CAMERA Op-Ed: The Inconvenient Truth About Mahmoud Abbas and Palestinian Terrorism

Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority (PA), the entity that rules the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) has been appointed to lead a terrorist organization. Although the press has frequently called Abbas, who also leads the Fatah movement and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), a “moderate” and the PA a “peace partner,” not a single major U.S. news outlet has reported the PA chief’s new job.

According to Palestinian Media Watch (PMW), a non-profit organization that monitors Arab media in the West Bank, eastern Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, on Aug. 2, 2018 the official newspaper of the PA reported that Abbas was now “the one responsible for the Palestinian National Fund.”

Israel’s defense ministry designated the PNF a terrorist organization in March 2017, noting: “The fund has a crucial role in the financial support for Palestinian terrorist operatives imprisoned in Israel, and it is used as the most significant route for transferring money.”

Times of Israel reporters Judah Ari Gross and Eric Cortellessa have noted that although the PNF “is said to contain billions of dollars from wealthy Arab donors and profits from various investments,” nonetheless “there is little transparency or oversight in the management and use of funds.”

Abbas’s appointment should be newsworthy. As PMW pointed out, the PA president is now in violation of Israel’s Counter Terrorism Law 2016-5776, which stipulates that “one who heads a terrorist organization or manages it or takes part in directing the terror organization in general, directly or indirectly” faces “25 years imprisonment.” In other words, a nominal U.S. ally is now leading a terrorist organization.

Indeed, the PA is the recipient of considerable Western aid and support and has long been central to the U.S. policy of promoting a two-state solution. The United States even helped create the PA as part of the Oslo process in which Palestinian leadership renounced “the use of terrorism and other acts of violence,” promising a “new epoch of peaceful coexistence, free from violence and all other acts which endanger peace and stability.” Needless to say, this hardly squares with paying terrorists.

Yet, many in the press have described Abbas as “moderate”—despite his public refusals to end the terror slush fund.

Several recent reports by The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Foreign Policy magazine, among others, have highlighted recent U.S. aid cuts to Palestinian-related entities. In 2017, for example, The Washington Post alone ran more than a dozen stories relating to the peace process. This makes the failure of major U.S. news outlets to report on Abbas’s new posting all the more striking.

The fund itself—and the Authority’s policy of financially incentivizing terrorism—has been the subject of some media attention—much of it inaccurate, as the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) documented in a March 21, 2018 Washington Examiner Op-Ed. In one particularly egregious example, The Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” column even approvingly cited research about Palestinian prisoners that was provided by the Defense for Children International-Palestine (DCI-P), a group tied to the Democratic Front For the Liberation of Palestine, a U.S.-designated terror organization.

But facts are stubborn things.

According to a Jan. 9, 2018 report by Israel’s defense ministry, the PA paid terrorists and their families nearly $350 million dollars in 2017 — $160 million for jailed and released prisoners, and $190 million for their families. Payments increase with the length of the sentence and the number of people killed or injured in a terror attack.

Abbas could put an end to these payments. But the prospective peace partner has planted his feet firmly in the sand.

In underreported July 23, 2018 remarks in Ramallah, Abbas called imprisoned terrorists “pioneers” while conferring medals on their families. According to a translation provided by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), Abbas then exhorted: “We will neither reduce nor prevent [payment] of allowances to the families of martyrs, prisoners, and released prisoners, as some seek, and if we had only a single penny left, we would pay it to families of the martyrs and prisoners.” Not a single major Western newspaper noted Abbas’s remarks—although some, such as The Washington Post, have previously run stories on Chinese tourists purportedly being overcharged at an Israeli restaurant, among other frivolities.

Equally stubborn, then, are both the Palestinian leadership, which remains committed to paying terrorists, and the many major U.S. news outlets that are seemingly committed to ignoring or obfuscating facts inconvenient to their “blame Israel” narrative.

(Note: A slightly different version of this Op-Ed appeared in The Washington Jewish Week on Sept. 5, 2018)