The public response of Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas to this week’s terrorist slaughter in Tel Aviv presents an important question: When is a public figure’s “condemnation” of a terrorist attack not a condemnation at all?

The answer, in my view, is:

  • When there are no quotation marks:

Abbas’s “condemnation” appeared in the form of a news article distributed by the P.A.’s WAFA news agency. It was not a direct announcement by Abbas’s office. It didn’t even have quotation marks, thus enabling Abbas to later tell Palestinian Arab audiences that he didn’t actually say it.

  • When the terrorist isn’t called a terrorist:

Abbas did not call the killer a terrorist. In fact, he didn’t mention the murderer at all.

  • When the attack isn’t called terrorism:

Abbas’s statement referred to the murders as “a shooting operation.” He couldn’t bring himself to use the word “terrorism” anywhere in his statement.

  • When the Palestinians are portrayed as the real victims:

“The killing of Palestinian and Israeli civilians only leads to a further deterioration of the situation,” asserted Abbas. Notice how he placed “Palestinian” first in that sentence. He wanted to create the impression that the Palestinians are the real victims, even though the victims in Tel Aviv were all Israelis.

  • When Israel is blamed for the attack:

Much of Abbas’s “condemnation” consisted of accusing Jews of provoking the attack. He claimed Jews were guilty of “repeated incisions into Al-Aqsa mosque” and “provocative” actions. He claimed some Jews might “exploit” the attack “to carry out attacks and reactions against our Palestinian people.”

  • When the attack isn’t described as morally wrong:

Nowhere in his “condemnation” did Abbas state that murdering Jews is morally wrong. He portrayed strictly as a tactical concern—that killing civilians might cause “instability.”

By way of analogy, think about how America’s leaders have responded to domestic terrorist attacks in the United States; for example, when Dylan Roof massacred nine African-Americans in a South Carolina church in 2015. Imagine if the “condemnation” issued by the president of the United States did not mention Roof; did not call him a terrorist; called the massacre a “shooting operation,” not an act of terrorism; accused African-Americans of “provoking the attack”; and said the killing was wrong only because it might lead to “instability” in society, not because it’s wrong to murder people.

Why does it matter what America’s president said about the South Carolina terrorist attack? Why does it matter what the P.A.’s leader said about the Tel Aviv terrorist attack?

Because words matter. And words uttered by leaders especially matter. The Oslo agreement, after all, is a bunch of words—written promises by the P.A. leadership to forsake terrorism, to sincerely and unequivocally denounce terrorism, and to actively combat terrorists. The only way to have peace in the Middle East is for Palestinian Arab leaders to act according to those words.

A genuine public condemnation of a Palestinian terrorist attack would send a message that the P.A. sincerely wants peace and opposes violence. That message would filter down throughout Palestinian society and set the tone for how young Palestinian Arabs should act.

Instead, its leaders pay terrorists, name streets after terrorists and issue only vague, disingenuous “condemnations” when Israel or the United States pressure them to say something.

It is a “condemnation” that has no reference to the terrorist, no acknowledgment that it was terrorism and no statement that murdering Jews is morally wrong. More than that, it blames the Jews for the attack, sending the exact opposite message and only encouraging more terrorism.

So, back to my original question: When is a condemnation of a terrorist attack not a condemnation at all? When it comes from the head of the Palestinian Authority.

Stephen M. Flatow, an attorney, is the father of Alisa Flatow, who was murdered in an Iranian-sponsored Palestinian terrorist attack in 1995. He is the author of “A Father’s Story: My Fight for Justice Against Iranian Terrorism.”

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