Last month, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas was, along with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a prominent participant in the Paris unity rally after the Charlie Hebdo massacre and the slaughter at a kosher market. At the time, I noted the immense hypocrisy in having a figure who has engaged in Holocaust denial and who has also, even in the last few months, engaged in anti-Semitic incitement participate in such at an event. But weeks later we are learning that the disconnect between the symbolism of Abbas’s visible role in that unique moment and what he and his government are doing is even greater than we thought.
As today’s New York Times reports, Abbas has punished an editor of a PA publication that printed a cartoon that some readers thought might depict the Prophet Mohammed.
Mr. Abbas said it was necessary to take “deterrent measures against those responsible,” Wafa reported. Ali Khalaf, an editor at the newspaper, Al-Hayat al-Jadida, said on Tuesday that the cartoonist and the editor in chief of the paper had been suspended.
The cartoonist, Muhammed Sabaaneh, claimed that his drawing was meant to depict a Muslim who follows the message of Islam, not to depict the prophet himself. It was instead, “a symbolic figure for Islam and the Muslim’s role in spreading light and love for all humanity.” But if he thought that sort of thing would be accepted in a Palestinian media that routinely publishes articles and cartoons that demonize Jews and Israel, he was mistaken.
Of course, this isn’t the only indication that Abbas’s participation in the Parisian kumbaya moment was a farce. Weeks later, his Fatah Party issued a call for more “resistance” against Israelis, a code word for violence, and a hint that most Palestinians generally don’t need. Last fall, when Abbas and the PA incited Palestinians to attack Israelis in retaliation for the efforts by a few Jews to obtain equal prayer rights on the Temple Mount, there was no shortage of volunteers. For their pains, Abbas praised one attempted murderer as a “martyr” who went straight to heaven.
Why is Abbas pandering to such base sentiments? The answer came in part from a survey conducted in January by the Palestinian Ma’an News Agency which revealed that 84 percent of those queried believe that Israel was behind the Paris attacks rather than Islamist terrorists. While deplorable, this is hardly surprising since, as Palestine Media Watch notes, the official PA press has been filled with articles claiming this to be the case. In fact the same paper that Abbas punished for publishing the supposedly offensive cartoon ran a piece claiming that Israel benefited from the crime and therefore must be held responsible for it.
That the PA is responsible for incitement is nothing new. Nor is this the first Abbas (currently serving the 10th year of a four-year term as president of the PA) has been directly involved in dictatorial behavior. But what is remarkable about this is the fact that those who celebrated Abbas’s participation in the Paris rally and lionize him as a genuine partner for peace have nothing to say about his post-march behavior.
Yet these incidents are significant, not because they demonstrate Abbas’s hypocrisy or the moral bankruptcy of the PA kleptocracy over which he presides. Rather, they are important because they illustrate that the pose of moderation that he puts on for the Western press and American and European consumption has nothing to do with the way he governs the West Bank. Those who continue to push for a revival of a peace process that Abbas has continually snubbed and blown up after his repeated refusals of peace offers must ignore the truth about him. If they acknowledged the reality of Abbas’s conduct it would compel them to admit how wrongheaded their assumptions about Palestinian intentions and Israeli culpability for the lack of peace truly are.