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In Op-Ed, Abbas Distorts History

False account of Israel’s founding ill-serves two-state track

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Palestinian President Abbas on Tuesday.(Musa al-Shaer/AFP/Getty Images)

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s op-ed in favor of Palestinian statehood in Tuesday’s New York Times shouldn’t be controversial—building a future state of Palestine is the man’s job, after all—but it got Prime Minister Netanyahu pretty steamed. And while Netanyahu is better known as prime minister than pundit, he has a point. Abbas is quite knowingly disingenuous—or engaging in what might even be called lying—in retelling the narrative of Israel’s 1947-48 founding. And the point is not merely academic, or for pundits: Abbas is attempting to rewrite history in a fashion that calls into question Israel’s right to exist anywhere in what was once known as British Mandatory Palestine and to set up a parallel between the Jews’ situation in 1947 and the Palestinians’ situation in 2011 that doesn’t exist, the better to establish a right of return.

Here he is:

It is important to note that the last time the question of Palestinian statehood took center stage at the General Assembly, the question posed to the international community was whether our homeland should be partitioned into two states. In November 1947, the General Assembly made its recommendation and answered in the affirmative. Shortly thereafter, Zionist forces expelled Palestinian Arabs to ensure a decisive Jewish majority in the future state of Israel, and Arab armies intervened. War and further expulsions ensued. Indeed, it was the descendants of these expelled Palestinians who were shot and wounded by Israeli forces on Sunday as they tried to symbolically exercise their right to return to their families’ homes.

Minutes after the State of Israel was established on May 14, 1948, the United States granted it recognition. Our Palestinian state, however, remains a promise unfulfilled.

This story omits large chunks of what happened and, even worse, pulls a sneaky chronological switcheroo.

Netanyahu himself noted the most obvious lacuna in Abbas’s account: That the Jews accepted the General Assembly Partition Plan while the Palestinians and Arab governments firmly rejected it. If you are going to mention the Partition Plan as the foundation of the promise of a Palestinian state, you are obliged to mention the germane detail that the Palestinians and their Arab backers rejected that plan in favor of launching a war; and if you are editing a piece that doesn’t, you’re obliged to insist it be included.

But that’s not the biggest problem. The biggest problem is that Abbas’s narrative goes, roughly, like this:

1. U.N. called for partition.

2. “Shortly thereafter,” Jews began expelling Palestinians.

3. Arab armies then “intervened” in order to prevent more expulsions.

4. There was war—the 1948 War of Independence—and “further expulsions.”

At best, this is extremely strained, and overall it’s basically crap.

A couple decades ago, the Israeli “New Historians” revised our account of Israel’s independence to show that the creation of approximately 750,000 Palestinian refugees was in some very real part the product of a deliberate and premeditated Zionist policy of expulsions, and that the notion that essentially all the Palestinians who fled did so because five Arab countries invaded is a myth.

However, even the most hardcore New Historians would dispute Abbas’s narrative. Here is the actual chronology (and I’m relying on the ultimate unimpeachable source, Wikipedia, and am deliberately using a New Historian reading of the events, that is, an interpretation that would be most favorable to Abbas’s case):

1. In November 1947, the Partition Plan was approved. The Jews accepted it; the Palestinians rejected it.

2. From December 1947 to March 1948—Abbas’s “shortly thereafter”—about 100,000 of 750,000 refugees left Israel proper. They did so for a variety of reasons, ranging from active expulsion of non-combatants by Arab forces, to fear that war would break out, to responding to active intimidation by Israelis, and to, in exceedingly few cases, active expulsion by Zionist forces. This was a time of civil war; some of the New Historians argue the Jews had the power advantage (a fact which hardly seemed evident to most Zionist leaders at the time). But no matter who was winning the war, to imply, as Abbas does, that it was a time of peace is false. Arab forces closed the roads between Jewish settlements, leaving many communities isolated and under constant attack, and besieged the Jewish sectors of Jerusalem, cutting them off from the sea. Plan Dalet—in which Zionist forces actively and deliberately expelled Palestinians from major Jewish population centers—was dreamed up by Ben Gurion and his military advisers after the warfare had been going on for several months, and was not implemented until April, once it became clear that Britain was terminating the Mandate and that Arab armies would invade.

3. In April, Plan Dalet began, mainly to lift the Arab Siege of Jerusalem; you could argue, in other words, that at this point the war started. Pre-invasion, still, no more than one-quarter of the Palestinian refugees had been created.

4. May 14, 1948: Britain ended the Mandate; Israel declared independence; the United States recognized the new Jewish state.

5. May 15, 1948: Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, and Iraq, backed by Saudi Arabia and Yemen, invaded in response to the declaration of independence, not, as Abbas alleges, in response to expulsions.

6. “War and expulsions follow.” There were deliberate and in some cases premeditated expulsions of thousands, even hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. There were also thousands, even hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled because there was war, because five Arab countries invaded.

