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Skeptical Israeli "Arabist" on Mahmoud Abbas

Just to follow up on my glowing Rosh Hashana endorsement of Mahmoud Abbas, here’s something Ehud Ya’ari told me in March of last year. For those who don’t know, Ya’ari is without challenge the dean of Arab affairs journalists in Israel; he’s been reporting and commenting for the last 15 years or so on Channel 2, and before that for 20-odd years on Channel 1. He’s no Likudnik or fan of the settlements, but he’s extremely skeptical of Palestinian aspirations and quite the security hawk. I’d compare his views to those of Ehud Barak.

In March 2010, he came out with a plan to jumpstart the peace process. I interviewed him for the Jerusalem Post Magazine, and at one point asked him if anything had “surprised” him about the way the peace process had gone since the signing of the Oslo accord (a signing which he said gave him sleepless nights for two weeks). I phrased the question that way because Ehud Ya’ari never struck me as the sort of fellow who acknowledges being surprised by events in his field of expertise. This is how he answered:

Ya’ari says he’s favorably surprised by Arafat’s successor in the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, known as Abu Mazen. “He has more guts than I thought he had. He’s very gutsy in many ways. I’m much more impressed with him that I am with [PA Prime Minister Salam] Fayyad. I’m impressed with Fayyad too, but in different ways. That somebody like Abu Mazen can take such a consistent, public position against violence was a surprise to me. Not that I thought he was in favor of violence, he hasn’t been in favor of violence since Oslo, but that he would take such a public line and order his security chiefs so explicitly to prohibit violence – this is a surprise.”

Anybody who wants to write off Ehud Ya’ari as a radical leftist or babe in the woods is welcome to make a fool of himself. Ditto for anyone who keeps saying that Mahmoud Abbas is out to destroy us.

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    1. Historian

      When the PA, under Abbas, still ruled Gaza, there were many incidents of violence against Israel perpetrated by Fatah, not just Hamas or the other subgroups.

      After the PA lost Gaza, the only lifeline they had remaining with the protection the Israelis provided. The IDF and Israel’s security services were intent on ensuring that Hamas would not repeat its success in Gaza, and in this they became the partners of Fatah and the PA. This, more than anything, is what has driven this new unarmed – not non-violent – period in Israel-PLO relations.

      As a by-product of this, Abbas began to receive the accolades of media outlets all over the world, not to mention of diplomats all over the world. It must have dawned on him very quickly, that this was a great coup for him and opened many possibilities.

      In other words, you are confusing self-interest with a commitment to peace. It is not peaceful to go around the world denying Jewish history and recommending directly and indirectly “solutions” to the conflict that end up with the loss of Jewish self-determination. In fact, that is a form of violence.

      You’re welcome to think about this or label me a “fool.”

      Reply to Comment
    2. Bosko

      Like I said in the other blog, Abbas is much smarter than Arafat was. He knows that right now, he can achieve much more for his people with non violence than with violence. Would he be prepared to change that policy when it suits him? Under different circumstances when his bet would be that violence would benefit his people? I don’t know. Now one knows. But it would be a brave pundit who would discount the possibility.
      In any case, it is academic. We need to deal with the ‘here and now’, not with the ‘may or may not be’. Right now, kudos to Abbas for his non violence but brickbats to him for his stubbornness for not willing to compromise about the Right of Return and for his denial of Jewish connections to East Jerusalem.
      Overall, more brickbats than kudos because he is at least as responsible for the impasse as Bibi and IMHO much more so.

      Reply to Comment
    3. ARTH

      Ehud Yaari is the strongest pillar of the hawkish Israeli Arab Expert establishment and that means, if he says it, it must be more than true.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Bosko

      Yeah when they say what you want to hear, “the strongest pillar of the hawkish Israeli Arab Expert establishment” is/are the oracle/s of all wisdom.
      Personally, I reiterate: I don’t know, I reserve judgement, I haven’t got a crystal ball …

      Reply to Comment
    5. Henry Weinstein

      Well, when one chose such a sensational title, “Person of the Year 5771 – Mahmoud Abbas”, one shouldn’t be surprised to be not taken seriously by some readers.
      Frankly it was more a skit’s title than a political endorsement’s title.
      Perfect line for Jon Steward’ s US TV show.

      Reply to Comment
    6. OHR

      I find it terribly ironic that Israelis speak about themselves in terms of hawks and doves, but about Palestinians only as violent and non-violent, stupid and smart, respectively. If you knew anything about Palestinian political history then you would know that Abbas has always been a political dove. He has been calling for a two-state compomise and a negotiated settlement with Israel since the mid-1970s.

      On the other hand Israeli politicians of all stripes have employed the use of force (violence) when it met their needs; and both labor and likud were fervent sponsors of the settlement enterprise. What Israel has in Abbas is a Palestinian leader who wants to negotiate two-states with Israel and end the conflict. Israel would be smart to take advantage of Abbas’ leadership instead of squandering it, because he wont be around much longer. What Israel might soon get is a Palestinian leader that has the courage and endurance to stand up for his people’s legitimate rights by employing non-violence not for two states, but for equal rights in one state.

