In Ramallah during a meeting with Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of the New York-based Foundation for Ethnic Understanding, last week, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas referred to the Holocaust as “the single greatest tragedy in modern-day history.”
In response to a request from Schneier, Abbas even agreed to issue a public declaration in commemoration of Holocaust Remembrance Day. In a statement published on Sunday by WAFA, the official Palestinian news agency, the PA president was expected to announce that “what happened to the Jews in the Holocaust was the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era.”
Abbas’s announcement, while welcome, was surprising considering that his own doctoral dissertation, “The Connection between the Nazis and the Leaders of the Zionist Movement 1933-1945,” written at the People’s Friendship University of Russia and accepted in 1982 by the Institute of Oriental Sciences of the Soviet Academy of Sciences in Moscow, engages in Holocaust denial.
In 1984, Abbas published an Arabic-language book derived from his thesis titled The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Nazism and Zionism. In it he repudiated what he called “the Zionist fantasy, the fantastic lie that six million Jews were killed.” Instead, Abbas claimed only some 890,000 Jews were killed by the Nazis and that these were chiefly the victims of a Zionist-Nazi plot. Abbas quotes from Holocaust deniers such as Robert Faurisson, who has claimed that gas chambers in Nazi concentration camps were not used to kill Jews but only to disinfect them to prevent the spread of disease.
Abbas may have changed his mind in the ensuing 30 years, but until recently, he continued to disseminate such distortions. In January 2013, in an interview with Lebanon- based Al-Meyadeen TV, he reiterated his claim that Zionism and Nazism were complicit prior to World War II.
As Abbas was preparing his surprising statement on the Holocaust for Rabbi Schneier, the PA president was orchestrating another surprise: the reconciliation agreement between the PLO and Hamas, a terrorist organization that supports suicide bombings against Jewish Israelis, aspires to make the land situated between the Jordan and the Mediterranean judenrein.
Indeed, alongside the PA’s rejection of terrorism and its acceptance in principle of a two-state solution – two concessions viewed by Hamas as dreadful betrayals of the Palestinian cause – PA officials and institutions share with the Hamas the tendency to disseminate rabidly anti-Jewish tropes.
As documented by Palestinian Media Watch, just last month – while peace negotiations were being conducted between Israel and the Palestinians – the official PA daily Al-Hayat al-Jadida published a caricature inspired by The Protocols of the Elders of Zion depicting a midget Israel dominating Russia and the US who in turn have the Islamic “resistance” and moderate Muslim states in their respective pockets.
Needless to say, the reconciliation deal between Hamas and the PLO contained no clauses stipulating that Hamas had to 1) commit to recognize Israel; 2) renounce terrorism; or to 3) respect previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements – the three demands of the Middle East Quartet – the US, the UN, the EU and Russia – before allowing Hamas to participate in the peace process.
It would be nice to believe that the Palestinian shift we are observing is the gradual moderation of the Hamas, presently under tremendous economic and political pressure as a result of its break with Iran and its ongoing confrontation with the military junta that rules Egypt.
Unfortunately, it is more likely – considering Abbas’s intellectual background and the virulently anti-Jewish currents within Palestinian society – that what we are witnessing – if indeed this hastily arranged reconciliation agreement holds – is a radicalization of Palestinian politics.
We hope that this apparent radicalization doesn’t result in a deterioration in the region into violence and bloodshed.
But whether the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation leads to diplomatic pressure via the UN and the International Criminal Court or to a popular uprising in the West Bank, Israel must remain vigilant and steadfast in its defense of the country, both diplomatically and militarily.