I have written before in this column about the affinity among many in Palestinian society for what I call the “ethnic cleansing solution”. This is not a two-state resolution with Palestine and Israel coexisting alongside one another, nor even a “one-state solution”, where a single state would be the homeland of both Israelis and Palestinians. It is a belief that the conflict should be resolved by an outcome whereby all or most Israeli Jews will leave, be expelled or be killed, and thus give Palestinians exclusive control over the whole land.
I want to note a couple of additional recent examples in Palestinian discourse – but I also want to call attention to a link between this belief in an “ethnic cleansing solution” and some larger trends in the mainstream Palestinian narrative.
Following the Trump Administration’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, prominent Hamas leader Mahmoud Al-Zahhar had this to say to Trump in an interview on Al-Jazeera TV on Dec. 17: “One of these days, we will liberate Palestine in its entirety, and we will shut down your embassy, and deport all the people of your kind.” He also said in the interview: “Annihilation will be the fate not only of the Jews, but also of their helpers and of the people who trusted them, cooperated with them, and who betrayed their cause and their religion for personal interests.”
It’s pretty clear that his vision is eventual “annihilation” for the Jews and deportation for everyone who did not toe the Hamas line. But that’s the extremists and terrorists of Hamas, right?
But as we have seen in previous columns, it is not only the Islamists of Hamas who declare these sorts of intentions. My other example comes from the Editor of the Maan news agency, Dr. Nasser Al-Laham. Maan is generally regarded as secular, and while not formally affiliated with the Palestinian Authority and Fatah, expresses a broadly similar worldview. It is also largely funded by European governments and is the Palestinian news source most used by international media correspondents.
On Jan. 17, Dr. Al-Laham published an article on Maan titled: “This land belongs to the Arabs. To the Jews of the world: The visit is over.” In it, he called several Israeli Cabinet Ministers terrorists and racists, insisted Israel is an Apartheid state, and, as the headline suggests, ended by insisting, “In the statement of the [Palestinian] Central Council, a clear message to the Jews of the world: Your visit, which lasted 70 years is over.”
In other words, he wants the Jews of Israel to end their “visit” to the land – to leave.
I think it is clear that there is a link between the sort of sentiments expressed by Al-Zahhar and Dr. Al-Laham and the historical views expressed by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in his speech to the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s Central Council on Jan. 14 which is discussed elsewhere in this edition.
Now, to be clear, Abbas did not say anything which can be construed as directly calling for an “ethnic cleansing” solution – indeed he ostensibly re-committed to a two-state solution. However, what he did do was present a false and conspiratorial version of history which would appear to make demands for the ethnic cleansing of Israel’s Jews seem justified.
Abbas not only said that Israel was a “a colonial project that has nothing to do with Judaism”, and insisted in fact, Zionism goes back to a conspiracy launched in “1653 when Cromwell ruled Britain.” He then quoted an Egyptian academic, Dr. Abdel Wahab Elmessiri, who insists that the Jews were put up to their idea of having a homeland as “pawns” of the colonial powers. (Elmessiri also insists that the Jews are not a real people like the Arabs, but only a “functional group”, and has also characterised the Jews collectively as “conspirators and criminals.”)
Abbas contrasted this with the Palestinian claim, saying: “This country is our country, and this is our country from the days of Canaanites. Incidentally we are the descendants of the Canaanites, and the Bible says that from the days of the Canaanites to this day they did not leave this country…”
A few days later in Cairo, Abbas reportedly went even further in denying any Jewish connection to Israel, saying “There is no respectable Jew in the world who accepts the Zionist entity. (This is leaving aside numerous other recent crazy anti-Jewish claims by Abbas, related to importing drugs, to Jewish behaviour during the Holocaust, towards the Jews from Arab lands, etc.)
My point is that if you believe what Abbas is saying, if you believe that the Jews have no connection to the land, and that their claim of a connection to it was only something made up by the colonial powers, it is not a big leap to the “ethnic cleansing solution.” If you believe, as many Palestinians have long been taught and Abbas has reinforced, that the Jewish presence is simply a nefarious colonial plot to steal the land of the indigenous Palestinians, it is hardly surprising that many Palestinians follow this up by adding, as Mahmoud Al-Zahhar and Dr. Al-Laham do, that therefore all the Jews should leave.
So despite the fact that Abbas still says he favours a two-state resolution (though many of those around him today openly reject it), when he says the sorts of hateful things he is currently saying, it is hard to see how such a resolution could ever come about, or be accepted by most Palestinians if it somehow did.