When Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas spoke before the U.N. Security Council last week to denounce U.S. President Donald Trump’s Mideast peace plan, he brought with him a peculiar prop: a graphic with a series of maps titled “The Palestinians [sic] Historic Compromise,” which purport to show how “Historic Palestine” has “disappeared” over the course of the 20th century.
Though the use of images at the United Nations is neither new nor unique, never has a graphic that so blatantly distorts history been displayed before the highest level of international diplomacy. This episode should raise alarm bells outside of Turtle Bay as it represents a growing trend of rewriting the historical record of the Middle East.
Commonly called the “Map of Lies,” Abbas’s graphic misleadingly suggests how what was so-called “Historic Palestine” in 1917 has shrunk in size through a series of compromises in 1937, 1947 and 1967, until it is barely recognizable in “Trump’s Plan” in 2020. Taken at face value, the map suggests that the sudden creation and growth of one state, Israel, came at the expense of another, Palestine.
The truth, however, is something altogether different.
The notion that a sovereign state of “Palestine” existed in 1917—as depicted in Abbas’s map—is a fantastical reinterpretation of history. The ancestral homeland of the Jewish people and site of two temples and numerous kingdoms, the Romans renamed this land on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean “Palestine” after destroying the Jewish kingdoms of Judah and Israel in 70 C.E. in an attempt to expunge the Jewish connection to the land from the historical record.
For the next millennia-and-a-half, sovereignty would shift as empires competed for control of the Holy Land. By the 20th century, the Ottoman Empire had been the sovereign power for 400 years, but abdicated control of “Palestine” to include its Jewish and Arab populations to the League of Nations in 1917 following its dissolution.
To this day, a sovereign “Palestine” has never existed, contrary to the second deceit in Abbas’s map: that Palestinians have made historic “compromises.” In the 1930s, Chaim Weizmann (later the first president of Israel) suggested that the Jewish community would agree to a state even if it were “the size of a tablecloth.” While the Jews of Palestine were prepared to accept even the minimum levels of sovereignty, the Arabs of Palestinian were unwilling to entertain anything but the maximum. For them, Arab sovereignty was contingent on denying Jewish sovereignty.
Compromise is necessary when dividing a finite amount between multiple parties. But the Arabs’ zero-sum calculus has bred a culture of rejectionism. As the Jews continually agreed to international offers for partition—the 1937 Peel Commission Plan, the 1947 U.N. Partition Plan, and offered territory for normalization in 1967—the Arabs’ and Palestinians’ response each time was “no” to compromise. By presenting these maps has “compromises” on the part of the Palestinians, Abbas is trying to rewrite history.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, Abbas has inflicted untold damage on the truth by displaying a graphic before the international community that erroneously suggests the Palestinians have continuously compromised on a historic homeland where they supposedly enjoyed political sovereignty.
That Abbas brought his map to the highest level of international diplomacy suggests that he believes that the world is ready to entertain this revisionist history of the Middle East. Sadly, in this regard, he may not be mistaken.
Rewriting history has long been a tactic of overtly anti-Israel and anti-Semitic organizations. On college campuses, anti-Israel groups regularly use a version of this map during the notorious Israel Apartheid Week. The anti-Semitic BDS movement features this graphic in its campaign materials. Al Jazeera, the propaganda arm of Qatar that has a growing audience among younger generations in America, has a “Vanishing Palestine” interactive video as part of its “Palestine Remix” channel.
What is most insidious, however, is the growing use of the map in mainstream venues. In October 2015, MSNBC displayed these maps during a live segment discussing a recent spate of Palestinian violence on the Temple Mount (for which it later apologized). In 2017, Columbia University published the maps on advertisements for a workshop on “Citizenship and Nationality in Israel/Palestine.” Last September, a high school matriculation exam in Finland included the maps.
The use of the “Map of Lies” in mainstream media and academic circles in particular will have the effect of normalizing its content and message.
For Israel and the Jewish people, this presents a real danger. Efforts to delegitimize the Jewish State are growing louder, with the United Nations recently releasing a “blacklist” of Israeli companies that operate in Judea and Samaria being only the latest example of revisionist history having tangible consequences.
One’s interpretation and understanding of the past forms their assumptions about the present and determines their vision for the future. Believing Abbas’s “Map of Lies” will do more than dishonor the past; it will irrevocably damage the cause of peace.
Danny Danon is Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations.