As history records, the leadership of the soon-to-be independent Israel accepted the proposed partition of Palestine into Jewish and Arab states, but the Palestinians and their Arab backers rejected it, leading to the 1948 War for Independence.
To this day, the vast majority of the Arab street and regimes characterize Israeli independence as a “catastrophe.” They even have a Nakba (catastrophe) Day to correspond with Israel’s independence day. This year, no doubt to turn up the heat on Israel while diverting world attention for internal strife among their own populations, neighboring Arab countries permitted — possibly even paid — mobs to storm Israel’s borders on this year’s Nakba Day.
With that kind of blind hostility, Abbas’ statement required a little bit of courage.
But only a little bit.
After all, he made the remarks on Israel’s Channel 2 TV; it would have been a jaw-dropping development had he made the same statement in the Palestinian media.
He also made the statement on a Friday, the Muslim Sabbath — a time when the Arab world is less likely to be paying attention to what the Israeli media is reporting.
In addition, while Abbas gets a couple brownie points for saying what he did, accolades should be tempered for the way he phrased his remarks:
“It was our mistake. It was an Arab mistake as a whole,” the P.A. leader said of the rejection, “but do they punish us for this mistake for 64 years?”
To answer his question, absolutely not. Israel shows due wariness — not punishment — for the mistakes the Palestinians are making right now.
Those mistakes include:
• Using the Palestinian media to demonize Jews;
• Honoring terrorists by permitting public squares to be named after them;
• Seeking reconciliation with Hamas even though its leaders have no interest in peace with Israel; and
• Circumventing face-to-face negotiations by going to the United Nations and asking for recognition of Palestinian statehood — a process that advanced this week with the UNESCO vote to admit “Palestine” as its 195th member.
And those are just the highlights.
While we’re at it, we’d like to see Abbas, or any Arab leader for that matter, own up to some other mistakes — or, dare we say, crimes — they’ve committed in the past 60 years:
• The forced exodus of some 800,000 Jews from Arab lands since 1948;
• The banishment of Jews from Jerusalem’s Old City in 1948, the sacking of the Jewish Quarter, and the refusal to let Jews pray at the Western Wall for nearly two decades; and
• The Arab world’s rejection, through its Khartoum Resolutions of Israel’s offer to return conquered lands shortly after the 1967 Six-Day War.
And perhaps the biggest bonehead move of all: Yasser Arafat’s walking away from a sweetheart peace proposal made by then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak in 2000 at Camp David that would have given Palestinians a state and most of what they demanded in negotiations.
All-or-nothing negotiators frequently leave the table with nothing.
None of this is to imply that Israel should give up on Abbas as a peace partner. His tacit admission shows that, at the very least, he is capable of yielding when necessary. But neither should Israeli leaders be too excited by what he said. Abbas continues to play the aggrieved party. When he finally gives up that long-running role, that’s when peace talks can resume in earnest.