What is the Nakba myth and why it is, as you write, “a lethal political cocktail.”
Nakba is the Arabic word for a “great catastrophe.” Every year at the same time as Israelis celebrate their independence, the Palestinians now commemorate their Nakba, by which they mean their expulsion from their homeland in Palestine. It is a myth because it is based on outrageous lies about the causes and consequences of the 1948 war. As I show in my broadside, it was the Palestinian leadership that rejected the UN partition plan, while the Zionists accepted it, and it was the Palestinians under the leadership of Al-Husseini (he was re-elected as Chairman of the Arab Higher Committee in Gaza in 1948) that decided to launch a war of extermination against the Jews. The Nakba myth is destructive and lethal, because instead of negotiations with Israel over the consequences of the 1967 war (which is difficult enough), the Palestinians are looking to resolve their grievances over the outcome of the 1948 war, which can never be resolved.
Was Yasser Arafat ever interested in a peace deal?
Clearly not. In 2000 at Camp David, Prime Minister Ehud Barak (with President Clinton’s encouragement) offered Arafat an independent state on most of the territory the Palestinians had before the 1967 war. It was more than either Jordan or Egypt ever offered the Palestinians when those two Arab countries controlled the West Bank and Gaza between 1948-1967. Arafat rejected the deal, went home and launched the Second Intifada — a three year wave of suicide bombings against Israeli schools, pizza parlors and wedding halls.
We have learned in more detail from Condoleezza Rice’s new book about the stunningly good deal Israel offered the Palestinians in 2008 that Mahmoud Abbas rejected. Explain what exactly he rejected and if that rejection suggests that he is incapable of accepting any imaginable peace deal.
On September 16, 2008 Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered Abbas an even better deal than the one that Arafat rejected at Camp David. In his residence in Jerusalem, Olmert showed Abbas a map designating all the land swaps that Israel was prepared to make so that the Palestinians could have the equivalent of almost 100 percent of the territory on the West Bank and Gaza they had before the 1967 war. In addition, Olmert offered to divide Jerusalem and allow the Palestinians to have their capital in the Eastern part of the city. Abbas said he would come back the next day to continue discussions about the map. But he never did come back. That was the last time Olmert saw Abbas. Abbas could not continue with the discussions because he now would have had to give up the Palestinian “Right of Return” (to Israel) of the refugees from the 1948 war. This he cannot do, because it would also mean conceding that the Nakba was a lie and that Abbas and other Palestinian leaders have been lying to the residents of the refugee camps for the past sixty years about their imminent “return” to their former homes in Israel.
Some have complained that Benjamin Netanyahu is the obstacle to peace negotiations. Do you agree?
Absolutely not. As my answer to your last question shows, it was Abbas who walked out on the best deal the Palestinians have ever been offered, a deal that would have brought them independence by now. The historical record shows that the Palestinians are less interested in achieving their own independence than in taking away Israel’s independence.
What do you think of President Obama’s handling of the U.S.–Israel relationship?
He has fumbled it badly, starting with his demand in 2009 that the Israeli government cease all building in the West Bank settlements for ten months — even those settlements which the Americans already agreed will remain under Israeli control under any peace deal. Still, Netanyahu complied, but the Palestinians wouldn’t negotiate. Obama’s demands on Israel would be somewhat understandable if he showed some balance by demanding the Palestinians drop the Right of Return. Until that happens there will be no progress in the negotiations. It’s the Right of Return that’s the biggest obstacle to any hope for peace, not Netanyahu who has already said he is willing to accept Palestinian independence and a two-state solution.
What is the future of the peace process in the Middle East?
Pretty grim, as long as the Palestinians prefer to talk about their Nakba and the Right of Return of the refugees from the 1948 war.