Lion's Den: Trust the Palestinian Authority?

Israelis, Americans and others too often accept the dulcet tones they hear directly from the PA and dismiss reports of harsh words they only learn about second-hand.

PA President Mahmoud Abbas (photo credit: AP)
PA President Mahmoud Abbas
(photo credit: AP)
Under Yasser Arafat, the Palestine Liberation Organization notoriously said one thing to Arab/Muslim audiences and the opposite to Israeli/Western ones, speaking venomously to the former and in dulcet tones to the latter. What about Arafat’s mild-mannered successor, Mahmoud Abbas? Did he break from this pattern of duplicity or continue it? This question has renewed relevance because reports suggest Abbas is ready to offer Israel various territorial compromises, plus he took unprecedented steps in granting an interview to Israeli journalists and meeting with American Jewish leaders at the S. Daniel Abraham Center for Middle East Peace.
With unprecedented specificity, the Arabic daily Al-Hayat indicates, Abbas informed the Obama administration about his willingness to reach a deal on the West Bank and even Jerusalem (although the PA immediately denied these terms).
In the interview, Abbas presented himself as genuinely intent on reaching a peace agreement and accepting the idea of international troops. An aide to Abbas characterized this effort as his “trying to reach out to the Israeli public...
we want an Israeli partner for the end game, a partner that chose peace, not settlement, peace, not occupation.” Abbas himself warned Israelis, “Don’t let me lose hope.”
Finally, a transcript of the Abraham Center meeting reveals Abbas telling his audience precisely what it wanted to hear: that he condemns violence, recognizes historic Jewish connections to the land Israel controls, accepts Israeli security concerns and promises to remove incitement from Palestinian Authority media and school materials. On the delicate issue of the Holocaust – a subject on which Abbas himself wrote a PhD “dissertation” in the USSR in which he accused Zionists of inflating the number of murdered Jews for political purposes – Abbas acknowledged that Jews had suffered and he rejected Holocaust denial.
WHAT TO make of all this? Abbas claimed that he talked to the American Jewish leaders “in the same language” that he uses to speak to the Palestinian street.
In fact, PA media churned out statements intended for the Palestinian “street” that, to put it mildly, contradicted the sweet words directed at Israelis and Americans. As news of Abbas reaching out to the other side came out, so too did reports from Palestinian Media Watch of precisely the opposite messages being conveyed to Palestinians.
For example, Palestinian Authority TV, which is directly controlled by Mahmoud Abbas’s office, offers a weekly game show, The Stars, in which representatives of Palestinian universities compete to answer questions. In a recent show, two geography questions (simplified here) implicitly denied the existence of the State of Israel.
• How long is the coastline of “Palestine”? The answer, 235 kilometers, adds Gaza’s coast (45 km.) to that of Israel’s Mediterranean coast (about 190 km.).
• How large is Palestine? The answer of 27,000 square kilometers includes the West Bank and Gaza Strip (6,000 sq. km.) with that of Israel (21,000 sq. km.).
In a parallel example of duplicity, Salam Fayyad, who calls himself the prime minister of the Palestinian Authority, announced in English in Aspen, Colorado, a year ago that Jews are welcome to live in a future state of Palestine where they “will enjoy [full] rights and certainly will not enjoy any less rights than Israeli Arabs enjoy now in the State of Israel.”
Lovely words, indeed. Just days earlier, however, Saeb Erekat, head of the PA’s negotiations department, said just the opposite in Arabic (as made available by MEMRI): “Nobody should agree to Israeli settlers remaining in the Palestinian [state]... Some say that we will [be willing to] grant the settlers citizenship. We reject [this idea] out of hand.”
Abbas and Fayyad spoke in English to Americans and Israelis, Erekat spoke in Arabic to Palestinians. Both statements cannot be true; one must be a lie. Which one, I wonder? Palestinians play this transparent and simple-minded double game because it works. Israelis, Americans and others too often accept the dulcet tones they hear directly and dismiss reports of harsh words they only learn about second-hand. The PA will blithely continue to spew its lies until the world heeds and rejects, for rewarding bad behavior invariably brings on more bad behavior.
When will we stop deluding ourselves that Abbas and the PA seek anything less than the total elimination of the Jewish state? What disaster must occur before we open our eyes to reality? The writer ( is director of the Middle East Forum and Taube distinguished visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University.