This is really important! Abbas frames the events of 1947-48 as one in which Israel set out to ethnically cleanse its land of Palestinians, and neighboring countries tried to stop it. But while ethnic cleansing did occur, it is not remotely the whole story. The Arab armies could not have “intervened” in order to stop further expulsions, because those expulsions did not truly begin in earnest until after they invaded. The Arab armies invaded, rather, in order to establish a single, Palestinian state in the entire area of the Mandate. (It also bears mentioning that they expelled every Jew living in the territories reserved for the Arab state of Palestine that fell under their control.)

In one sense, it is important that Abbas’s false version of the history not be accepted, because if, indeed, the Palestinian refugee crisis was created exclusively by Israeli expulsions, then it calls into question whether these refugees and their descendants should not indeed all have the right to return to Israel proper—which would end the state of Israel as we know it.

If you can accept, however, that basically a whole lot of bad stuff was committed by all sides in the 1947-48 conflict, then you can begin to work pragmatically toward the only just outcome of the conflict that persists to this day: The partition of the land into two states, one of them being Israel. People who want to work toward that outcome tend not to spend their time focused on what happened in 1947-48, unless they are forced to respond to outlandish op-eds that distort history in the cause of further strife.

Netanyahu: Abbas Distorting History [Ynet]
The Long Overdue Palestinian State [NYT]

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Gene says:

He is professor of history and received his Ph.D. in Moscow University under the guidance of KGB officer Y. Primakov. His dissertation was “The secret relations between Nazis and Zionists”. He knows what he is talking about. I doubt though if the editors of NYT know.

Actually, no amount of real or alleged misbehavior on the part of Israelis in 1948 would ever justify forcing upon Israel’s current population the descendants of the victims of that long-past behavior. Those descendants were born in neighboring countries, and would all be full citizens of those countries, but for what can only be described as flagrant ethnic discrimination. They have no more claim on Israel based on alleged injustice perpetrated against their ancestors than do modern Israeli Jews on most of the world’s nations based on the alleged injustices perpetrated against *their* ancestors.

Since the end of World War II, untold millions of people around the world–all over Europe, Asia and Africa–have been cruelly evicted from their homes on the basis of their nationality, and driven out of the lands where they were born. In an earlier era, such population displacements would inevitably lead to an endless cycle of irredentist violence and retaliatory expulsions. But in modern times, the world generally expects subsequent generations of such populations, however bitter the historic wrong may have been, to value peace above revenge, and accept resettlement instead of reconquest. The single exception, of course, is when the targets of the planned reconquest are Jews.

Argaman says:

Gene – who are you talking about? Are you saying that Abbas is a professor of history?

Richard Ross says:

Given that Abbas is deliberately distorting history for political purposes, why did Mr. Tracy advance an “interpretation that would be most favorable to Abbas’s case.” Why not, in rebuttal, advance a balanced account? The most respected of the New Historians, Benny Morris, does not believe that the Israelis put into effect a preplanned, systematic effort to expel Palestians through Plan Dalet. Rather, Morris’ account stresses multifactored explanations: acknowledging deliberate expulsion by Jewish militias when they happened, but also emphasizing the natural flight of civilians from war zones, the demoralizing effect of Arab elites leaving, the impact of rumors and passion, the economic difficulties created by fighting, and so forth.

Mr. Tracy: If your reaction to Abbas’ psuedo-history is to try to meet him partway, then it is perfectly rational for Palestinian spokesmen to produce ever more self-serving falsifications.

Binyamin in O says:

Don’t you guys get? The “history” is irrelevant. Its like arguing who was there first, the Jews or the Canaanites. What is relevant is that Israel has carried out a de facto annexation of the the West Bank, and the annexation is irreversible. Now two million Arabs are permanently under Israeli rule but so not enjoy equal democratic rights. That Gaza has been transformed into an open air prison camp, albeit one that is fairly well supplied and in which the inmates control the allocation of those supplies, does not change the fact that it is controlled by Israel. Thus, about 45% of the human beings living under Israeli rule are not Jewish, and 35% of them live under martial law. Democracy? Suuuuure it is. Just like Sweden, France Japan, and America. No different at all! That is the source of the conflict, not what did or did not happen in 1948.

Barry says:

Binyamin: why do you keep talking about “Arabs”.

The 1400 year old Jihad, the Islamic Spring, the satanic and morally-diseased teachings of Q’ran which the enemy seeks to impose on the region: that’s the only issue.

The ethnicity of the enemy is irrelevant. Would the satanic ‘Palestinians’ and their subhuman culture be okay if they were South Asian? Or Native American?

Evil is evil regardless of ethnicity. And I think we can agree there has never been a society more evil than the ‘Palestinians’.

Forest says:

Are you surprised? The man did his PhD on denying the holocaust. By the way he has somehow gotten a free ride on this one. the same publications who refer to Lieberman as a “former nightclub bouncer” never mention that the leader of the Palestinian Authority is a holocaust denier.

Mike says:

Abbas is a holocaust denier. Later, during the Oslo period, when asked about his dissertation and book on the subject, Abbas said that when he wrote them the Palestinians were at war with Israel, but that has changed so he wouldn’t write something like that again. The NYT editorial seems to mean Abbas thinks Israel and the Palestinians are at war again and anything goes. Truth clearly is situational.

