It turns out that the events of 1967 in which Israel took possession of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and reunited Jerusalem isn’t the only historical event that Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas wishes to erase from the pages of history. Nor is the reversal of the verdict of 1948, when the Jews regained sovereignty over part of their ancient homeland, or 1917, when the Balfour Declaration set the Jews on a path towards statehood, the only other items on his counter-factual wish list. It turns out that Abbas wants to go back a lot further than that in making his demands.
His real problem is with the biblical book of Joshua.
That’s right. Rather than simply go back to the 19th century, his latest speech revealed that the new starting point for the Palestinian quest for “justice” is some time in the 13th century BCE. That’s the approximate date historians give to when the tribes of Israel began the conquest of the land of Canaan they had been promised when they left Egypt a generation beforehand.
That is the clear implication of a speech Abbas gave this week while visiting a Palestinian refugee camp in the West Bank, during which he declared that the Jewish interlopers in the country would eventually be expelled, and that not a brick of their “settlements” would eventually be left standing.
“They will be in the dustbins of history, and they will remember that this land is for its people, its residents and the Canaanites who were here 5,000 years ago. We are the Canaanites,” he declared.
The breathtaking scope of his boasts will be dismissed by those who view faith in the ultimate success of the peace process with the Palestinians as a kind of religion that is impervious to all contrary proof. Indeed, it’s hard to take anything that comes out of the mouth of this petty autocrat, who cares nothing about the best interests of his people.
Abbas’s speech may provoke some scholars of intellectual history to revive the discussion about the obscure group of Israelis in the 1950s who called themselves Canaanites to describe their effort to create a separate identity from Jews who lived outside of the Jewish state. But it’s unlikely that Abbas or any of his listeners had ever heard of their long-forgotten efforts.
Nor will many observers note that there is a discrepancy between this claim to have preceded the Jews in the region and the one we tend to hear ever Christmas Eve about the Palestinians—and not the Jews—being the true descendants of Jesus and the Jews of the biblical era.
Since that tall tale hasn’t really caught on, Abbas is now seeking to go back another millennium, declaring that the first Palestinian refugees were the Canaanites who lost their homes to the imperialistic conquests of Moses’ designated successor, Joshua.
This story is just another lie. The notion that the current population that calls itself Palestinian can link themselves to the biblical Jews, let alone the vanished Canaanites, is pure fiction. Some Palestinian Arabs did, of course, emigrate in the early 20th century from surrounding Arab lands as the country began to experience rapid economic development as a result of the return of the Jews and Zionist settlement.
But the problem with Abbas’s speech is not so much about his willingness to invent history. After all, that’s nothing new for a man who earned a Ph.D. in Oriental studies from Patrice Lumumba University in Moscow by writing a thesis based in Holocaust denial and conspiracy theories.
It really doesn’t matter when Palestinian Arabs arrived. What matters is that their leader is still doubling down on an effort to deny history and the right of the Jews to a Jewish state, no matter where its borders might be drawn.
That was the upshot not only of his speech at the Jalazone refugee camp, but also of reports of his conversation with a delegation this week of visiting Democratic members of Congress. Abbas wasn’t willing to say he recognized Israel or to admit that the Jews were also entitled to a state.
That’s a problem because the Democratic delegation and most of Israel’s supporters in Congress and elsewhere in the United States are still determined supporters of a two-state solution. The letter sent by 21 members of the Knesset that called upon Congress to stop pledging its support for that concept was broadly dismissed by most politicians on both sides of the aisle, who still think two states is the only long-term rational solution to solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In theory, those who still hold to that belief might be right. But Israelis and Palestinians don’t live in a theoretical world in which dividing adjacent land into states coexisting peacefully is the obvious answer to their problems. They live in the real world, where the only Palestinian leaders are the Islamists of Hamas, who still seek the deaths of Jews, and the “moderates” of Fatah led by Abbas, who is selling his people a fairy tale about Canaanites who will somehow use a historical time machine to expel the descendants of Joshua.
Why is Abbas peddling historical lies and implicitly vowing to throw out all the Jews of Israel, and not just the settlers on the West Bank? He is currying favor with both the Palestinians in the West Bank and the millions of descendants of the 1948 refugees (descendants of the Canaanite refugees from 3,300 years ago, whoever they might be, don’t have a say in any of this) whose national identity is inextricably tied to the war on Zionism. For them, the Jewish presence in all of Israel represents the “occupation.”
That’s a tragedy. Still, as long as this remains the case, the arguments Americans are having about promoting a two-state solution are simply a waste of time.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.