BERLIN – Sitting in this city, where the echoes of the Holocaust are everywhere,
Palestinian Authority envoy Salah Abdel Shafi told a group of Israeli
journalists last week that in his mind “the Holocaust is the biggest crime in
“This was a human tragedy that hit humanity,” said Abdel
Shafi, who has headed the PA mission in Germany for the past two
“Jews were a major victim, though not the only ones,” he said,
mentioning the Nazi’s murder of homosexuals and gypsies as well. “I think we
should look at it as a human tragedy.”
Abdel Shafi’s comments about the
Holocaust are unusual for a PA official, especially in light of a doctoral
thesis written by PA President Mahmoud Abbas at a Russian university in the
1980s in which he described the Holocaust as a “Zionist fantasy, the fantastic
lie that six million Jews were killed.”
Abdel Shafi said that Abbas had
since clarified to American Jewish organizations that he did not deny the
Holocaust, but that the “discussion” in his thesis was rather about
“We don’t deny the Holocaust,” Abdel Shafi said.
Abdel Shafi noted that he had visited the concentration camps at Sachsenhausen
and Buchenwald, and that his colleague in Poland had visited
“I advise my staff to visit concentration camps,” he said. “It
is important to draw the right conclusions and view it as a human
Asked what he viewed as the “right conclusions,” Abdel Shafi
said that “everything should be done to ensure that such a thing should not be
But, he added, “nobody should have a monopoly on suffering.
Every nation feels their suffering is the worst, but suffering cannot be
Abdel Shafi said the problem with Israel was that it was a
strong state “but still feels like a victim.” He drew parallels with post-9/11
US under George W. Bush, saying – in an apparent allusion to the decision to
invade Iraq – “in the name of victimhood, you can do anything.”
Shafi said he was willing to attend Holocaust memorials in Berlin but had never
Regarding the diplomatic process, Abdel Shafi said a
meeting between Vice Premier and Kadima head Shaul Mofaz and Abbas was in the
offing although he did not give any date. He said contacts between Jerusalem and
Ramallah had been taking place over the past few months, even in the absence of
The Gaza-born envoy was skeptical of any real
diplomatic progress at the moment, however, saying this was unlikely with
Americans going to the polls in November and the Europeans preoccupied with the
debt crisis. What is happening now, he said, was merely an effort to maintain
the status quo and keep the situation from spiraling into violence.
said unilateral Palestinian steps in international organizations “are not behind
us,” and that future moves would depend “on the outcome of the current
He added that while the PA application for UN admission was
still before the Security Council, it realized it did not currently have the
necessary votes. The discussion taking place now inside the PA was whether to go
the General Assembly, he said.
Asked if he thought a “third intifada”
would erupt, Abdel Shafi said it “was difficult to say,” adding that for the
Palestinians expansion of the settlements was an “existential” issue because the
settlements took up space the Palestinians wanted for their state.
cannot rely on the status quo,” he said.
Turning to the question of
Palestinian incitement, Abdel Shafi said the Palestinians had recommended the
reconvening of the Oslo-era trilateral committee – the US, Israel and PA – to
monitor the issue, but that Israel had refused. Concurrently, the PA was
compiling a monthly digest of what it considered Israeli incitement, including
statements by ministers claiming a Jewish right to all of Jerusalem.
related development, Volker Perthes, head of an influential Berlin-based think
tank called the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, said in
a meeting with the Israeli journalists that Israel should downplay the Holocaust
when talking with Germany about bilateral relations because younger Germans feel
much less of a sense of historical responsibility toward Israel.
German public, he said, was much more critical of Israel than the governing
elite, partly because of a “residual anti-Semitism” in the
“People and societies don’t like to be reminded of guilt or do
certain things because their grandparents sinned,” he said.
added, would be wise to stress common interests in the bilateral relationship
and downplay the historical perspectives because “people don’t like to hear it.”