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memri
April 7, 2016 No.
6377

PA President Mahmoud 'Abbas's Unprecedented Remarks Against Knifings Spark Controversy Among Palestinians

On March 31, 2016, Palestinian President Mahmoud 'Abbas was interviewed by senior Israeli journalist Ilana Dayan on her show "Uvda" on Channel 2 of Israeli television. In the interview 'Abbas made relatively moderate statements and, most significantly, voiced opposition, for the first time, to the stabbing attacks perpetrated by young Palestinians against Israelis in recent months, and even said that he would stop the intifada if he could. 'Abbas also said in the interview that no sensible person would allow his child to take up a knife and commit murder, or tell his child that this was a smart thing to do. "You would have to be crazy" to allow this, he emphasized. Asked about a terror attack in which a 16-year-old Palestinian boy killed an Israeli woman in front of her children, he said: "This is unacceptable, because this woman was a human being. It is not permissible to kill a human being under any circumstances. It is prohibited to spill human blood for any reason. I oppose this." 'Abbas added that the Palestinian security apparatuses are working to thwart stabbing attacks, and that they search children's school bags to check whether they are carrying knives. He claimed that in one school they found 70 knives in the possession of students, both boys and girls, and confiscated them. Nevertheless, 'Abbas said repeatedly that young Palestinians who are killed while carrying out stabbing attacks are martyrs, and that they commit such acts, knowing they are likely to die, out of hopelessness and despair.

'Abbas said that he is committed to continuing the security coordination between Israel and the PA because without it "chaos" and "a deadly intifada" would ensue. Nevertheless, he demanded that Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu show him respect and grant him full responsibility over area-A territories without the Israeli army entering them, and that Netanyahu declare that he believes in the two-state solution. 'Abbas made it clear that he still extends his hand in peace to Netanyahu, views him as a partner and is prepared to meet him in any place and at any time, and reiterated that he still believes in peace and wants to see peace in his lifetime, so young Palestinians would have hope.

 
Mahmoud 'Abbas in the Channel 2 interview (Image: mako.co.il)

'Abbas's explicit statements in this interview against stabbing attacks were the first and only time he has openly opposed these attacks since the start in October 2015 of the current wave of violence, which the PA refers to as a "popular uprising." In the past 'Abbas condemned attacks against civilians on both sides, but the current wave of violence was not condemned by 'Abbas and his officials even when the attacks targeted civilians and included the use of firearms. In fact, 'Abbas and other PA and Fatah leaders voiced unequivocal support for continuing the "popular uprising,"[1] and justified it as an expression of young Palestinians' despair, which is caused by the continued occupation and the absence of a political horizon, the changes that Israel is allegedly performing in the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the torching of the Dawabsheh family home in 2015 and the burning of the boy Muhammad Abu Khdeir in 2014. In a November 26, 2015 press conference, 'Abbas said: "These Israeli actions caused the Palestinian youths to respond in the way that we see."[2] Furthermore, the PA and Fatah have frequently sponsored events and ceremonies commemorating and glorifying the perpetrators of attacks.[3] Fatah spokesman Osama Al-Qawasmeh even took pride that his movement had the largest number of "popular awakening" martyrs.[4]

The PA has also repeatedly accused Israel of carrying out summary field executions of Palestinians and of staging stabbing attacks by placing knives next to the bodies of Palestinians to justify their killing.[5]

'Abbas's moderate statements on the stabbing attacks and on his willingness to cooperate with Netanyahu for the sake of peace evoked sweeping criticism - from his usual political opponents, primarily Hamas, but also from factions within the PLO, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and from Palestinian journalists living in the West Bank. The journalists wrote that 'Abbas went too far in his messages of peace and moderation, and that the PA was confiscating knives from the youths without providing them with an alternative way to oppose the occupation. Some writers also mentioned the condolence visit that a Palestinian delegation made to the home of Mounir 'Amar, a Druze officer who served as the head of Israel's civil administration in the West Bank and who was killed in plane crash last week. They claimed that the visit showed how much the PA's policy was mistaken and confused.

Conversely, the Palestinian press, and in particular the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, published articles in 'Abbas's defense, which emphasized his commitment to peace and claimed that his attackers were opportunists and populists who wanted to boost their standing and prestige at the expense of the Palestinian children's blood.[6] Fatah's spokesman hinted that 'Abbas's statements in the Channel 2 interview were intended for Israeli ears and constituted a political maneuver.

Below are excerpts from statements and articles criticizing 'Abbas following his Channel 2 interview, or defending him.

