Ma'an News Agency
August 20, 2010 - 12:00am

The PLO responded Wednesday to a letter to Mahmoud Abbas authored and endorsed by Palestinian academics and intellectuals questioning the Ramallah-based government's ability to lead.

The 22 July letter, signed by dozens of scholars, activists, and civil society leaders, specifically expressed concerns that Abbas had denied Palestinians their basic rights and accepted an "exclusive Jewish claim to Palestine" in remarks during a conversation with American Jews in the US capital.

"We regard this announcement, which adopts a central tenet of Zionism, as a grave betrayal of the collective rights of the Palestinian people. It is tantamount to a surrender of the right of Palestinian citizens," the letter said. "It also concedes the right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes."

"No Palestinian institution or leader has ever accepted an exclusive Jewish claim to Palestine, which is irreconcilable with the internationally recognized rights of the Palestinian people. Our rights inhere in us as a people; they are not yours to do with as you please," the message explained.

The PLO office in Washington described the letter as an inflammatory misrepresentation of Abbas' statements.

The accusations were "based on misinformation propagated by certain media outlets, which misquoted the president’s remarks at an event held during his trip," the PLO General Delegation said in a statement.

According to the PLO office, Abbas said at the time that "Nobody denies the Jewish history in the Middle East. A third of our Holy Koran talks about the Jews in the Middle East, in this area. Nobody from our side at least denies that the Jews were in Palestine, were in the Middle East.'"

This is neither an acceptance of "exclusive" Jewish claims nor is it disputed by any Palestinian faction, the PLO said adding that the backlash aids "those who sow the seeds of division in the Palestinian people."

George Bisharat, a Palestinian-American professor at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco and an initial signatory of the letter, dismissed the PLO's explanation.

"I think the denial just doesn't ring true at this point," Bisharat told Ma'an.

"We of course checked the reports and the statements of Abbas carefully before the letter was sent. I suppose it's possible that the statement was misreported, but Abbas repeated it on Al-Jazeera," he said. "Accepting there was an inaccuracy, why did they not take pains to clarify it without having to wait for us to object?"

The fact that Abbas "failed to recognize the political significance of his remarks at the time" goes to show that the current leadership, which claims to be the sole representative of the Palestinian people, "long ago lost touch with the Palestinian public" at large, especially the Diaspora.

The law professor went on to say that the exact wording was secondary to a wider crisis of legitimacy plaguing the Palestinian leadership, which has remained in power despite losing a 2006 election to its Hamas rivals.

"I think the fact of the matter is that the Palestinian people desperately need creative thinking on how to press forward," he said. "They had a strategy. But by all objective measures it seems a tragic failure."

Still, Bisharat said he was "glad we're being listened to. We want to make sure they're aware that we are aware of what they're doing. We hold them accountable. We pay attention to what they do."


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