On April 26, 2023, on the occasion of Israel's 75th Independence Day, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission (EC), published a 90-second video message in which she praised Israel for its achievements and stressed the friendly relations between Israel and the EU. Among other things, von der Leyen said that, "seventy-five years ago, a dream was realized, with Israel's Independence Day. After the greatest tragedy in human history, the Jewish people could finally build a home in the Promised Land." Calling Israel a "vibrant democracy in the heart of the Middle East," she also praised its "dynamism, ingenuity, and groundbreaking innovations," and added: "You have literally made the desert bloom." She stressed the values and culture shared by Israel and Europe, and concluded, "Your freedom is our freedom."
Von der Leyen's remarks elicited furious responses from the Palestinian Authority (PA). The PA Foreign Ministry tweeted a blunt message in English that called the remarks "inappropriate, false and discriminatory." The tweet claimed that the expression "make the desert bloom" was "racist" and "anti-Palestinian" in the context of "Israel's 75-year colonial project of ongoing dispossession and displacement of the Palestinian people." Von der Leyen's remarks, it claimed further, were "propagandist discourse [that] dehumanizes and erases the Palestinian people and falsifies their rich history and civilization." Furthermore, such discourse "perpetuates the continued and racist denial of the Nakba," "whitewashes Israel's illegal occupation and apartheid regime," and "casts serious doubts on [the EU's] declared commitment to international law and human rights." The tweet concluded that von der Leyen "owes… the Palestinian people an apology."
The PA Foreign Ministry tweet in response to von der Leyen's video statement (Source: Newarab.com, April 28, 2023)
The tweet was later deleted from the ministry's Twitter page, apparently in response to a request for clarifications by the EU. However, PA Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh and several other officials in Fatah, the PA's ruling party, condemned von der Leyen's statement in similar terms, and demanded that she and the EU rescind the comments.
Harsh criticism of von der Leyen's statement was also voiced in articles in the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida. The articles accused the EC president of distorting history, of "imperialism," and of supporting "racism," "apartheid" and "massacres" against the Palestinians, and called for her dismissal.
This report reviews the responses from the PA and Fatah to the remarks made by Ursula von der Leyen on the occasion of Israel's 75th Independence Day.
Fatah Officials: Von Der Leyen Must Take Back Her Remarks That Supported The Zionist Narrative
As stated, in addition to the response tweeted by the PA Foreign Ministry that was later deleted, Fatah officials condemned von der Leyen's remarks and called on the EU to recant them.
PA Prime Minister: Israel Was Established To Serve Western Interests; We Are The Original Owners Of The Land
In the May 2, 2023 weekly session of the PA government, Prime Minister and Fatah Central Committee member Muhammad Shtayyeh addressed "those who are celebrating the 75th anniversary of Israel's establishment," clearly hinting at von der Leyen, saying: "I would like to remind you that this day [Israel's Independence Day] is also the anniversary of the Palestinian Nakba, and that Israel is a colonialist entity that was established by the Western countries to serve their interests…
"Israel was established on our land. We are the owners of the land and its original inhabitants. We are the ones who gave this land its name. This land is ours, and it is a holy land. [It is the] birth place of our prophet Jesus, peace be upon him, which was [also] visited by our Prophet Muhamad, peace be upon him, on his Night Journey [from Mecca to Jerusalem]…"
Fatah Central Committee Deputy Secretary: Von Der Leyen's Speech Is A "Political Failure"
Addressing von der Leyen's remarks in an interview on the PA radio station, Dr. Sabri Saidam, deputy secretary of Fatah's Central Committee, noted that the PA Foreign Ministry had issued a "loud" response to them, and added: "In other meetings with the Europeans we expressed [our position] that [the EU] must recant this speech, which constitutes an obvious political failure, given that Europe is required to support the bid to restore the rights of the Palestinian people and to correct the historical mistake made by Britain with European consent. [Von der Leyen's] remarks may be a new promise [of this sort], which allows Israel to carry out its racist activities…"
Fatah Deputy Commissioner Of International Relations: Von Der Leyen's Position Contradicts The Traditional Positions Of The EU
'Abdallah 'Abdallah, Fatah's Deputy Commissioner of International Relations and a member of the movement's Revolutionary Council, addressed von der Leyen's video in statements to the Arabi21.com website. He said, "We were bewildered by the remarks of the EC president, in which she adopted the old Zionist narrative, which is rejected even by many Jews around the world… The European official ignored the fact that Israel was established at the expense of the lives and future of an entire people in Palestine, whose tragedy still continues after 75 years… If the EU wants to stand behind [the statements of ] the EC president, this position contradicts its traditional positions. This is unreserved identification with the Zionist narrative, and [the Europeans] must look at the international positions on Israel's deeds, including the positions of international organizations such as the UN or Human Rights Watch, and of some of the Jewish organizations, which view Israel as a state of apartheid and racial discrimination."
