Mahmoud Abbas’s Guardian op-ed illustrates the dishonesty of the ‘Palestinian narrative’

The Guardian’s efforts to amplify the ‘injustice’ of Israel’s continued existence in the context of the Balfour Centennial went into high gear yesterday, as they published an op-ed  by PA President Mahmoud Abbas that included nearly every distortion and lie within what’s known as the ‘Palestinian narrative’. 

Here are some of Abbas’s claims in his op-ed (Britain must atone for the Balfour declaration – and 100 years of suffering, Nov. 1).

Abbas claim:

[Balfour] disregard[ed] the political rights of those who already lived there.


The language used by Abbas (“those who already lived there”) buttresses the broader narrative, advanced repeatedly by Palestinian leaders, in their media and education system, which falsely frames Jews as interlopers with no historical or religious connection to the land.  

In fact, Jews “already lived there” when Balfour was issued.  Jews are an indigenous people to the land, and small Jewish communities remained even after their exile in 70 CE, during Byzantine, Muslim and Crusader rule.  There’s been a continuous Jewish presence in the Land of Israel for over 3,000 years. 

Abbas claim:

For the Palestinian people – my people – the events [Balfour] triggered have been as devastating as they have been far-reaching.


Tragic events for Palestinians didn’t just happen (‘triggered’) as a result of Balfour, but were mostly the result of decisions by Palestinian (and Arab) leaders to reject political and territorial compromise and maintain hostility to a permanent Jewish presence in the land. 

Abbas claim:

This British policy, to support Jewish immigration into Palestine while negating the Arab-Palestinian right to self-determination, created severe tensions between European Jewish immigrants and the native Palestinian population.


His mention of British “support” for Jewish immigration omits the subsequent White Paper which severely restricted such immigration, a fateful decision for untold numbers of Jews who were slaughtered in places like Auschwitz, Treblinka and Sobibor because the doors to Palestine were closed. 

Further, suggesting that Jewish immigrants “created tensions” is a creative way of obfuscating continuous Arab violence against Jews, and implicitly suggests that the mere arrival of Jews escaping persecution was a provocation, one that would corrupt the land – a narrative, incidentally, that would likely resonate with far-right Europeans in the context of the current immigration crisis.

Abbas claim:

In 1948 Zionist militias forcibly expelled more than 800,000 men, women and children from their homeland, perpetrating horrific massacres and destroying hundreds of villages in the process. I was 13 years old at the time of our expulsion from Safad. The occasion on which Israel celebrates its creation as a state, we Palestinians mark as the darkest day in our history.


No serious historian alleges that all of the Palestinians (750,000 according to the UN) were expelled. Most fled – in, let’s remember, what was an Arab war of annihilation against the Jewish population – out of fear, or because of instructions from Palestinian Arab leaders.  Historian Benny Morris has concluded that there was no Israeli policy of “ethnic cleansing”.  “At no stage of the 1948 war”, he wrote, “was there a decision by the leadership of the Yishuv or the state to “expel the Arabs”.

Regarding his second assertion, that his family was expelled from Safed, Abbas has previously admitted (in Arabic) that his family left Safed out of a general (unfounded) fear that Jews would take revenge for the Arab massacre of Jews in 1929. In other words, Palestinians in Safed, such as his family, fled, and weren’t “expelled”.

Here’s the clip:

 Abbas claim:

Today, Palestinians number more than 12 million, and are scattered throughout the world. Some were forced out of their homeland in 1948, with more than 6 million still living in exile to this day.


The original number of Palestinians who fled the war in 1948 is less than 800,000.  It is estimated that only tens of thousands of the original population are still alive.  Though millions of descendants of the original refugees receive ‘refugee’ benefits from UNRWA, they are not in fact refugees.  Abbas also ignores Jewish refugees from Arab countries, hundreds of thousands of Jews stripped of their citizenship and expelled, despite Balfour’s demand that nothing shall be done to abrogate the “rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

Abbas claim:

Those who managed to remain in their homes number roughly 1.75 million, and live within a system of institutionalised discrimination in what is now the state of Israel.


Tellingly, Abbas’s sole source (embedded in the words “institutionalized discrimination”) is an article by the Guardian’s former Jerusalem correspondent, Chris McGreal, a reporter whose animus against Israel (and carelessness with the facts) has been demonstrated repeatedly on these pages.  Further, many pro-Palestinian activists and commentators have cited, as ‘proof’ of anti-Arab racist laws in Israel, a completely discredited report by the radical NGO, Adalah.  Moreover, it’s undeniable that Arab citizens of Israel have far more political, social and economic rights in the Jewish state than Palestinians under Abbas rule.

Abbas claim:

Approximately 2.9 million live in the West Bank under a draconian military occupation-turned-colonisation, with 300,000 of that number being the native inhabitants of Jerusalem, who have so far resisted policies to force them out of their city.


Over 95% of the Palestinian population in the West Bank live under Palestinian Authority control and can’t reasonably be characterised as living under military occupation.  His suggestion that Israel is engaged in a policy of ethnic cleansing is absurd.  In fact, the Palestinian population in Jerusalem (both in gross numbers and as a percentage of the overall population) has increased significantly since 1967. 

Abbas claim:

Two million live in the Gaza Strip, an open prison subjected to regular destruction through the full force of Israel’s military apparatus.


The ‘open air prison’ myth is contradicted by the fact that (according to COGAT), well over 100,000 Palestinians a year are permitted to exit Gaza into Israel for various humanitarian needs.  Further, Abbas of course ignores the role of Hamas, a group that’s fired thousands upon thousands of rockets into Israeli territory, is committed to Israel’s destruction and designated as a terror organisation by the UK, US and EU, in necessitating Israel’s security measures.  

