedia , Jewrusalem and all of Eretz Yisrael!

  • Ancient Roman historian connected Jews with the Land of Israel:

  • A Zionist

    I apologise, I omitted the link via Barry Shaw:

  • A Zionist

    Jonathan Turner and UK Lawyers for Israel:

    UK Lawyers for Israel’s response to Palestinian threats to sue the British government over the Balfour Declaration.

    There is no legal or any other merit in this claim. The Balfour declaration was not a legal document and did not have legal consequences; it was merely an expression of intent on the part of the British government.
    The key legal document was the Mandate for Palestine, which was unanimously adopted by the League of Nations, the predecessor of the United Nations. This provided expressly for a national home for the Jewish People in their historic homeland, to which many had already returned. At the same time the League of Nations also allocated far larger territories in the Middle East for future Arab states under other Mandates. Furthermore the Mandate for Palestine itself stated that its provisions relating the Jewish national home could be disapplied in the majority of its area east of the Jordan river, enabling that to be constituted as a separate state for Palestinian Arabs, now called Jordan.
    The rights of the Jewish people to their national home in the land of Israel recognised in the Mandate of the League of Nations are preserved by Article 80 of the UN Charter. Denial of those rights would be inconsistent with the UN Charter and international law.
    The Balfour declaration expressed an intention to preserve the civil and religious rights of Arab and other non-Jewish communities in Palestine. Israel has upheld this concept by according equal rights to its Arab citizens, who enjoy far more freedom and a better standard of living and quality of life than Arabs in other countries.

    Jonathan Turner, Q.C.
    UK Lawyers for Israel.