Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas claimed Zionists collaborated with the Nazis during a recent interview with a Hezbollah-linked television station, raising concerns among Western experts that Abbas is resorting to anti-Semitic tropes in order to sure up support from his extremist governing coalition.
"I challenge anyone to deny the relationship between Zionism and Nazism before World War II," Abbas said during an interview with Al-Mayadeen, a Beirut television station reputed to have ties to Hezbollah and Iran.
Abbas, who is viewed by the Obama administration and other Western nations as the voice of Palestinian moderation, went on to claim he has "70 more books that I still haven’t published" about the supposed collaboration between Jewish leaders and Nazis.
Abbas’ anti-Semitic statement signals an extremist shift in rhetoric that has led Western experts to speculate he is trying to win over allies in the terror group Hamas, which recently approved a tenuous unity deal with the PA.
"Abbas has been carefully crafting an image of himself since becoming president in 2005 that he is a nonviolent statesman, and despite the fact he has refused to engage in peace talks, the Israelis and Americans continue to look to him as a partner [in peace] because of his nonviolent approach," said Jonathan Schanzer, a former terrorism finance analyst at the Treasury Department.
"His recent rhetoric, however, indicates in the PA a new and troubling trend, particularly in light of the recent uptick in violence coming out of the West Bank" where the PA still retains control, said Schanzer.
The controversy over Abbas’ statements continued over the weekend when a senior PLO official defended the anti-Semitic views via Twitter.
"Could anyone deny that there were links, including documented meetings, between Nazi and Zionist officials?" tweeted Palestine Liberation Organization adviser Xavier Abu Eid, an Abbas ally.
The tweet was almost immediately deleted.
The anti-Semitic book expands on Abbas’ long held belief that Zionist leaders plotted with the Nazis and engages in Holocaust denial.
An Abbas spokesperson denied on Tuesday that the Palestinian leader discussed the ties between Zionism and Nazism, according to JTA. The spokesperson added Abbas remains "committed to the peace process."
Experts warned the Palestinian leader might be employing such rhetoric to prevent Hamas from seizing control of the West Bank.
"It’s a very dangerous sign that Palestinian Authority officials immediately pivoted from signing a partnership deal with Hamas to promoting anti-Jewish conspiracy theories about the Holocaust," said one senior policy analyst at a Washington, D.C., Jewish organization. "Mahmoud Abbas may rightly fear that Hamas will use reconciliation to take over the West Bank, and he might be trying to bolster his street cred."
One former Bush administration official who is familiar with the region also expressed concern that Abbas’ rhetoric signals a burgeoning civil war between Hamas and Fatah, Abbas’ political party that rules the West Bank.
"Increasingly what we see is Abbas adopting language since the Hamas war in November that I think marks a change from his previously toned down rhetoric," said the former official. "It bodes poorly for the peace process and [regional] calm."
Abbas’ 1984 book, from which his most recent comments originate, contains inflammatory anti-Semitic rhetoric.
Abbas claimed in the book that "a partnership was established between Hitler's Nazis and the leadership of the Zionist movement" and that the Zionists gave "permission to every racist in the world, led by Hitler and the Nazis, to treat Jews as they wish, so long as it guarantees immigration to Palestine," according to a translation.
"The Zionist movement led a broad campaign of incitement against the Jews living under Nazi rule, in order to arouse the government's hatred of them, to fuel vengeance against them, and to expand the mass extermination," Abbas wrote.
Abbas also alleged Jewish leaders lied about the number of Jews murdered in the Holocaust.
"Following the war, word was spread that six million Jews were amongst the victims and that a war of extermination was aimed primarily at the Jews," Abbas writes.
"The truth is that no one can either confirm or deny this figure. In other words, it is possible that the number of Jewish victims reached six million, but at the same time it is possible that the figure is much smaller—below one million," wrote Abbas. "It seems that the interest of the Zionist movement, however, is to inflate this figure so that their gains will be greater."