Abbas claim:

Over the years we have adapted to the realities around us – the chain of events triggered in 1917 – and made deeply painful compromises for the sake of peace, beginning with the decision to accept a state on only 22% of our historical homeland while recognising the state of Israel, without any reciprocation thus far.


The 22% percent figure is a lie for several reasons. First, there was never, at any point in history, a sovereign Palestinian state, and in fact Palestinian national identity (as a unique nationalist movement separate from Arab or tribal identities) is only a 20th century phenomenon. The implicit suggestion, that a Palestinian state on the West Bank, east Jerusalem and Gaza is only 22% of ‘their historical homeland’ suggests that the entire land, from the river to the sea, is, by matter of rights, Palestinian. The truth is that Israel has conceded most of their “historic land” as promised to them by the 1922 Mandate for Palestine – arguably the earliest modern legal codification of an area known as “Palestine”.

As this map, by Shani Mor at The Tower, shows, Palestinian political control of the land since 1946 (or, since the Balfour Declaration in 1917, for that matter) was zero, but now (because of Israeli concessions and territorial withdrawal) encompasses all of Gaza and major population centers in the West Bank. 

Palestinians didn’t ‘lose’ 78% of their land for the simple reason that you can’t ‘lose’ land you never had control of in the first place.

Abbas also lies by suggesting that Israel hasn’t offered major concessions.  Israel offered the Palestinians a contiguous state on three occasions, in 2000, 2001 and 2008. Each offer was rejected by Palestinian leaders.

However, beyond the specific lies and distortions lay a broader one: that Palestinians are victims who possess no moral agency and that Palestinian leadership shares no responsibility for their people’s suffering.  It’s not merely unfair to assigned exclusive blame to Israel for every conceivable Palestinian failure, but also suggests a fundamental flaw in the Palestinian national movement. 

Middle East historian Bernard Lewis has argued that there are two different ways in which individuals, groups and nations can choose respond to adversity. The first is to ask “Who did this to us?” The second is, “What did we do wrong?”  The first one, Lewis maintained, leads to self-pity and avoidance of personal responsibility, whilst the other leads to self-help and moral agency. One usually leads to failure and the other to success.

Abbas’s op-ed – which mirrors the narrative of the conflict amplified continually in media outlets such as the Guardian – is a perfect illustration of the movement’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge and learn from past mistakes and come to terms with the true ‘obstacles to peace’: endemic antisemitism, the glorification of violence and the failure to promote tolerance, pluralism and other liberal democratic values.

Neither the Jews nor the Balfour Declaration are the cause of their suffering.

The system is not ‘rigged’ against them.

The choice of whether to resist the vices of violence, hatred, scapegoating and self-pity, and embark on a path of political, cultural and moral reform, is their’s and their’s alone.


31 replies »

  1. The Guardian tries to rewrite history. Unfortunately for them, Abbas, Hanan Ashrawi in her similar polemic today, the Guardian editor(s) – the Vile Viner – yesterday, in the end, the facts win out.

    It is a mystery how Jonathan Freedland can stay there. I suppose the money is good.

  2. Great article and analysis, Adam. Just a small suggestion: Due no doubt to your spell checker, in the very last paragraph “there’s” should read “theirs”, twice.

  3. Adam: “Jews are an indigenous people to the land”, “an”? Or thee indigenous people in the sense of the only people who were there prior to any others who survive today?

  4. No one ever points out that Britain defeat of the Ottoman Empire and its consequent liberation of their Middle East holdings has resulted in Arab rule over 99.75% of those territories. Israel – including all of Judea and Samaria (as the 1947 UN partition plan referred to the “West Bank”) – sits on the remaining 0.25% of land that the international community recognized as the historical homeland of the Jewish people, not of any Arab group. Perhaps by coincidence, the 78% of land “lost” to the Palestinian Arabs is the same percentage that the original League of Nations Mandate for Palestine territory lost when Britain created what is present-day Jordan, closing that territory to any Jewish settlement in derogation of its trust responsibilities. Viewed in this larger (and accurate) picture, it is difficult to see the Palestinian Arab complaint as anything other than a demand to destroy the Jewish state.

    • If I ever respond to some anti Israel screed in The Groan, mentioning that basic Arab Muslim hatred of Israel is basically motivated by Islamic proscriptions about ever surrendering ‘Muslim Land’ to the non Muslim, my comment is deleted.

      The Guardian actually objects to basic truths.

  5. The Guardian editors looked over Abbas’ ahistorical and slanderous Soviet style propaganda and decided to publish it anyway. Enough said.

  6. The Palestinians are Arabs from Jordan that Arafat named Palestinian in the late 1960s…The name Palestine comes from the Romans who called Israel that thousands of years before 1969.

  7. >Jewish immigrants “created tensions”

    Why does the pro-Palestinian left think Jewish immigrants to Palestine responsible for tensions, but Mexican immigrants to the USA not and Syrian immigrants to the EU not?

  8. The Guardian in obsessive mode has posted approximately 14 stories on the Balfour Declaration recently. It won’t change a thing but they hope it might sell one or two more newspapers.

  9. As every antisemite worth of his/her salt the Guardian assigns a very exaggerated role to the Balfour declaration. Undoubtedly the act gave a boost to the Zionist movement but without their fight for an independent Jewish state it would have remained just a piece of paper, not to mention the fact that the the policies of the consecutive British governments completely ignored the spirit and the letter of the document. The present situation – the existence of a strong and democratic Israel and the sad fate of the Palestinians – both are the result of their own acts and not of a diplomatic never enforced and kept promise.