To hear scholars and historians tell it, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu completely turned history on its head when he said that Haj Amin el Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, convinced Adolf Hitler to implement the Holocaust.
Netanyahu, who has walked back his assertions, was inaccurate in saying that Hitler needed anyone’s help to decide to annihilate Jews. He regrettably managed to make himself the center of attention while obscuring an important point about an issue that should stand on its own.
No historical invention is necessary to remind the world that Palestinian hostility to Jews is not a new phenomenon. For nearly 100 years, Palestinian riots focused not on colonial occupation by Ottomans or the British, but on violent attacks against Jews. Many recall the organized violence in 1929 and the even larger revolt of 1936, but only because the scale of the murders and destruction of Jewish homes and synagogues was so great that it captured outside attention.
In fact, the incitement throughout the first half of the 20th century by Haj Amin el Husseini was non-stop. His tete-a-tete with Hitler was not an aberration. The Mufti’s expressions of anti-Semitism and desire for Arabs to kill Jews was widely known, even after he fled to Germany to ride out WWII in the Fuehrer’s embrace.
The sad truth for both Palestinians and Israelis is that the Grand Mufti was one in a long line of incompetent leaders who have been counterproductive to establishing Palestinian statehood. At the moment of truth in 1947, when the UN issued the Partition Plan to divide British controlled Palestine into two, separate states — one for the Jews and one for the Arabs — the Grand Mufti was a loud voice of opposition, while the Jews accepted the two-state solution.
Current Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has publicly acknowledged that the so-called catastrophe of the Nakba was a product of the shortsightedness of Arab leaders in those critical days when Palestinians turned down having their own country in favor of making war against the Jewish state of Israel.
But while he plays it one way for Western audiences, Abbas prefers to incite Palestinians, as he did in recent days, by asking them how much longer will “67 years” of “occupation” persist — a clear rejection of Israel’s right to exist within any borders.
Israelis of every stripe share Netanyahu’s weariness of having to remind detractors that the offer of a two-state solution was turned down, not just by the Grand Mufti and all Arab leaders seven decades ago, but by Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas in recent years.
In other words, denying Israel’s legitimacy and killing innocent Jewish civilians — by knives in the hands of teenagers, suicide bombs strapped to women entering shopping centers and cars hurtling towards crowds waiting at bus stands — are the constants in the 100-year conflict.
Netanyahu hardly is the first politician to exaggerate or overstate in an effort to make a larger point. Turning on a television and watching presidential candidates utter crazy things to excite crowds happens daily in America.
Though the bar should be much higher for a Prime Minister of Israel when talking about the Holocaust, we must pay heed to the reality in which Israelis live their lives. When a 13-year-old child cannot ride his bike home from school without being slashed to within a inch of his life, an act committed by another 13-year-old from the other side of town, we should not lose sight of the important point being made by Israel’s leaders.
It is almost a cliché to say that a genuine peace process can be revived if, finally, both sides make sacrifices that can lead to a resolution of the conflict. The fact is that Israel has demonstrated such willingness repeatedly, reaching out with an open hand in the hope it would be met by an unclenched fist, as President Obama might say. But there can be no handshake if Palestinian society remains trapped in an unending narrative of hate that glorifies and incites terrorists literally every day.
Needless to say, if the knife wielders and suicide bombers win out, the political conflict will escalate into a wider religious one, and today’s turmoil will seem like child’s play. From the Mufti to Arafat to Abbas, the region awaits the Palestinian who can lead his people to an unequivocal “yes” for two states for two peoples.