In a Huffington Post Op-Ed (1/18/2014), James Zogby, founder of the Arab-American Institute, deplores what he calls “myths that are impediments to peace,” promoted by supporters of Israel. But the examples he offers illustrate that it is Zogby instead who is captive to a mythology of Palestinian innocence.
Zogby sets up his argument by relating a conversation he had with a pro-Israel acquaintance whose views he found “both distorted and unshakable.” He expresses his frustration at his acquaintance’s “mind numbing” and “ahistorical” distortions.
What were these distortions? According to Zogby,
He was convinced, for example, that “Arafat turned down the best offer ever and turned to violence;” that “Palestinians would never accept to live at peace with Israel;” and that “President Abbas was incapable of selling any peace agreement to his people.”
So what are the implications of “moderate” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ repeated declarations that the Palestinians will never accept Israel as a Jewish state? Abbas’ statements come on top of his reaffirmation of the Palestinian commitment to “armed struggle” at the Sixth General Congress of Fatah in 2009. Taken together, it sure sounds like a political movement that has yet to come to terms with living in peace with Israel.
As far as Abbas’s capability of selling a peace agreement, even The New York Times, a dependable detractor of the current Israeli government, has finally noticed that the Palestinian Authority’s frequent inflammatory rhetoric against Israel. A Times editorial on Dec. 24, 2013 describes Palestinian violence that always accompanies any attempt to restart peace negotiations. The editorial quotes Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon as stating that “the Palestinian attackers had been “influenced by the atmosphere of incitement and hatred against Israel that dominates the Palestinian Authority.” A Jan. 7, 2014 article by Jodi Rudoren describes how Adolf Hitler is quoted on a Facebook page connected to Palestinan Authority schools. Organizations like MEMRI and Palestinian Media Watch have for years provided evidence of Palestinian officials, religious leaders and children’s television hosts depicting the Jews as bandits who stole Palestinian land and urging Palestinian youth to honor and emulate suicide bombers and terrorists.
Zogby has nothing to say about Palestinian incitement against Israel, but instead focuses on the “myth” of former Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat’s rejection of a peace deal. In his telling of events, the offer made by former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak at Camp David in 2000 “was never clear — he wouldn’t commit it to writing.” Furthermore, it was “Barak who suspended the Taba talks because of looming elections.” According to Zogby “Arafat didn’t reject a ‘deal;’ negotiations were aborted before they could conclude with a ‘deal.'”
Well, who are you going to believe, President Bill Clinton, the senior U.S. negotiators, the Israeli officials, all of whom were present at the negotiations and place the blame on Arafat, or James Zogby, who wasn’t there?
In an interview with Fox news on April 21, 2002, Dennis Ross, a senior U.S. negotiator at the talks, described the process that continued into early 2001. According to Ross, the basic principles of an agreement were laid out at Camp David in 2000, but
Arafat could not accept any of that. In fact, during the 15 days there, he never himself raised a single idea. His negotiators did, to be fair to them, but he didn’t. The only new idea he raised at Camp David was that the temple didn’t exist in Jerusalem, it existed in Nablus.
Even after the Second Intifada broke out, negotiations continued. Ross described the plan offered by Clinton:
The ideas were presented on December 23 by the president, and they basically said the following: On borders, there would be about a 5 percent annexation in the West Bank for the Israelis and a 2 percent swap. So there would be a net 97 percent of the territory that would go to the Palestinians.
On Jerusalem, the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem would become the capitol of the Palestinian state.
On the issue of refugees, there would be a right of return for the refugees to their own state, not to Israel, but there would also be a fund of $30 billion internationally that would be put together for either compensation or to cover repatriation, resettlement, rehabilitation costs.
What was Arafat’s response? According to Ross, “Every single one of the ideas that was asked of him he rejected.” Ross concluded that “For him [Arafat] to end the conflict is to end himself.”
The only person Zogby cites to support his assertion is Robert Malley, also a member of the Clinton team, although not as central to the negotiations as Ross. But Zogby omits important information about Malley. Malley was not a neutral observer. He is a former advisor to Yasir Arafat and has a family pedigree of fervent anti-Zionism.
Zogby’s revisionist history doesn’t stop there. Blaming Israel for the o
utbreak of Palestinian violence in September 2000, he asserts:
Arafat did not start the violence in response to Camp David. The spark that ignited the second Intifada was Sharon’s provocative demonstration at Jerusalem’s Haram ash-Sharif. After Palestinian demonstrators were killed by Israeli guards, the Palestinian street erupted, quite spontaneously, owing largely to pent up frustrations with the hardships of the occupation and failure of the peace process to deliver much hoped-for change.
Here Zogby’s account contradicts statements made by Palestinian officials.
Palestinian Authority Communications Minister Imad Faluji stated that the new intifada had been in the planning for months:
Whoever thinks that the intifada broke out because of the despised Sharon’s visit to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, is wrong, even if this visit was the straw that broke the back of the Palestinian people. This intifada was planned in advance, ever since President Arafat’s return from the Camp David negotiations, where he turned the table upside down on President Clinton… (MEMRI, Special Dispatch No. 194 – PA, March 9, 2001)
Leading Palestinian activist Marwan Barghouti told an interviewer that “the explosion would have happened anyway… But Sharon provided a good excuse. (New Yorker, January 29, 2001). Barghouti reinforced this point half a year later:
The intifada did not start because of Sharon’s visit to Al-Aqsa, although that was the last straw. The intifada began because of the desire to put an end to the occupation and because the Palestinians did not approve of the peace process in its previous form. (Jerusalem Times, June 8, 2001)
So intent is Zogby on portraying Israel as the obstacle to peace that he can’t abide established facts that refute his account. He is disturbed by what he calls a “racist” and unfair portrayal of Palestinians as “by their nature, angry, violent and not to be trusted.”
Zogby would like to portray the Palestinian cause as a non-violent one, akin to the civil rights movement. But that requires ignoring a century of Palestinian terrorism, culminating in a horrific suicide bombing campaign that followed, not preceded, the signing of the Oslo peace accords in 1993, and the election of the hardline Islamist group, Hamas, in 2006 which is bent on eradicating the Jewish presence on the land. These are not myths; they are the hard facts of history.
Undeterred, Zogby concludes, what is needed is acknowledgement of “Palestinian rights.”
But Israel officially supports the establishment of a Palestinian Arab state in the West Bank and Gaza. So what are these “rights” that Zogby claims have not been acknowledged? Do these “rights” refer to accepting Palestinian refusal to recognize Israel as a Jewish state? Or do they refer to accomodating the demand that the several million descendants of Arab refugees from 1948 be allowed to flood into the State of Israel and overwhelm it? We don’t know for sure because Zogby doesn’t say.
Zogby is so wedded to the Palestinian narrative of grievance and victimization that he cannot present a factually accurate historical account. He accuses Israel’s supporters of clinging to myths. But it is Zogby who can’t let go of his cherished myth of Palestinian innocence and Israeli culpability.