      When that day comes Israel will be wishing for the days when they had Abbas, who was in actuality the closest Israel ever had to a zionist for his insistence on pursuing the two state solution (and preserving the Israeli state) even when Israel was bent on destroying it by continuing to build its colonial matrix in the west bank.

      Lastly for Bosko. Abbas is not denying jewish connections to e. jerusalem but asserting Palestinian connections to it. Palestinians also have the right to jerusalem without needing an israeli permit or having to go through the humiliation of entering through the Qalandia checkpoint to get there. Both sides can preserve their connection to the land while conceding political sovereignty to it if they are given equal access, something that is negotiated between states. Palestinian refugees also have the right, enshrined in international law, to return to the places from which they were kicked out under cloud of war. No people would accept anything less. If israel wants to negotiate peace it must come to terms with this reality without dismissing it outright and come to an accommodation. When creative thinking is applied no problem is zero-sum. And no one more than Abbas has been willing to negotiate this with Israel.

      Reply to Comment
    7. Historian

      “He has been calling for a two-state compomise and a negotiated settlement with Israel since the mid-1970s. ”

      Yup, right after he concluded his doctoral thesis denying the Holocaust.

      Reply to Comment
    8. Deïr Yassin

      Mahmoud Abbas finished his doctoral thesis in 1982 ! I see that our “Historian” knows nothing neither about reading sources nor about chronology, important skills though in the study of history.
      Still wonder where our “academic” got that title …
      The central part of Abbas’ thesis is the relationship between the Nazis and the Zionist movement, particularly the Haavara Agreement.
      And I wonder: all those self-proclaimed specialists on Abbas’ doctoral thesis – only published in Russian and Arabic if my informations are correct – did they ever read it or did they stick to Wikipedia and MEMRI, ADL, Itamar Marcus and other Right-wing Zionist mouth pieces.
      It’s amazing the attention that this doctoral thesis has gotten. Fortunately, Bibi, Yvette, Michaeli, Edelstein etc just made it through secondary school so we don’t have to ‘deconstruct’ their negationnism !

      Reply to Comment
    9. Deïr Yassin

      A “Historian” who bases his anathema of ‘Holocaust denial” on two lines from The New York Times who quote Maariv in an interview with Abbas. Serious stuff… maybe you should change that pen name which we all know you’ve taken to give a certain, let’s say, ‘legitimacy’ to your extremist views.
      Revisionism, negationism or Holocaust denial is NOT the same thing.
      “The Palestinians, no such people exist” or “A land without a people for a people without land” are negationistic points of view not to talk about denying the Nakba. Wonder how many Israeli politicians pass the exam … and contrary to the Palestinians who had NO responsability in the Holocaust, the Israelis are highly responsible in what most – in various degrees – deny: the planned ethnic cleansing of Palestine to make a Jewish State. So Abbas’ thesis is a total non-starter !

      Reply to Comment
    10. Bosko

      OHR wrote …
      “He [Abbas] has been calling for a two-state compomise and a negotiated settlement with Israel since the mid-1970s”
      Yet what he actually asks for is one and a half Arab states. One in the West Bank, which he has said would be Jew free. And another one, Israel, which he expects to allow the “return” of millions of Palestinian Arabs.
      So much for Abbas’s pretend two state solution.

      Reply to Comment
    11. Bosko

      Deir Yassin says …
      ” and contrary to the Palestinians who had NO responsability in the Holocaust”
      But thy did have the responsibility for launching a war of annihilation against the the newly declared state of Israel which accommodated a lot of survivors of the holocaust. That’s a crime which is not all that much less than the holocaust itself. Only in this case their scheme backfired and suddenly they turned themselves into victims instead of accepting responsibility for THEIR war of aggression in which 1% of the Israeli population lost their lives. That would be the equivalent of 4 million Americans dying in a war of aggression against America. There would be hell to pay for the aggressor if that would happen to Americans. Ditto in any other part of the world. Yet everyone expects Israelis to just ignore their history and accommodate, accommodate and appease …

      Reply to Comment
    12. Historian

      Mahmoud Abbas:


      “According to a translation of the text provided by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, Abbas’s book repeatedly attempts to cast doubt on the fact that the Nazis slaughtered six million Jews. He writes: “Following the war, word was spread that six million Jews were amongst the victims and that a war of extermination was aimed primarily at the Jews … The truth is that no one can either confirm or deny this figure. In other words, it is possible that the number of Jewish victims reached six million, but at the same time it is possible that the figure is much smaller–below one million.” Abbas denies that the gas chambers were used to murder Jews, quoting a “scientific study” to that effect by French Holocaust-denier Robert Faurisson.

      Abbas then asserts: “The historian and author, Raoul Hilberg, thinks that the figure does not exceed 890,000.” This is, of course, utterly false. Professor Hilberg, a distinguished historian and author of the classic study ‘The Destruction of the European Jews’, has never said or written any such thing.