Hamas And PLO Elements: 'Abbas's Positions Are Unfortunate, He Went Too Far In His Peaceful Messages

As mentioned, 'Abbas's statements provoked criticism against him from diverse Palestinian factions. Hamas senior official Isma'il Radwan said to the Hamas mouthpiece Filastin:" 'Abbas's declarations are saddening and condemnable. The PA chairman takes pride in suppressing the intifada and in attempting to end it, and sanctifies the security coordination with Israel." These positions, he claimed, "provide backing for the Zionist occupation to continue its crimes against our Palestinian people. Instead of grieving over the death of criminal Zionists, ['Abbas] should have channeled his emotions towards helping our people and presenting the war crimes of the occupation to the International [Criminal] Court in order to indict the occupation's leaders..." Radwan urged the PA and its security apparatuses to "end the security coordination, provide political, material, moral and media backing to the intifada, and work to ensure that it continues, instead of stopping and suppressing it - for this occupation understands only the language of intifada and resistance." Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri likewise said that 'Abbas's statements, "which oppose the intifada, give the occupation an excuse to persist in its crimes against the Palestinian people."[7]

The Palestinian Islamic Jihad movement also condemned 'Abbas's statements. Senior movement official Ahmad Al-Mudallal said: "'Abbas' statements only serve the Zionist enemy, and provide it with legitimacy to persevere in its crimes." He claimed that the Palestinian people had no option but to carry out the Jerusalem Intifada, and therefore 'Abbas must endorse this option, support it and end the security coordination.

PLO-affiliated factions also voiced harsh criticism. Badran Jaber, a senior PFLP official, claimed that 'Abbas had "turned his back on the supreme national interest and the interest of the Arab and Palestinian people." He added that 'Abbas's position on the intifada was "very saddening," and that his policy of negotiations and security coordination had "proved to be a total failure". He slammed the PA for failing to implement the Palestinian National Council's decisions of March 2015 to terminate security coordination with the occupation, and added: "Our position is clear: we oppose this policy adopted by the PA in Ramallah, which completely alters the Palestinian consensus and what was agreed upon in [PLO] institutions, which is binding [for everyone]." Jaber charged the Palestinian National Council (PNC) and PLO Executive Committee to settle the score with those who had "turned their backs on these decisions."[8] Another PFLP official, Rabbah Muhanna, called on 'Abbas to resign because he had crossed red lines, especially in violating the Palestinian Central Council decision to end the security coordination with Israel.[9]

Writer In Al-Quds Daily: Abu Mazen Ignores The Decision To End Security Coordination With Israel

Articles by West Bank Palestinian writers also condemned 'Abbas. Ibrahim Daibes, a columnist for the East Jerusalem daily Al-Quds, wrote: "President Abu Mazen is known for not hiding his calls for nonviolent resistance and his opposition to every form of violence. In recent days, he voiced positions on this issue that provoked widespread responses [among the Palestinian public], even if they were originally directed at Israeli public opinion. In a meeting with a delegation of Jews, he said that he likes to listen to Jewish singers every day...[10] In an interview on an Israeli channel, he said that he adhered to the security coordination because its absence would lead to extremism and violence of every sort, and this despite the fact that the Palestinian Central Council decided to cancel this coordination - an official and binding decision that the president ignores. Furthermore, Abu Mazen announced that the Palestinian security forces were raiding schools in search of knives, and that in one school they found 70 knives in the possession of 70 students and confiscated all of them, telling the students that the use of knives was forbidden and improper. On the diplomatic plane, he said that he was prepared to resume negotiations... These positions, which are totally clear and which go too far in their peaceful [message], would have been understandable and acceptable had they elicited at least a partial [positive] response or understanding from the Israeli side. But Israelis are becoming increasingly extremist and racist towards anything Palestinian and anything pertaining to [Palestinian] rights, a [Palestinian] state and  Jerusalem as the capital [of this state]. They do not stop the settlements [even] for a moment... They spurn our demands to return to the 1967 borders, and certainly oppose the right of return... Therefore, what we are doing is 'beating a drum in the ears of the deaf'... and that is what aggravates and even angers the [Palestinian] public."

Later in the article Daibes also criticized the Palestinian delegation's condolence visit to the family of the head of Israel's civil administration, who was killed in a plane accident. He wrote: "People wonder: Would it not have been [more] proper for official delegations of this rank to visit the owners of homes, sheds and portable structures that the civil administration ordered to demolish? Would it not have been proper for these delegations to visit the families of martyrs, in particular those whose bodies Israel has been withholding for over three months? People wonder if it was really necessary to send a condolence delegation... If necessary, sending condolence telegrams would have been enough. But what is done cannot be undone, [though] it caused resentment in the Palestinian street and amongst the people...

