In a long, rambling February 20, 2018, speech before the UN Security Council, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas fed fables to his audience — and continued to attack Israel’s legitimacy.
The speech marked the third time in two months that Abbas has publicly distorted history, and shifted blame for the lack of a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And once again, Abbas had a key ally: An uncritical press, seemingly determined to present the Palestinian leader in the best possible light.
In his opening remarks before the Security Council, Abbas claimed that Palestinians “are the descendants of the Canaanites that lived in Palestine 5,000 years ago.” Yet, as Pinhas Inbari, an analyst with the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (JCPA), has detailed, this claim—while frequently made by Palestinian leadership—is “baseless” and intended to “negate that of the Jews of Israel.”
As Inbari wrote in a JCPA research paper on the subject:
“When one looks into what the Palestinians say about themselves, how each family describes its lineage, there is no trace of a ‘Canaanite’ ancestry. Most of the families find their origins in Arab tribes, some of them with Kurdish or Egyptian background. … There is no direct or indirect evidence of the Palestinians having descended from the Canaanite people as they claim.”
According to professor Raphael Israeli, a Hebrew University Middle East scholar, the Palestinian-Canaanite link asserted by Palestinian leaders is “absurd.” In reality, “the Palestinian don’t really have roots here. They know this very well, so they are trying to invent origins for themselves.”
And what is the purpose of these false assertions? To bolster claims that Palestinians have resided in “Palestine” before Jewish culture and history even existed.
It’s unsurprising then, that Abbas also denied the Jewish state’s legitimacy. The PA leader told the UN Security Council, “No one has held Israel accountable when it occupied our territories in 1948”—the year Israeli statehood was declared. Many Palestinian leaders, and PA-approved textbooks and media often refer to all of Israel as “occupied” — giving lie to the false claim that they only oppose an Israeli presence in areas such as the West Bank.
Abbas also assailed the British for their 1917 Balfour Declaration that, among other things, called for the “establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people” in what was then the Ottoman Empire.
This too shows that Abbas and the PA—both frequently feted as “peace partners” by press and policymakers alike—don’t accept the Jewish state’s right to exist. But accepting Israel’s legitimacy is a basic tenet of the Oslo Accords that created the PA.
Abbas even cited Oslo, stating that it “affirmed the imperative of reaching a solution of all the permanent status issues before 1999,” but “unfortunately, this has not become reality.” He omitted the fact that Olso calls for outstanding issues to be resolved in the type of bilateral negotiations that Abbas has steadfastly refused for nearly a decade.
Absurdly, for someone who has refused US and Israeli demands that he stop paying terrorists, Abbas—who is currently in the 13th year of a four-year term—asserted that Palestinian “national institutions are … based on the rule of law, accountability and transparency,” and are “committed to fostering a culture of peace” and the “rejection of violence.”
Abbas received applause at the end of his harangue. And then several news outlets got to work obfuscating and omitting much of what he said.
A 939-word report byForeign Policy‘s Colum Lynch omitted Abbas’ denial of Israeli history, his propagating conspiracy theories, and the PA President’s easily disprovable claim that his Authority fosters peace— not incitement.
Foreign Policy merely described Abbas’ tone as “defiant,” and said that peace talks have “stalled.” The article failed to tell readers that Abbas has repeatedly rejected peace talks, just as Palestinian leaders have refused US and Israeli offers for peace in exchange for statehood on several occasions—including 2000 at Camp David, 2001 at Taba and 2008 after the Annapolis Conference, among other instances.
The Washington Post was hardly better. In nearly 1,200 words, the paper’s February 21, 2018 report omitted Abbas’ lies, his historical distortions and his reference to Israel’s very existence constituting an “occupation.” Omitting the history of Palestinian rejectionism, the Post blandly said that, “Both Israel and the Palestinians routinely accuse one another of being the obstacle to successful negotiations.” Few reports have simultaneously said so much and so little.
Ditto for The New York Times. In a February 21, 2018 dispatch, the Times—whose new marketing campaign slogan is “The truth is more important now than ever”—repeated the mistakes of the Post, but reported on the presence of Jared Kushner at the speech. Meanwhile, the presence of Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian representative to the UN who has falsely accused Israelis of organ harvesting, went unmentioned by the paper.
The failure of major US news outlets to properly cover the PA president’s remarks mirrors other recent incidents. As the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) has detailed, Abbas accused Jews of “faking and counterfeiting history” in a December 13, 2017, speech and claimed that Jews have drugged Palestinian children in a filmed January 14, 2018, diatribe. Both incidents were widely underreported.
For a media that purports to be obsessed with fact checking and the truth, the coverage of Abbas’ UN speech was a master class in one-sided omissions and skewed stenography. Abbas said more, readers deserve more and journalism demands more.