Unfortunately, Tracy doesn’t do much better. You can find Plan Dalet on the web. It’s clear clearing Arab villages was a tactical measure, not part of planned ethnic cleansing.

Dani Levi says:

Binyamin !
You should be over at mondoscheiss!

Jehudah Ben-Israel says:

Making the Land of Israel Whole / By DANNY DANON

OVER the past few months, analysts in Israel and abroad have warned that Israel will face what Defense Minister Ehud Barak has termed a “diplomatic tsunami.” In September, the Palestinian Authority plans to bring the recognition of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 boundary to the United Nations General Assembly for a vote. The Palestinians’ request will almost certainly be approved.

While most voices in the Israeli and international news media are calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to grant major concessions to the Palestinians to forestall such a move, he should in fact do the opposite: he should annex the Jewish communities of the West Bank, or as Israelis prefer to refer to our historic heartland, Judea and Samaria.

In 1995, as part of the Oslo accords, Israel and the Palestinians agreed that “neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.” If the president of the Palestinian Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, and prime minister, Salam Fayyad, decide to disregard this section of the accords by seeking United Nations recognition of statehood, it would mean that Israel, too, is no longer bound by its contents and is freed to take unilateral action.

The first immediate implication would be that all of the diplomatic and security assistance that Israel provides to the Palestinians would be halted, and the transfer of tax revenues — upward of $1 billion per year — would end permanently. This alone could threaten the very existence of the Palestinian Authority.

Second, a United Nations vote on Palestinian statehood would give Israel an opportunity to rectify the mistake we made in 1967 by failing to annex all of the West Bank (as we did the eastern half of Jerusalem). We could then extend full Israeli jurisdiction to the Jewish communities and uninhabited lands of the West Bank.


Jehudah Ben-Israel says:


This would put an end to a legal limbo that has existed for 44 years.

In addition to its obvious ideological and symbolic significance, legalizing our hold on the West Bank would also increase the security of all Israelis by depriving terrorists of a base and creating a buffer against threats from the east. Moreover, we would be well within our rights to assert, as we did in Gaza after our disengagement in 2005, that we are no longer responsible for the Palestinian residents of the West Bank, who would continue to live in their own — unannexed — towns.

These Palestinians would not have the option to become Israeli citizens, therefore averting the threat to the Jewish and democratic status of Israel by a growing Palestinian population.

While naysayers will no doubt warn us of the dire consequences and international condemnation that are sure to follow such a move by Israel, this would not be the first time that Israel has made such controversial decisions.

In 1949, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion moved the Knesset to Jerusalem and declared it the capital of the State of Israel despite the 1947 United Nations partition plan, which had designated the city an international zone. Immediately after the 1967 Six-Day War, Prime Minister Levi Eshkol annexed East Jerusalem and declared that the city would remain a united and undivided entity. And in 1981, Prime Minister Menachem Begin extended Israeli sovereignty to the Golan Heights.

In each of these cases, Israel’s actions were met with harsh international criticism and threats of sanctions; all of these decisions, however, are cornerstones of today’s reality.

Jehudah Ben-Israel says:


Our leaders made these decisions based on the realization that their actions would further Zionist values and strengthen the State of Israel. The diplomatic storms soon blew over as the international community moved on to other issues. It would be wise of Mr. Netanyahu to follow in their footsteps.

If the Palestinians decide that they want to end the Oslo agreement and begin experimenting with unilateral actions, then an unexpected opening will present itself for Israel. Our leaders must seize this opportunity and right a historic wrong by annexing parts of our homeland.

Danny Danon, a member of the Likud Party, is a deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset.


Hershel (Heshy) Ginsburg says:

As one who regularly and routinely castigates Mark Tracy, I want to wish him a Yasher Koach on his analysis of the abu Mazen fairy tale. My only question is what took so long, but better late than never.

I assume Tracy used the “extreme” New Historian narrative mostly as a foil to show that even there abu Mazen’s piece deserves the Man Booker award for fiction (giving him the award could offset the political incorrectness of giving the award to Howard Jacobson for “The Finkler Question”), but that Tracy himself recognizes that much of the “New History” has since been debunked, even by some charter members of the guild.

BTW, as Jeff Goldberg at the Atlantic & Omni Cern at Contentions have shown, abu Mazen’s current story is debunked by previous pronouncements of abu Mazen. That he feels he can get away with it (and apparently has) is indicative of the law that political correctness is inversely proportional to factual or historical correctness. And the NY Times is nothing if not politically correct.


Jerusalem / Efrata

Binyamin in O says:

Reply to Barry, above: Just change “Palestinian” for “Jew” and you have the ravings of a certain German “National Socialist”, circa 1929. That no one else on this board sees any problem with Mr. Barry is telling indeed.


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In Op-Ed, Abbas Distorts History

False account of Israel’s founding ill-serves two-state track

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