"We are fighting with speeches and meetings instead of examining the situation realistically and addressing it with rational considerations. When the [1947 UN] partition resolution was issued, we opposed it and rose up against it. In contrast, the Jews, led by Ben-Gurion, accepted it and we lost much more [land than we would have lost under the partition plan]... Today we still talk of a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as its capital, although everybody knows that the settlements, the Judaization and the expulsion that Israel is conducting have eliminated such a solution..." [11]

Palestinian Journalist And Academic: The PA Does Not Provide Palestinian Youths With An Alternative Mode Of Resistance Other Than Stabbing Attacks

Dr. Ahmad Jamil 'Azem, a journalist and a researcher at Bir Zeit University in Ramallah and a columnist for the Jordanian daily Al-Ghad, attacked 'Abbas's policy, claiming that he does not provide the Palestinian youths with any alternative to stabbing attacks as a way to resist the occupation. He wrote that the main problem with the policy of the PA under 'Abbas is "the absence of an overall national strategy," and added: "'Abbas's statements [on Channel 2] were not mistaken. Nearly every father or mother would keep their son or daughter from carrying out a stabbing attack, though they would not condemn their child if he or she carried out [such an attack] and would regard their child as a martyr. It is just as ['Abbas] said in his interview on Israeli TV, which evoked so many responses. [However], the father or mother can do very little after their son or daughter has been martyred, except mourn for them and perhaps feel proud of them. But the Palestinian leadership can do something, and must do something other [than mourn].

"'Abbas's claim in the interview that [the PA security forces] found 70 knives at a school sounds very far-fetched and is hard to imagine, though 'Abbas is known as one who means what he says... But let's assume, for the sake of the argument, that [70] knives, or something like that, were indeed found, or [even] that 70 kids only expressed a wish to take up a knife. The question is: what does the Palestinian leadership have to say to them? Imposing limitations, prohibitions or anything else on them would not be effective, and even promises of a glorious future [would not help]. The only solution is [to determine] what is the alternative resistance strategy. We can imagine that if the decision-maker [himself] discovered that his son or daughter planned to attack a well-healed and helmeted soldier with a knife or a pair of scissors, he would have told him of a more effective mode of resistance, as part of an overall strategic approach.

"In this context we might also mention that a member of Fatah's Central Council, along with another Fatah member who is also a member of the PLO Executive Committee, paid a condolence visit to [the family] of a Druze officer [in the Israeli army] named Mounir 'Amar, who was the head of Israel's civil administration in the West Bank. This visit reflects the [PA's] confused policy and [its] unclear and inflammatory political messages. The Executive Committee member's excuse, that he paid his condolences because the officer was a personal acquaintance of his, is no justification and no reason for us to forgive him. On the contrary, it begs the question of how it could become so acceptable for a member of the Palestinian people's leadership to have a relationship with a senior occupation official who was responsible for many measures that suffocate, limit and imprison [Palestinians]?..."[12]   

Palestinian Journalists, Fatah Members: 'Abbas Adheres To The Discourse Of Peace And Does Not Fear Populist Attacks       

As stated, following the criticism of 'Abbas, the PA press and Fatah officials rallied to his defense. They accused his attackers of spreading lies and populist slogans, and of encouraging child attackers, in order to make political and personal gains. 'Abbas's supporters stressed that criticism does not alarm him and that he remains committed to peace and to defending Palestine's children.

Al-Hayat Al-Jadida: 'Abbas Does Not Fear Those Who Spread Lies About The Stabbing Attacks

The PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida stated in an editorial: "In his statements to a Druze delegation [with whom he met in Ramallah on April 2, 2016], President Abu Mazen stressed that peace would continue to be [the essence of] Palestine's discourse and [the goal] of its struggle and of his efforts, in a bid to achieve justice, security and stability by removing the occupation. He also stressed that he does not fear the condemnations [he incurs] by his action to promote the discourse [of peace], but will stick to it without hesitation, nor does he fear those who compete with each other in waving hackneyed and populist slogans.

"[These are] people who fear the truth, avoid [seeing] reality and spread lies about what they call 'knifing operations,' [operations] which we do not want our children to be dragged into. No sane person encourages such action that has nothing to do with true resistance, [because real resistance] follows a comprehensive plan for action, creation and life. No father or mother would send their children to die like this, while carrying out such 'operations' that so far have ended only in the death of these [young] flowers. We want these flowers to bear fruit in the gardens of the future, not die at a tender age. Hence, it is the duty of the PA to protect the future generation, the generation that will build the free and independent state of Palestine, so it can live a life of liberty, development and prosperity, a life of peace and stability.

