U.S. President Donald Trump with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the Presidential Palace, Bethlehem, May 2017. (photo by the White House)
Mahmoud Abbas has had enough. Thirteen years into his four-year term as elected leader of the Palestinian people, he has nothing of substance to show for his efforts and his friends are abandoning him.
On Sunday, his frustration was on full display during a two-and-a-half-hour speech.
Things have been building up lately for Abbas and his Fatah faction and, at a meeting of the Palestinian Central Council, he finally let loose.
Naturally, he focused on Israel, which he declared a European colonialist enterprise and denied Jewish connection to the land.
“Israel is a colonialist project that has nothing to do with Jews,” Abbas said. “The Jews were used as a tool under the concept of the Promised Land – call it whatever you want. Everything has been made up.”
Abbas, who has a doctorate in history, has taken a creative approach the discipline from the start, when his dissertation discounted the number of Jews murdered by the Nazis and contended that European Jews were collaborators in their own genocide in order to advance the cause of Zionism.
Of course, Abbas also railed against the U.S. president for his announced intention to move the American embassy to Jerusalem. Abbas accused Donald Trump of destroying the prospects for peace.
“Yekhreb Beitak,” Abbas said in the general direction of Trump. According to the Associated Press, the curse literally translates as “may your house be demolished.”
“In colloquial Palestinian Arabic,” AP explained, “the phrase can have different connotations, from a harsh to a casual insult, but its use in a widely watched speech seemed jarring – and could exacerbate his already fragile relationship with an American president who is particularly averse to criticism.”
If the U.S. president is a notorious hothead, that’s exactly how Abbas appeared Sunday, but certainly not without reason.
What must hurt more than anything is that Abbas now sees those who have been the Palestinians’ historic allies softening their resolve. As a New York Times investigation earlier this month indicated, while Arab leaders from Egypt to Saudi Arabia were making appropriate noises in public about Trump’s Jerusalem gambit, behind the scenes they are giving every indication that they won’t expend political energy on the matter.
The irony is clear – and for Abbas and his allies it must be especially painful.
The welfare of Palestinians has never been a genuine priority for the Arab world, even as they have propelled the Palestinian cause to the top of the global agenda, paralyzing the United Nations in the process. For Arab leaders, Palestinians have always been little more than a battering ram with which to land blow after blow against the Zionist entity. Palestinian life under Israeli occupation and autocratic leaders is filled with small and large indignities.
Now that geopolitics suggests Israel is not so much the regional threat that Iran poses, the Palestinians, once a useful weapon for the Arabs in their 70-year confrontation with Israel, are being cast aside.
Abbas’s obvious frustration Sunday suggests there may finally be a change afoot to the status quo that has been unsatisfactory for Israelis and even more so for Palestinians. What the future looks like for the Palestinians – and for their relations with Israel – remains unclear.
Note: The headline of this editorial has been changed. In the Jan. 19 newspaper, the piece ran as “Abbas rightly irked,” which misled some readers to think that we agreed with Mahmoud Abbas’s remarks. We in no way condone his abandonment of historical fact, his inhumane accusation that Jews were complicit in the Holocaust or the many other false and immoral statements in his two-and-a-half-hour diatribe.