Abbas the “Relative Moderate”

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas — moderate, or relative moderate? Mark Twain famously observed that “the difference between the right word and the almost right word. is like the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

As with literature, so too with journalism. A rarely-used, but in the case of PA President Mahmoud Abbas absolutely necessary, right word leaped from the Washington Post‘s March 15, 2008 page one article “Palestinian Forces’ Training Marred by Delays, Politics.”

Post correspondents Ellen Knickmeyer and Glenn Kessler reported on a U.S.-backed training program in Jordan for “about 600 members of the Palestinian Authority’s Fatah-dominated National Security Forces” and “about 425 members of the elite presidential guard, which answers to Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas …” Knickmeyer and Kessler noted that the forces “are under the Palestinian Authority, run by Hamas’ relatively moderate rival, Fatah, which favors negotiations with Israel.” [emphasis added]

Since succeeding the late Yasser Arafat early in 2005 as PA president, as well as leader of Fatah, the largest of the many terrorists factions that constitute the Palestine Liberation Organization, Abbas almost invariably has been described as a “moderate.” Never mind that the Fatah charter, like that of Hamas, envisions the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state; that Arafat and a few colleagues founded Fatah in 1959 to “liberate” Israel, not the West Bank (then occupied by Jordan) or the Gaza Strip (then held by Egypt); or that Abbas served as Arafat’s right-hand man for more than three decades. Compared to the Islamic fanatics of Hamas, Fatah – and Abbas with it – are relatively moderate, relatively secular. They recognize that Israel exists as a partner to talks while denying its legitimacy as a Jewish state, and do talk with Israel about Israeli concessions, although the Fatah-headed PA has not fulfilled any of its own major Oslo process or “road map” related commitments, such as ending anti-Israeli incitement or eradicating Palestinian terrorism.

But being relatively moderate when Hamas is the alternative hardly makes Fatah or Abbas moderate in fact. Recently:

* Briefing the editorial staff of the Jordanian daily Al-Dustour:

Abbas stressed that he is opposed to the so-called “Jewish state,” saying, “We already rejected such a proposal [that Israel is the Jewish state, implying that Arab refugees would ‘return’ instead to a future West Bank and Gaza Strip “Palestine”] at the Annapolis summit, last November in the U.S.  

According to Al-Dustour’s summary of Abbas’ briefing:

The summit almost broke up over this issue. We were asked at the time [to agree] that the summit’s concluding statement should refer to the Jewish state – but we categorically objected to this ….

* Abbas also told the Jordanian paper that

we [Fatah] had the honor of leading the resistance. We introduced everyone, including Hezbollah, as to what the resistance means. They were educated in our camps …. At this time, I object to the armed struggle, since we are unable to conduct it; however, in future stages things may change ….

This position contradicts Arafat’s September, 1993 note to then Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that the Palestinian side agreed to end anti-Israel violence and settle all outstanding issues through negotiation. Without that promise, the Oslo “peace process” would not have commenced. Nevertheless, by holding out the possibility of resuming “armed struggle” or “resistance” – terrorism – Abbas implies continued Fatah/PA adherence to the PLO’s 1974 plan for the destruction of Israel in stages, alternating or combining diplomacy and violence for incremental gains leading eventually to total victory.

* After George Habash, founder of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, died in late January, Abbas ordered three days of mourning. National Review magazine commented in its February 25 edition that Habash “will be remembered for masterminding a series of highjackings, the murder of 47 travelers in the bombing of a Swissair flight, and the murder of 27 people at an Israeli airport. He utterly rejected Israel’s right to exist and denounced all efforts at reaching a two-state solution.” Habash also tried repeatedly to overthrow Jordan’s King Hussein and helped provoke “Black September,” 1970, in which Jordanian troops killed thousands of Palestinian Arabs and drove out the PLO. Abbas’ order suggested “that the hateful spirit of Habash’s life outlives the man.”