"In his statements [to the Druze delegation] Abu Mazen clarified further: 'I said what I said to Israel's Channel 2, and I say it again, because I am responsible for the safety of this great people, the generous people of Palestine that has been steadfast for generations, and especially [for the safety of] its children, for whom we want nothing but a future of freedom and honor'... Indeed, Palestine will bring forth peace in order to avoid war and quench its fires. Hence, we will not abandon the discourse of peace and our determination to follow its path, whatever the obstacles and difficulties, and however shrill the cries of those who fear the truth and flee from it..."[13]

Fatah Official: 'Abbas's Critics Want Palestinian Children To Die In Order To Boost Their Own Prestige

Muwaffaq Matar, a member of Fatah's Revolutionary Committee and a columnist for Al-Hayat Al-Jadida, wrote: "The statements of President Mahmoud 'Abbas Abu Mazen about childhood and about protecting the children of Palestine displeased [certain people]. His firm position against involving children in the bloody struggle displeased them as well, because they can see their [own] essence only in [the children's] spilled blood and can achieve prominence only by climbing a ladder made from their tender bones.

"The 'revolutionaries,' the 'nationalists' and the swindlers shoot arrows at the president whenever he reiterates his position about involving the Palestinian children [and throwing them into] the furnace of the violent struggle. Those who opened fire on the president after his interview on Israel's Channel 2, in which he said that the Palestinian security forces search children's backpacks and seize knives they are carrying so they will not be killed in vain at Israeli checkpoints, [those people] are the ones who are good for nothing but smoking hookahs in coffee shops... [They are the ones] who advocate historic revolutions and measure [the value of] the intifada by the number [of people killed].

"[These] heartless people find it easy... to see the brains of children splattered, or to see heart-wrenching images of children in the spring of their lives bleeding from deep wounds, completely helpless, while any chance of rescue is denied them. Since the minds [of these people] cannot provide the children with a way to live, they see their death as a solution - [for death] transforms the innocent young victim into a martyr, and they can assume the status of the hero's 'best man'...

"There is no greater tragedy than pleasure over the death of a child, and there is no greater logical fallacy than glorifying the image of the victim [as a model for emulation]. Those hollow people devote all their energy to targeting noble ideas, values and positions like those presented by the humane president Abu Mazen, and whenever a child falls victim they take it as an opportunity not only to satisfy their greed, which they groundlessly call 'national positions,' but also to promote themselves and gain prominence... For them, the child's life is no more than a means [of self-promotion], while for the humane president, it is like the soil: something we cherish and protect...

"Gentlemen, you must know that the first task of president 'Abbas, and of any president who leads his people towards life, freedom and independence, is to protect the future - otherwise what is the point of national struggle, by any means? Why do you not realize that the children of this nation are the future? Or do you think they are born to serve as fuel for the furnaces of your personal, partisan or sectarian plans?"[14]

Fatah Official: 'Abbas's Critics Quote Only The Statements That Suit Their Positions

Another member of Fatah's Revolutionary Committee, Bakr Abu Bakr, also came out in 'Abbas's defense, claiming that his attackers quoted him selectively, without considering everything he said in the interview. He wrote: "About the president's meeting with the Israeli journalist we read only headlines, without actually examining the meaning of his discourse, which is tailored to Israeli logic. While characterized by a universal humane rhetoric, [this discourse] also conveys key political [messages] whose meaning is clear, [but] those who are addicted to taking statements out of context or changing [them] did not address this, assuming that the public does not read but only notices sensational headlines. Regarding this interview we saw headlines like: 'The PA Is on the Verge of Collapse and I Am against The Knife Intifada'; 'I Am against the Knife Intifada and Can Resolve All The Problems with Netanyahu'; 'Our Security Forces Search Children's Backpacks for Knives', or 'Abu Mazen to Channel 2: I Extend My Hand to Mr. Netanyahu to Make Peace.' When the headline deals with the day-today security coordination that takes place both in the West Bank and Gaza, we do not read what Abu Mazen said [about this], such as 'We need the security coordination, to which both sides are committed; we have no alternative but to live together.'  We also do not read and do not hear about the important statements he made to the Israeli journalist [Ilana] Dayan, who asked him: 'Will the stabbings cease if Israel stops making incursions into area A territories and into [Palestinian] cities?', to which he replied: 'In addition to that, I demand giving [the Palestinians] hope and recognizing the two-state solution.' That is, [he] significantly linked the ending of the uprising and made it conditional upon the need to make peace - which Netanyahu refuses to do - and upon giving [the Palestinians] hope and recognizing in advance the two-state solution, not only upon a withdrawal from area A. Otherwise, the events may continue, he implied. Is there need to say it [more] directly? A word to the wise is sufficient.

