Pity poor Mahmoud Abbas: disliked by his own people, almost 80% of whom want him to resign, deprived of the money that Arab donors used to heap upon him, disappointed by the Biden administration that has failed to fulfill its promise to re-open the “consulate to the Palestinians” in Jerusalem that former President Trump had closed, and waiting impatiently for the PLO office in Washington to be reopened, he nonetheless soldiers on, and now he has, in the view of Khaled Abu Toameh, two “symbolic victories” to celebrate. I’m not convinced. More on these soi-disant “victories” can be found here: “Mahmoud Abbas scores symbolic victories at UN, Arab League,” by Khaled Abu Toameh, Jerusalem Post, May 26, 2023:
In the past 10 days, the 87-year-old Abbas delivered two speeches. The first was in New York at an event organized by the United Nations to mark Nakba (Catastrophe) Day, the term Palestinians use to describe the establishment of Israel and the defeat of Arab armies in 1948; the second was at the 32nd Arab League Summit in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
Those familiar with Abbas have undoubtedly noticed that he adores delivering speeches. Whenever he takes the floor, whether at a local, regional and or international forum, the octogenarian is his old defiant self.
Abbas clearly loves the sound of his own voice. At meetings of the PA leadership, he is known to run off at the mouth; few can get a word in edgewise when the rais in Ramallah is delivering his thoughts.
In recent years, Abbas has excelled in injecting cynicism and humor into his speeches, turning some of them into what his critics describe as comedy or entertainment shows.
I’ve listened to Abbas’ speeches in English, and I admit I found nothing entertaining or humorous about them. Possibly the “humor and entertainment” value of his speechifying is lost when translated out of the Arabic; Khaled Abu Toameh is a native Arabic speaker, so I’ll take on faith his assurance that Abbas knows how to “inject cynicism and humor” into his speeches. Cynicism, no doubt, but humor?
Yet not everyone is chuckling at Abbas’s public performances. At times, he seems conspicuously detached from reality.
Abbas has long demonstrated a notable lack of interest in the opinions that others hold of him. He appears unmoved by critiques from Hamas and Israel alike. Public opinion polls, showing that more than 70% [closer to 80%] of the Palestinians want him to resign, do not seem to faze him. Nor does Abbas appear concerned that he is regarded as an illegitimate president as he enters his 18th (sic) year of his four-year term in office.
As long as Abbas can hold onto power, he doesn’t care what Palestinians think of him. He has, after all, unembarrassedly remained as President of the P.A. since 2005, and is now entering the nineteenth year of his four-year term. Nor does he mind the outrage over his colossal corruption – he and his two sons Tarek and Yasser have accumulated a family fortune of $400 million – as long as he can hold onto the money he’s stolen, and so far no one has called for him to disgorge the aid money he appropriated for himself. He’s indifferent to what people think of him, as long as they don’t touch his foreign real estate and his Swiss bank accounts.
Abbas’s speech at the UN Nakba Day event has angered not only Israel and many Jews, but Palestinians as well. His denial of any Jewish connection to the Temple Mount and the likening of Israeli “lies” to those of chief Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels have been denounced as evidence of his antisemitism and hostility toward the Jewish state.
The Israeli ambassador, Gilad Erdan, spoke for many when he described Abbas’ speech as “despicable.” And this was only the latest example in a long list of antisemitic statements by Abbas. Let’s not forget the claims made in his doctoral dissertation at Patrice Lumumba University, that Zionist Jews made common cause with the Nazis; both Zionists and Nazis, he argued, wanted the Jews out of Europe, with the Zionists hoping they would leave for Palestine, and the Nazis eager to employ quite other means to rid Europe of its Jews, by murdering them en masse. Abbas was first a Holocaust denier, and then a Holocaust minimizer, claiming that at most 800,000 Jews died, and many of those, he insisted, had succumbed to typhus and other diseases. The Jews, he claimed, exaggerated the num ber of Jews killed so as to win sympathy for the Zionist cause. And most recently, in Berlin, standing next to Chancellor Otto Scholz, Abbas claimed that the Israelis had committed “50 holocausts” against the Palestinians. The meaning was clear: let’s have no more talk of the Holocaust against the Jews, when it’s the Jews who are the new Nazis, and we, the Palestinians, are the only ones suffering unending cruelty.