Von der Leyen's video statement with Arabic subtitles on Twitter account of Fatah activist Mounir Al-Jaghoub (Twitter.com/MonirAljaghoub, April 26, 2023)
European Union: We Were Unpleasantly Surprised By The PA's Reaction; We Are The Main Donor To The PA And Have Good Relations With It
In statements to the Arabi21.com website and to the English website of the Al-Arabi Al-Jadid daily, Peter Stano, the EC's Lead Spokesperson for foreign affairs, said that the EU had been "unpleasantly surprised" by the PA Foreign Ministry's "inappropriate" and "unacceptable" response to von der Leyen's video, and had asked for clarifications regarding it. He added that the EU "enjoys good relations" with the PA and that von der Leyen met with Palestinian Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh last June. The EU, he noted, is the main donor to the PA, and is about to host in Brussels a meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which coordinates the delivery of international aid to Palestinians. Stano stressed that the EU has been consistent in supporting the Palestinian people's aspirations to statehood and has always pleaded for a negotiated two-state solution according to the 1967 borders.
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Ursula von der Leyen with PA Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh in June 2022 (Source: Wafa.ps, June 14, 2022)
Articles In PA Daily Harshly Attack Von Der Leyen's Statements
As mentioned, articles in the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida slammed von der Leyen's remarks in harsh terms reminiscent of the PA's Foreign Ministry's statement. The articles claimed that her support for Israel was part of a colonialist and imperialist tradition and accused her of preferring the Israeli narrative over the Palestinian one.
Al-Hayat Al-Jadida Editorial: The EC President Uses Violent Imperialist Language
An editorial in the PA daily Al-Hayat Al-Jadida said: "Modern history teaches that the first collective extermination of human beings in the 20th century was carried out by the soldiers of the German empire between 1904 and 1908. These soldiers killed nearly 80,000 civilians in Namibia, took over their lands and built settlements there, many of which are controlled by their descendants to this day. For the sake of objectivity, [it should be noted that] 100 years later, Germany acknowledged its responsibility for this mass extermination, apologized and paid some one billion euros in compensation.
"…The reason we mention this criminal event here is that the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, sent a message to Israel congratulating it on its Independence Day (!!), which is nothing but the Nakba of the Palestinian people. In essence, this was not just a message of congratulations, but a political [act of] praising Israel in an attempt to cleanse it of the stain it bears today as an occupation and apartheid state. Von der Leyen's message praises it blindly for its innovative democracy in the Middle East!!
"Was Ursula von der Leyen's message conveyed on behalf of Europe? Maybe. But the language [it contains] is the language of that imperialist, settlement-building and violent culture which for many years spilled, and continues to spill, the blood of innocent people [and to construct] buildings over their dead bodies, as is now happening in our occupied land…"
Al-Hayat Al-Jadida Columnist: There Is No Such Thing As A Jewish People; EU Must Dismiss President Von Der Leyen From Her Post
In an article titled "Ursula's Declaration – The New Balfour [Declaration]," Ramzi 'Odeh, secretary-general of the International Academic Campaign against Occupation and Apartheid, wrote: "The Palestinian people was bewildered by the remarks made by EC President Ursula von der Leyen, in which she congratulated the Israelis and their president, Isaac Herzog, on Israel's so-called Independence Day… Ursula's statement included many misleading points, the most important of which are the following:
–What democratic tragedy is Ursula talking about? Israel is not a democratic state. It is a racist state for Jews alone, which excludes its Arab citizens and deprives them of their basic human rights.
–What peaceful state is Ursula talking about? Israel is a country that, in the last decade, has waged more wars and military campaigns against its neighbors and against the Palestinian people than any other country in the world, and which allocates over 15% of its budget to the army.