* Speaking to the Organization of the Islamic Conference (representing 56 countries with Muslim majorities or large minorities) in Senegal, Abbas charged that “our people in Jerusalem are under an ethnic cleansing campaign.” Palestinian Arabs “are facing a campaign of annihilation” by Israel. The weapons of this “ethnic cleansing,” Abbas declared, according to a March 14 Associated Press report, included “tax hikes and construction prohibitions.”

In reality, since Israel reunified the city in 1967, the Arab portion of the population has grown in both absolute and percentage terms, from 27 to 32 percent. Justus Reid Weiner, a human rights lawyer, scholar at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, and authority on Arab and Jewish building in Jerusalem, has pointed out that the city

has authorized more than 36,000 permits for new housing units in the Arab sector, more than enough to meet the needs of Arab residents through legal construction until 2020 ….

Both Arabs and Jews typically wait four to six weeks for permit approval, enjoy a similar rate of application approvals, and pay an identical fee for water and sewage hook-ups on the same size living unit. The same procedures for administrative demolition orders apply to both Jews and Arabs in all parts of the city, as a final backstop to remove structures built illegally on roadbeds or land designated for schools, clinics, and the like. The PA and Arab governments have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in an intentional campaign to subsidize and encourage massive illegal construction in the Arab sector, seeing this as part of their ‘demographic war’ against Israel (Construction in Jerusalem: Myths and Facts).

* After Israel killed Mohammed Shehadeh, a Bethlehem-area leader of Palestinian Islamic Jihad and three other terrorists on March 12, and Shehadeh’s body was buried wrapped in an Hezbollah flag, Associated Press reported on Abbas’ presidential office issued a statement condemning Israel’s “ugly crime.” It declared that “the Palestinian Authority holds the government of Israel responsible for all the consequences resulting from these brutal crimes against our people.”

* About the brutal crim e of the terrorist murder of eight students at the Mercaz HaRav yeshiva in Jerusalem, the official daily of Abbas’ PA, Al Hayat Al Jadida, described the murderer, Ala’a Abu-Dahem, as a martyr and “groom.” His funeral was a “wedding celebration.” This terminology, Palestinian Media Watch noted in a March 17 Bulletin, “is the expression commonly used in PA society, and PA schoolbooks as well, to describe the death of shahids – martyrs for Allah”. The paper then reported  the “shocking news” for the “thousands who were waiting” that the Israeli Army decided to force a pre-dawn burial to prevent community celebrations of the murders and the murderer. It bemoans the fact that “the groom was buried in the [early] morning with a celebration and without a wedding procession.”

* Official PA television, on February 14, glorified Hezbollah terrorist Imad Mughniyeh, assassinated two days earlier in Damascus, as “an extraordinary hero … a beacon of light.” The Iranian-linked Mughniyeh was implicated in, among other crimes, the bombing of the U.S. embassy, U.S. Marine and French military barracks in Lebanon in 1983, killing more than 300 people; the 1985 TWA airliner hijacking and torture killing of U.S. Navy SEAL Robert Stethem; the kidnapping, torture and murders of CIA Beirut station chief William Buckley and U.N. peace keeper U.S. Marine Col. Richard Higgins; and the bombings of the Israeli embassy and AMIA Jewish community headquarters in Buenos Aires in 1992 and 1994, respectively, which killed more than 110 people. He also reportedly helped lead Hezbollah’s armed units and worked with Iran’s Islamic Republican Guards. According to commentary by Fatah leader Ahmad Dahfur, former undersecretary of the Ministry of Culture, Mughniyeh’s death was “a tragedy that has hurt every Lebanese, every Palestinian, every Arab, and every free man on the face of this earth.”

* Over the years Abbas repeatedly has reaffirmed the Palestinian claim of a “right of return” to Israel — hence his refusal to accept it as a Jewish state.

As CAMERA suggested when Abbas succeeded Arafat, he is not a moderate but a pragmatist, strategically ready to accommodate circumstance and pursue extremist ends by tactically moderate means. Compared to Hamas, that does make him, and Fatah, “relative moderates.” The right word versus the almost right word, providing the necessary illumination.

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