How do you deal with Mideast heads of state who refuse to accept historical fact or reality?

It’s a problem presenting itself with increasing urgency, and the policy implications for Israel and the United States are enormous.

Take, for example, the case of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who continues to deny a Jewish historical connection to the land of Israel. In a speech the other day he referred, as he has before, to the “the alleged Temple” in Jerusalem and pledged that the Holy City will “forever be Arabic, Islamic and Christian.”

One wonders what he makes of the Jesus narrative and of the Jewish presence in Jerusalem for the last 3,000 years.

“Ignoring that connection is to ignore reality,” noted Mark Regev, a spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But ignoring reality is par for the course in the Arab world, especially when it comes to Israel, still widely referred to as “the Zionist entity” rather than the Jewish state it has been since 1948. 

The statement by Abbas concluded that “there will be no peace or stability before our beloved city and eternal capital is liberated from occupation and settlement.”

Regev observed that such talk won’t help revive peace talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and he pointed out that only under Israeli control these last 45 years have the holy sites in Jerusalem and the religious rights of all been protected.

“This is in stark contrast to the reality before 1967,” he said, when Jews were denied access to the Old City, including the Western Wall, by Jordan.

As moderate as Abbas is in comparison to his predecessor, Yasir Arafat, it’s worth recalling that his doctoral thesis for a university in then-Communist Russia essentially denied the Holocaust and accused Zionist leaders of playing a role in persecuting European Jews. His thesis, published in 1984 as a book entitled “The Other Side: The Secret Relationship Between Naziism and Zionism,” reportedly is the basis of Holocaust studies in the curriculum of Palestinian schools.

Some would argue that it is unhelpful to call attention to such information at a time when new diplomatic efforts are called for. But the denial of historical truth, common sense and plain logic is itself a reality to reckon with these days and can be neither brushed aside nor ignored.

Over at the United Nations, long known for actions that mock the very basis of its lofty purpose, a new high (or low) in cynical decision-making is at hand. The UN’s Human Rights Council is about to accept Sudan as a member, with Syria slated to join by the end of next year.

The government in Damascus is waging a systematic and increasingly bloody civil war against its citizens, having killed thousands as the world looks on. And Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, has been indicted for genocide in Darfur by the International Criminal Court.

“Electing Sudan to the UN body mandated to promote and protect human rights worldwide is like putting Jack the Ripper in charge of a women’s shelter,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, a human rights group.

The U.S. has spoken out against this travesty, but it will make little difference because Sudan has the support of the full African delegation.

Reality at the UN is about corruption and voting blocs, not fulfilling the mission of fostering peace and ending world suffering.

And then there is “the new Egypt.”

On first learning that 16 Egyptian soldiers were killed earlier this month in the Sinai, the Muslim Brotherhood, the party of President Mohamed Morsi, blamed the attack on the Mossad, with the full knowledge that the Israeli intelligence agency was not involved.

And after Morsi replied to a letter written to him recently by Israeli President Shimon Peres, the Brotherhood was so upset with this cordial contact with an Israeli official that Morsi denied having written it — even though Peres’ office had first received permission from Morsi’s office before releasing the letter.

It was a seemingly minor diplomatic kerfuffle, but veteran U.S. Mideast expert Dennis Ross wrote in the Washington Post last week that it was significant because it showed that the Brotherhood was unable to accept the truth. And that, in turn, raises questions about relations with a state so committed to an ideology that it cannot acknowledge facts that clash with its firmly held beliefs.

Ross argued that Washington “should not accommodate the Brotherhood’s alternative reality” and “a narrative and policies based on untruths and fictions.” The U.S. should offer aid to Cairo only if it “is prepared to play by a set of rules grounded in reality and key principles,” he asserted.

Those same instructions should be applied to Washington in regards to its own denial about the growing crisis with Iran.

The administration insists, even in light of the latest independent reports that Iran is speeding up its nuclear efforts, that there is still time for negotiations to forestall a military confrontation. Would that it were so. But Tehran has played the U.S. cleverly until now, drawing out the talks while continuing its nuclear program apace.

Economic sanctions against Iran, coordinated by the U.S, have indeed been effective, severely impacting the country’s financial operations. But the very fact that the tough sanctions have only hardened the Islamic leaders’ resolve to go ahead with their nuclear program underscores that logical reasoning will not change their minds.

What they understand is power, and only when they are convinced that the U.S. is prepared to use it against them with great force will they back down.

That’s why our government should be speaking out publicly and more bluntly to make known that it sees Iran’s aims as a direct threat to the U.S., that it supports and will protect Israel, and that it is ready to take military action if necessary to ensure that Iran does not have the capability to produce nuclear arms.

No one wants another war in the Mideast. But the best way to prevent it is to convince Iran that we mean business. And that’s the truth.

Gary@jewishweek.org