"Those who make false allegations never carefully read such statements, which present the coordination as a mutual affair, because their position on Abu Mazen is fixed in advance...

"In sum, if a critic wishes to be objective, observant and moderate, he must remove from his eyes the lens of despair, black misery, accusation and condemnation, and see things [as they are] with his own eyes. [Only] then will he be able to criticize the negative aspects - or any position he disagrees with, for that is his right - while also noticing the positive aspects.

"Let us discard the view that only criticizes and sees only the negative, and say that President Abu Mazen has a clear policy, which we accept in whole or in part. His position against militarizing [the uprising] is not new. It reflects his and the Palestinian leadership's understanding of the balances of power in the world, the changes in the region, and the nature of the domestic situation. [Abu Mazen] insists on internal unity and on action on the ground in the framework of ongoing popular resistance, which complements the political-legal-historic action, and is capable of exerting pressure and triggering escalation in order to expose the racist and terrorist face of the [Zionist] entity..."[15]

In Response To The Criticism, Fatah Spokesman Implies: 'Abbas's Statements Were A Political Maneuver

Following the extensive criticism leveled at 'Abbas, Fatah spokesman Osama Al-Qawasmeh also defended him, stressing in a press statement that 'Abbas had never relinquished any of the Palestinian principles, while hinting that his statements had been intended for Israeli ears and constituted a political maneuver. He added that nobody should question 'Abbas's national positions, which are clear, unchanging, and committed to the national Palestinian principles that are part of the Palestinian national consensus. Condemning "some shrill voices" that were heard recently, he said that they expressed positions devoid of national understanding - positions that do not understand the magnitude of the challenges the Palestinian people is facing in light of the great events that are happening in the Arab region and the world, and do not understand some of the political maneuvers that the Palestinian president is making. He reminded these critics that, in the past, some people attacked Yasser Arafat for statements he had made that were intended for the ears of the international community and Israeli society. In response to such criticism, Fatah official Salah Khalaf Abu Iyad once remarked: 'The entire world and all its leaders are allowed to make maneuvers and [employ] tactics, and only the Palestinians are not allowed to do this?'

Al-Qawasmeh stressed that, throughout his decade as president, 'Abbas has never relinquished any Palestinian principle. Rather, he undertook the most important political, legal and diplomatic battles, rejected all the American and Israeli threats and pressures and, with the Palestinian people at his side, made important political achievements for the Palestinian cause.[16]

 

Endnotes

[2] Al-Quds (East Jerusalem), November 26, 2015.

[3] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6182, Palestinian Bar Association Awards Honorary Law Degree To Killer Of Two Israelis In Jerusalem, October 11, 2015; Special Dispatch No. 6249, PA Commemorates Perpetrators Of Stabbing Attacks, December 30, 2015; Special Dispatch No. 6255, Palestinian Ministry Of Health: Nashat Melhelm Is A Valued Martyr Whose Pure Blood Watered The Soil Of The Homeland, January 10, 2016; Special Dispatch No. 6309, Palestinian Education Ministry Holds Memorial For Female Student Killed After Carrying Out Stabbing Attack, February 16, 2016.

[4] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6249, PA Commemorates Perpetrators Of Stabbing Attacks, December 30, 2015.

[5] Mofa.pna.ps, November 22, 2015.

[6] For Palestinian press criticism of children's participation in terror attacks, see MEMRI Inquiry and Analysis No. 1216, Palestinian Journalists, Intellectuals Speak Out Against Children Participating In Terrorist Attacks And Against Targeting Civilians, January 5, 2016.

[7] Filastin (Gaza), April 2, 2016.

[8] Filastin (Gaza), April 2, 2016.

[9] Paltoday.ps, April 4, 2016.

[10] On March 28, 2016 'Abbas met in Ramallah with a group of Israelis whose origin is in Arab countries. During the meeting he told the delegation that his favorite singer is Damascus-born cantor, singer and oud player Moshe Eliyahu.

[11] Al-Quds (East Jerusalem), April 3, 2016.

[12] Al-Ghad (Jordan), April 5, 2016.

[13] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), April 3, 2016.

[14] Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), April 3, 2016.

[15] Alwatanvoice.com, April 3, 2016.

[16] Fatahwatan.ps, April 5, 2016.