A little more than a year ago, Palestinian Authority chief Mahmoud Abbas was caught red-handed. At the end of a Fatah Central Committee conference in Ramallah, a 14-second clip of him speaking was leaked online. The moment it was out, there was no going back.

Abbas was heard using street language to curse China, Russia, the United States and “all the Arabs.” In a moment of anger, he unleashed his tongue. There were attempts to claim that the recording had been faked, but the faux pas had been made.

It was preceded by another faux pas that also made waves when Abbas cursed then-President Donald Trump with the phrase, “May your home be destroyed.” Abbas said it at another meeting of the Palestinian leadership. It was late, and his speech had lasted some two hours. There was a written text, to which he added his own spontaneous remarks, and something went wrong.

Abbas’ advanced age is showing itself. He is still lucid and capable of making decisions, but from time to time, he slips. It usually happens when he veers off-script or finds himself in situations that do not allow him to adhere to a prepared text. That’s what happened at last week’s press conference in Germany with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. After nine minutes of reading, it was time for questions from the press, and that’s where Abbas went wrong, accusing Israel of committing “50 holocausts.”

After setting off a firestorm that enraged Israelis and a remarkable number of foreign leaders, Abbas issued a clarification. It was unequivocal: Abbas does not deny the Holocaust, and it was the worst crime perpetrated in modern history.

But it wasn’t enough to save the P.A. leader. At most, it was damage control. No one in the Israeli public will remember his clarification. But “50 holocausts” will be remembered for a very long time.

In Ramallah, no one took Abbas’s remarks to heart, despite the crisis they sparked. Not because they were playing down their significance, but because they know their leader.

“It’s not surprising, and it’s not the first time Abu Mazen [Abbas] has said tasteless things in an embarrassing manner; not only about the Israeli issue but in general. It happens to him from time to time,” said Fatah officials.

In hindsight, if Abbas could have a “do-over” of the press conference, he might be more careful about his language, but there’s no guarantee that Abbas won’t repeat his mistake. It’s not only because of his age and his stale message, but also his media advisors. Abbas understands political issues very well, but when it comes to issues related to Israeli society, not so much.

Dana Ben-Shimon is Israel Hayom’s Palestinian affairs and Arab world correspondent.

This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.


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