Misquoting the Palestinian Authority


by Rod Such, July 2013

A particular falsehood about Palestinians has been repeated so many times that it can be stated in headlines even when the article below the headline contradicts it. The fact that many Israelis and apologists for Israel accept this repeated falsehood as truth might reveal more than they realize about Israel’s actual intentions for the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

To take one recent example: Pamela Geller of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) puts the fabrication in its simple form: “The PA President, Mahmoud Abbas, said the Palestinian state ‘will be free of all Jews.’” The AFDI exaggerates this claim on their recent King County Metro bus ads which read “The Palestinian Authority is calling for a Jew-free state.”

Mahmoud Abbas said no such thing, and the Palestinian Authority and the PLO have repeatedly said the opposite: they are calling for a secular democratic state where people of any ethnicity or religion can live as citizens. Even if some Palestinian or even a Palestinian official could be found who said what AFDI accuses, this would not represent Palestinian Authority policy, any more than Israeli government policy is represented by Israeli Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s statement, as quoted in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz, that Palestinians should be drowned in the Dead Sea.

To support her fabricated claim, Geller cites an opinion editorial in the Jerusalem Post from 5/30/2011 which makes the same undocumented claim. But a news article in the Jerusalem Post from earlier that same day — even while seeming to confirm the story in its headline — actually contradicts the story by recording what Mahmoud Abbas really said, and to whom, and why:

“Abbas’s remarks against the presence of Israelis in a future Palestinian state came in response to [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s statements in Washington last week. [Netanyahu] declared that Israel would retain control over the Jordan Valley in any peace with the Palestinians. He also said that some settlements would stay in the West Bank.”

Netanyahu’s assertions — that Israel would not only maintain military control of large sections of a future Palestinian state, but that Israeli settlement blocs would remain inside that supposed Palestinian state — are extraordinary. Despite Israeli propaganda, Israeli settlements are not just harmless Jewish suburbs. Israeli settlements are colonial enclaves wherein Israeli Jews live with special rights, privileges and immunities that are denied to their Palestinian neighbors. Israeli settlers vote in Israeli elections, have access to Israeli civil courts, and use a vastly disproportionate amount of the water and other resources in the West Bank. Their settlements are constructed on land that has been confiscated or otherwise forcibly taken from Palestinians. By contrast, Palestinians in the West Bank live under Israeli military dictatorship, are ruled by an Israeli military governor, do not vote in Israeli elections, have no freedom of assembly or speech or movement under Israeli law, are tried in Israeli military courts, and are driven off their land and out of their homes to make room for these illegal Israeli settlements.

A system which applies one set of laws and privileges to Israeli Jews and another set of laws with inferior rights to Palestinians constitutes apartheid. Israel driving Palestinians off land to make room for Israeli Jews constitutes ethnic cleansing. It would be shocking for any Palestinian to agree that these practices should continue in a sovereign Palestinian state. Nevertheless, Benjamin Netanyahu appears to be insisting on exactly that: a so-called Palestinian state under continued Israeli military control, with continued special rights and privileges for Israeli Jewish citizens living inside it.

In response to Netanyahu’s demand, according to the Jerusalem Post article cited above, Mahmoud Abbas apparently said that he “opposed any Israeli civilian or military presence in a future Palestinian state”. No reference to Jews, but only to Israeli soldiers and Israeli settlers. Israeli propaganda typically tries to equate “Israeli” and “Jew”, even though many Jews around the world strongly object to this false identification, both on the grounds that Israel does not represent all Jews in the world, and because not all Israelis are Jews. In particular, an increasing number of Jews and even Israeli Jews object to being identified with the illegal Israeli settlement movement.

According to another Jerusalem Post article, Abbas repeated his statement in September 2011: “I am seeking a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with Jerusalem as its capital, empty of settlements.” The writer of the opinion article, Ephraim Karsh, blatantly distorts this into a Nazi statement, calling it a “vision of a Judenrein Palestine”. Similarly, Jonathan Tobin in Commentary quotes Abbas as saying that a future Palestinian state “will have no Jewish settlements”. Tobin distorts and falsifies Abbas’ statement into a “demand for an ethnically cleansed Palestine”. This distortion headlines the article, in sharp contradiction to Abbas’ statement.

Pamela Geller’s website also cites a USA Today article from September 2011 with the headline “PLO ambassador says Palestinian state should be free of Jews”, but even the USA Today article itself follows the headline with an immediate disclaimer: “Clarification: In the headline and story, Palestinian Ambassador Maen Areikat says he was referring to Israelis, not Jews . . .” Huffington Post clarified two days later: “In an interview with The Huffington Post, Areikat rejected USA Today’s characterization of his remarks, saying that he would never want to ban Jews from a Palestinian state. ‘Under no circumstances was I saying that no Jews can be in Palestine…. I never said that, and I never meant to say such a thing. This is not a religious conflict, and we want to establish a secular state.’”

Two days later a Palestinian Authority official clarified further: “The future Palestinian state will be open to all its citizens, regardless of their religion…. We want a civil state, which in it live all the faiths, Muslim, Christian and Jews also if they agree, [and] accept to be Palestinian citizens.”

This would seem to be a customary claim of normal sovereignty: anyone living in a future Palestinian state — including former Israeli Jewish settlers — would need to be subject to the laws of that state and would not have any special rights and privileges because of citizenship in some other state. But when someone suggests that a sovereign Palestinian state might not be under Israeli military control, or might not grant special rights and privileges to Israeli settlers, some Israeli officials and apologists not only feel Israel’s security is being threatened but also conflate “Israeli” with “Jew” and fabricate a story of racism and ethnic cleansing.

Most of these misquotes, distortions and fabrications were invented during the lead-up to the Palestinian Authority’s attempt to gain statehood status at the United Nations in September 2011. The fury with which Israel resisted the Palestinian Authority’s attempt to gain status at the United Nations demonstrated Israel’s lack of commitment to any kind of Palestinian statehood. In that context, normal claims of sovereignty for a possible Palestinian state were wildly twisted into fabricated stories. It is difficult to know whether these distortions were cynical attempts to distract attention from Israel’s ongoing apartheid, war crimes and ethnic cleansing, or if some Israelis Jews have become so accustomed to living with special rights and privileges that they have an actual fear of a system where everyone lives with equal rights.