Palestinian President Abbas: Holocaust is "the most heinous crime" of modern history

The comments come on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day, and in the wake of a stalled peace process

By Sarah Gray
Published April 27, 2014 11:30PM (EDT)
Mahmoud Abbas, Barack Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu                              (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Evan Vucci/Lior Mizrahi)
Mahmoud Abbas, Barack Obama, Benjamin Netanyahu (AP/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Evan Vucci/Lior Mizrahi)

On Sunday, before Israelis commemorated Holocaust Remembrance Day, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called the Holocaust "the most heinous crime" of our modern era. This comment is a significant step in reaching out to Israelis. As the Associated Press points out, "Denials or attempts to minimize the Holocaust, which saw the systematic killing of 6 million Jews by Nazi Germany in World War II, are widespread in the Arab world."

Hamas, the Islamic extremist group in control of the Gaza Strip, by comparison questions the Holocaust, bans the subject from being taught in schools in the Gaza Strip, and calls for the eradication of the state of Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however was unmoved by the statement. "President Abbas can't have it both ways," Netanyahu told CNN. "He can't say the Holocaust was terrible, but at the same time embrace those who deny the Holocaust and seek to perpetrate another destruction of the Jewish people." The Israeli Prime Minister was referring to what he called Abbas' attempts to settle differences with Hamas, a group that is bent on the destruction of Israel.

Abbas has come under fire in the past for downsizing the Holocaust. However, according to Palestinian news agency WAFA, Abbas told visiting American rabbi Marc Schneier "what happened to the Jews in the Holocaust is the most heinous crime to have occurred against humanity in the modern era."

The comments -- made when Schneier and Abbas discussed the Holocaust last week -- follow the stalling of peace talks, which were instigated by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry in 2013. “It’s reality-check time,” Kerry stated earlier this month.

Each side has been hardening their respective lines: The Palestinian Central Council rejected land swaps for areas of the West Bank and refused to recognize Israel as a Jewish state. In turn Israel refused to accept 1967 borders and place a freeze on settlement building.

Last week, Israel suspended talks due to the Abbas reconciliation with Hamas. Abbas has stated that "any interim unity government," as the Associated Press deemed it, was on his platform for peace and not Hamas's views of violence. The U.S., which recognizes Hamas as a terrorist group appears to be on Israel's side. .

"Any Palestinian government has to recognize Israel, it has to renounce violence, it has to accept past agreements," said Tony Blinken,  White House deputy national security adviser, on "Face the Nation."

h/t Associated Press

Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray is an assistant editor at Salon, focusing on innovation. Follow @sarahhhgray or email

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Benjamin Netanyahu Holocaust Israel-palestine Mahmoud Abbas Peace Talks