–What Jewish people is Ursula talking about? There is no Jewish people. Israelis belong to several races, and the only thing they have in common is their religion.
–What does Ursula mean by the historic tragedy that befell the Jews until they managed to build their state in the Promised Land? She is recognizing the Zionist narrative regarding the Jews' historic and religious ties to Palestine, whereas most historians and archeologists, including the Israeli ones, deny these ties.
– What does Ursula mean by [Israel] turning the desert into a paradise? Palestine is not a desert, and Israel has not transformed the Negev into a paradise. It usurped the Palestinians' lands there, expelled them from their lands and established a few farming settlements that do not exceed [the limits of] the city of Beersheba!
"So Ursula [just] repeated the Balfour Declaration in a sentimental and despicable way, instead of speaking about the Nakba of the Palestinian people…
"The truth is that, if Europe is an ally of Israel, as Ursula herself declared, then [Europe] bears an international moral, legal and political responsibility for the Nakba of the Palestinian people and for the criminal oppression, persecution and apartheid that Israel perpetrates every day.
"Finally, in light of all these misleading [statements], the EU countries should dismiss Ursula from her post as the president of the EC, so as to preserve their friendly ties with the Palestinian people and show respect for the principles of international law and for democracy, which these countries themselves purport [to uphold]."
Palestinian Author Hassan Hamid: You Are Following The Bloody Path Of Your [European] Fathers
Author Hassan Hamid wrote in an article titled "Worse than [Just] a Shame, Ms. Ursula!": "I curled up like a hedgehog when I read the congratulatory message by Ursula [von der Leyen], which described the Zionist entity as [a bastion of] democracy, culture, civilization, respect for human rights, secularism, justice and equality among all the parts of Israeli society!
"I curled up like a hedgehog, embarrassed by [her] shameless writing, which was devoid of any objectivity and understanding. Because, since the days before Ms. Ursula was born, the Zionist entity has been founded on massacres that were perpetrated by the criminal Israelis with the support of the European countries that Ms. Ursula now represents.
"Yes, Ms. Ursula, you are following in the footsteps of your fathers on the path of bloodshed, hatred, deception, blindness and force! Your fathers perpetrated injustice in our land of Palestine when they aided, supported and defended the Israelis so they could occupy the Palestinian land and massacre its people…
"Your [European] fathers – Balfour, Churchill, Sykes, Picot, Bonaparte, Hitler, Allenby, Herbert Samuel, Benjamin Disraeli, James Joyce, Kafka, Max Brod, Sartre, Kundera and others who resembled them in their words and deeds – are the ones who created and defended the bloody entity and the killing, occupation and criminal injustice perpetrated on our Palestinian land. And now you close your eyes, and perhaps also your mind, and make idiotic statements, devoid of any credibility or moral significance, about the democracy of that wretched entity, the likes of which has never been seen in the history of the world – a weak, despicable entity that would never have been born if not for the barbarous Western aid it received!"
 Twitter.com/EUinIsrael, April 26, 2023.
 Twitter.com/pmofa, April 26, 2023 The tweet has since been deleted.
 The decision to delete the statement may have also been influenced by that that the Ad Hoc Liaison Committee, which coordinates the delivery of international aid to Palestinians and is co-sponsored by the EU and the US, was about to convene in Brussels on May 3, 2023.
 Wafa.ps, May 2, 2023. It should be noted that Shtayyeh's statements were later deleted from WAFA's website.
 This is apparently a reference to the Balfour Declaration and to the approval of the British Mandate by the League of Nations. In meetings with Europeans, PA officials often demand, in this context, that the EU recognize the Palestinian state even in the absence of a political agreement with Israel.
 The Balfour Declaration is called "the Balfour Promise" in Arabic.
 Palsawa.com, April 30, 2023.
 Arabi21.com, April 29, 2023.
 In this meeting von der Leyen announced that the EU had decided to resume financial aid to the Palestinians after a two-year hiatus (Wafa.ps, June 14, 2023).
 Newarab.com, April 28, 2023; arabi21.com, April 29, 2023.
 Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), April 30, 2023.
 Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), April 29, 2023.
 Al-Hayat Al-Jadida (PA), April 30, 2023.