      Abbas believes the number six million is the product of a Zionist conspiracy: “It seems that the interest of the Zionist movement, however, is to inflate this figure so that their gains will be greater,” he writes. “This led them to emphasize this figure [six million] in order to gain the solidarity of international public opinion with Zionism. Many scholars have debated the figure of six million and reached stunning conclusions–fixing the number of Jewish victims at only a few hundred thousand.” Another falsehood. In fact, no serious scholar proposes such a figure.”

      Reply to Comment
    13. Deïr Yassin

      I wonder if our “Historian” has a spamming team with Bosko. He posted exactly the same comment on another thread.
      So my response, shortly:
      An article in “Forward”, particularly by Rafael Medoff – a man making a professional living on hunting real and particularly imaginary anti-semitism – quoting extracts from a Simon Wiesenthal Center translation – is not a serious source for a self-proclaimed historian, is it ? Our “Historian” has NOT read Abbas’ doctoral thesis – which by the way is only serving him as an excuse to dismiss the PA political line globally ! – but stick to second and third hand sources from non-academic mainstream media.
      I really think he should change that pen name in order not to make too much of a fool out of himself …

      Reply to Comment
    14. People who use Abbas’s doctoral thesis as a reason why he can’t be trusted are, I believe, arguing in bad faith. Sadat supported Hitler in WWII, never apologized for it, yet he was cheered by Israelis en route to Jlem and in the Knesset, and a couple of years later Begin, no less, hugged him and signed over the Sinai to him, settlements and all. Those who supported the peace treaty w/Egypt weren’t influenced by Sadat’s support of Hitler; likewise for those who opposed the treaty. The same exact thing goes for Israelis today on the “peace process” – to doves and hawks alike, Abbas’s doctoral thesis is irrelevant. It’s just a red herring used by Palestinian-bashers who wouldn’t care what Abbas had or hadn’t said about the Holocaust – they still wouldn’t trust him because, finally, he’s a Palestinian nationalist.

      Reply to Comment
    15. Sam

      Larry, this is a straw man argument. Abbas has been applauded enough for his public pronouncements against the use of violence — even though he points out that he rejects violence on pragmatic grounds, not moral grounds. What Abbas is rightly criticized for is his refusal to declare that Israel is the birthright of the Jewish people, his refusal to stop demanding the “right of return” and his utter powerlessness to bring order and security to anything beyond the immediate control of Israeli security forces. As nice as Abbas looks in a suit and tie, he hasn’t shown that he is able or willing to bring a true and lasting peace. Would that he was!

      Reply to Comment
    16. Sam, you’re sort of confirming what I said – people who distrust Abbas do so regardless of his doctoral thesis.

      Reply to Comment
    17. OHR


      Why sidestep the issue and revert back to Mahmoud Abbas’, who is 76 years old, college thesis? It would be much more prudent to consider his political legacy.

      Rabin, for his part was advocating the breaking of Palestinian bones during the first intifada, just a few years before signing a historic peace agreement with the PLO. We can see these reversals in many leaders throughout history, but with Abbas its not even necessary. His political history is clear. His whole career he has pushed for two-states through negotiations with Israel. He has bet his entire career on this strategy.

      But most importantly the Historian-Bosko argument is stuck on the return of Palestinian refugees. Rhetoric aside, Abbas’ legacy also shows a serious willingness to negotiate this issue. Do not forget that the right of return is a right for Palestinians. Understandably, those Israelis who want to protect a Jewish majority in Israel have problems with it. But that does not negate the right of Palestinians to return to their homes, and can therefore not just be dismissed. In the interest of peace in our lifetime, we can discuss a way to accommodate this through a creative solution. Creative solutions have been applied to the issue of settlements through land swaps and the like, even though settlements are clearly illegal under international law. It is in the interest of peace that people seek compromise. The issue of refugees is no different.

      Reply to Comment
    18. To successfully navigate the mind of even one human being can be something of a futile exercise; made doubly so, it seems, if that person happens to be a politician. We can never see the world exactly through another’s eyes nor is it ever possible to learn with absolute precision what views they hold. We all change from day to day, sometimes even minute by minute, and each of us differs in some degree, be it small or large, from everyone else on the planet.

      There are times when we can guess the true nature, motives and intentions of our fellow man but that is only because of what we know ourselves to be and what we might do were we in his position.

      To know ourselves, therefore, is the one criterion we can apply at any given moment to any given situation, an awareness that allows us to proceed with some confidence in whatever outcome we desire; we need not necessarily rely exclusively on the good offices of others.

      If there is to be any chance of ever freeing ourselves from the clutches of this Israeli/Palestinian conflict, then it is up to us to construct the means of our own deliverance. We will need to fashion and instigate a scenario where we can anticipate and predict the result at each and every twist and turn in the proceedings. In matters such as these, it is only by providing the key to our own salvation that we can emerge with any semblance of credit from so calamitous a circumstance.


      We have the desire and we have the means to redirect the entire course of this enterprise. Is it to be only the feebleness of our combined will that prevents us from making it so?

      Reply to Comment
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