Many Palestinians, on the other hand, expressed outrage at Abbas for comparing Palestinians to animals. Urging the UN and the international community to provide protection for the Palestinian people, he said in his speech: “Why aren’t you protecting us? Aren’t we human beings? Even animals should be protected. If you have an animal, you won’t protect it? It seems you don’t protect animals.”
His likening Palestinians to animals who need protection did not go over well with the Palestinians themselves, who found neither “humor nor entertainment” value in such an insulting comparison. But Abbas doesn’t care. He fancies himself a brilliant orator.
For Abbas and the Palestinian Authority leadership, the Nakba Day event in New York is yet another sign of the Palestinians’ diplomatic achievements in the international arena. In their view, the fact that such an event was organized by the UN is proof that the international community has fully endorsed the Palestinian narrative, especially regarding the “right of return” for Palestinian refugees and their descendants to their former homes in Israel.
The Palestinians rounded up the usual suspects, beginning with the 57 Muslim members of the Organizaton of the Islamic Conference (OIC), to support the observance of Nakba Day at the U.N. But more important was which countries did not support such an observance, and instead boycotted the whole dreary affair. There were 45 states boycotting — the U.S., the U.K., Canada, Australia, 10 European Union member states, Ukraine, and thirty other countries which, as one Israeli journalist said, were the “ones that really count.” Abbas may think of his Nakba Day speech as a “victory,” but others, outside his circle of loyalists, including the many Palestinians who think he insulted them, would beg to differ.
In 2012, Abbas said in an interview with an Israeli TV channel that he was not seeking the right to return to Israel, even though he was born in Safed. “I visited Safed before, once,” he said. “But I want to see Safed. It’s my right to see it, but not to live there. Palestine for me is the 1967 borders, with east Jerusalem as its capital. I am a refugee, but I am living in Ramallah.”
In 2012 Abbas appeared to relinquish the “Right of Return,” when he claimed he wanted to see his birthplace, Safed, but “not to live there.” At the time Abbas was putting on one of his acts as a “moderate” who would not insist on the Right of Return though he longed to see – his face assuming a melancholy mien — his birthplace.
In his recent speech at the UN, however, Abbas reversed his earlier statement. “I’m a refugee, a Palestinian refugee,” he stated. “I want to return to my homeland. I cannot live in Paris or New York. I want Safed. I want it.” His remarks were clearly directed at those Palestinians who often accuse him of readiness to make far-reaching concessions to Israel, including on the “right of return.”
On Nakba Day, Abbas wanted to make it clear: he “wants Safed,” which is inside the 1949 armistice lines. That means he is demanding not just the West Bank and Gaza, all of the land within those 1949 lines (they were never borders), so that the Palestinian state will extend “from the river to the sea.”
Although the UN event was boycotted by more than 45 countries, including Israel and the US, the fact that Abbas was given a platform to speak in New York, and the warm reception he received there, was enough to make him sound triumphant.
Was Nakba Day a triumph for Abbas? Abbas certainly thinks so. But when 45 countries, including those “that really count,” have boycotted not only your speech but the entire observance of Nakba Day at the U.N., can that really be considered a victory? And the same goes for that “warm reception” he was given, meaning only that there was sustained applause, no doubt coming mainly from the ambassadors of 57 Muslim countries. More important than that applause is whether or not the rich Arab states gave any signs of renewing their former aid to the PA that in recent years has been reduced almost to nothing. And on that front, Abbas came away empty-handed.