Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Fatah wing of the Palestinian Authority, was forced last week to retract some controversial remarks and in the process only succeeded in thoroughly confusing much of the Israeli public.
That is to say, he confused those who have not internalized that an important part of Arab strategy against Israel is to consciously misalign what they say publicly with their actual positions. The reason the rest of us were not confused is because we simply remembered the old adage: “Pay attention to what Arab leaders say in Arabic to their own public, not what they say in English to the world” – thus helping us deduce, more or less, their true positions.
What happened last week was that Abbas actually stated, on Israeli television, that he has no interest in pre-1967 Israel: “I believe that the West Bank [of the Jordan River] and Gaza is Palestine, and the other part is Israel.” He even said that he has no desire to return to his hometown of Safed for more than a visit.
It requires no deep powers of analysis to derive that such remarks are a negation of the long-standing Arab demand for Right of Return [of refugees from 1948 to their old homes in Jaffa, Safed, and elsewhere in pre-’67 Israel].
Has the Messiah arrived?
Not yet. Upon hearing the angry responses from his own Palestinian public, Abbas quickly backtracked. “No one can give up on the Right of Return,” he told an Egyptian TV channel. “I was referring only to my own personal preference. All Arab and Islamic decisions call for an agreed-upon and just solution for the refugees.”
Thus Abbas is willing to tolerate the existence of an Israel next door – as long as it accepts an influx of up to five million Arabs.
While no one in Israel likes war, there are some for whom the need for anything that can be called “peace” is so overriding that their dreams thereof turn into hallucinations. Thus, President Shimon Peres jumped eagerly at Abbas’s original statement and said, “His courageous words prove that Israel has a real partner for peace. This is a brave and important public declaration in which he makes it clear that his aim for a state [does not include pre-’67 Israel].”
But is it? A top PA official was quoted as saying, “What’s the big deal? Even Yasir Arafat said the same thing [about accepting Israel] back in 1988.”
Let us analyze this. We know Arafat never actually meant to permanently recognize Israel. Shortly after signing the 1993 Oslo Accords, he told worshipers in a Johannesburg mosque, “I am not considering [Oslo] more [applicable] than the agreement…between our prophet Muhammad and Koraish.” The agreement with Koraish was to be in effect for ten years, but after only two years, when Muhammad grew strong enough, he abrogated the agreement by slaughtering the Koraish tribe and conquering Mecca.
This is the context, then, in which we must understand Abbas when he says he accepts Israel’s existence. The old “salami” approach is alive and well, by which the Arabs agree to accept just one slice at a time – first Gaza, then Judea and Samaria, then, God forbid, other parts of Israel – and thus inch ahead, little by little, toward their ultimate goal of eradicating Israel.
Therefore, when Abbas says Israel will be his neighbor, he means it sincerely – but only for now, until his PA state is stabilized and can continue the struggle against Israel to its next stage.
In any event, Hamas – the other half of the Palestinian Authority – did not at all like what Abbas said; his remarks sent thousands of Gaza Arabs onto the streets in protest, burning his picture and chanting anti-Abbas slogans. They apparently don’t have the same patience Abbas has, and want to see the end of Israel now.
Meanwhile, PA spokesman Abu Rudeina raised some eyebrows when he explained that Abbas merely “meant to influence Israeli public opinion.”
This enigmatic statement was explained by former Shabak head Avi Dichter, currently running for a Knesset seat on the Likud list. Dichter told Israel Radio that Abbas was trying to strengthen Israel’s dovish camp for the upcoming Israeli elections. “Abbas presented a false picture of his stance regarding the right of return simply in order to bring the topic to the fore of our current events,” according to Dichter.