Abbas' UN Speech Further Widens Israeli-Palestinian Rift

Belligerent rhetoric irks U.S. administration but does not mention timeframe for statehood.

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Palestinian protesters wave the national flag in front of the Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit, Sept. 26, 2014.
Palestinian protesters wave the national flag in front of the Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit, Sept. 26, 2014.Credit: AFP

The serious rift between Israel and the Palestinian Authority widened further over the weekend following the speech by PA President Mahmoud Abbas to the U.N. General Assembly Friday.

In one of his most belligerent addresses ever, Abbas accused Israel of “genocide” during last summer’s war in Gaza, said the Palestinian people “will not forget and will not forgive” and declared that the Palestinians will act in the international arena to bring to justice Israeli officials responsible for war crimes.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is to travel to New York this morning and will address the U.N. General Assembly tomorrow. On Wednesday Netanyahu will meet in Washington with President Barack Obama at the White House. In the context of the international struggle against the Islamic State, Netanyahu is expected to focus his speech on the dangers of extremist Islam and the Iranian nuclear program. However, he is now expected to devote a good portion of his speech to Abbas’ attacks.

“After the Iranian president’s fraudulent speech and the speech of incitement by Abu Mazen (Abbas), I will tell the truth on behalf of the citizens of Israel in front of the entire world,” Netanyahu said yesterday. “In my speech to the UN and in all my meetings I will represent the citizens of Israel, and I will refute in their names the lies and slander (spoken) about their country,” he added.

Senior officials in Netanyahu’s bureau said Abbas’ speech was “full of lies and incitement and “this is not the way a man who wants peace speaks.”

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Abbas’ speech proved that the Palestinian president “doesn’t want to be, and cannot be, a partner for a logical diplomatic resolution” and that “Abbas complements Hamas when he deals with diplomatic terrorism and slanders Israel with false accusations.”

Abbas’ speech greatly angered the American Administration; State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki responded sharply by saying it included “offensive characterizations that were deeply disappointing and which we reject.” She added, “Such provocative statements are counterproductive and undermine efforts to create a positive atmosphere and restore trust between the parties.”

The Palestinian Authority, in turn, was infuriated by the U.S. reaction to Abbas’ address and the critical remarks by State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. PA sources said the U.S. response was “improper, irresponsible, and the Palestinians categorically reject it.”

According to chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, Abbas’ remarks related to a number of issues, first among them a condemnation of the Israeli assault in Gaza. "The Palestinians will not retreat from their intention to bring those responsible to justice," said Erekat.

Erekat called on the United States and the international community to "come down on the side of justice and the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, and not support Israel’s destructive policies."

Two days before Abbas’ speech, Obama told the U.N. General Assembly that the United States would not abandon its efforts to bring an end to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. However, Obama said the conflict is not the source of all the problems in the Middle East. Obama said the wave of violence in the region had led too many Israelis to abandon efforts to reach peace and that the status quo in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip could not go on.

Abbas said in his speech that the Palestinians would work together with Arab countries to move ahead a U.N. Security Council resolution on an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines, with its capital in East Jerusalem. He said a timetable should be established for an end to the occupation, but did not cite a timetable in his speech or give details of coming Palestinian moves.

Senior Palestinian officials told Haaretz after Abbas’ speech that he did not mention dates or timetables so as not to clash head-on with the American government on the matter. As opposed to statements made by people close to Abbas before his speech, he did not say the resolution should include a demand to end the occupation within three years.

It is believed that the change in the content of the speech came after meetings Abbas had at the United Nations before the speech with several leaders, including U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry. According to a senior Palestinian official, the Palestinian delegation heard clear opposition from the Americans to a unilateral move in the Security Council and that the United States would veto such a resolution if it won a majority.

Abbas started his speech on Friday with an attack on the government of Israel, which he said had launched a “devastating war” in the Gaza Strip “by which its jets and tanks brutally assassinated lives and devastated the homes, schools and dreams of thousands of Palestinian children, women and men, and in reality destroying the remaining hopes for peace.”

The Palestinian president accused Israel of committing war crimes “before the eyes and ears of the entire world, moment by moment.” Abbas also said: “We will not allow war criminals to escape punishment.”

Abbas said the Palestinian people reserved the right “to defend themselves against the Israeli war machine” and the right to oppose the occupation and settlements. He said the Palestinians would act only in accordance with international law and would not “abandon our humanity, our values and our ethics.”

The Palestinian president accused Israel of causing the American peace initiative to fail and blowing up the negotiations between the parties that had lasted eight months. He said the Palestinians had acted positively during the negotiations while Israel’s “settlement construction, land confiscations, home demolitions, killing and arrest campaigns, and forced displacement in the West Bank continued unabated.”

Abbas claimed Israel had breached the agreement to release veteran prisoners who were to have been released as part of the understandings that led to the renewed talks. He added Israel had opposed any accord based on a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. According to Abbas, Israel’s best offer during the negotiation included areas that did not constitute contiguous territory, “without sovereignty over its airspace, water and natural resources.”

Abbas accused Israel of racism against Palestinians and mentioned attacks by settlers whom he called “fascists.” He said increased incitement and racist discourse against Palestinians is what led to the murder of the teen from the Jerusalem neighborhood of Shoafat, Mohammad Abu-Khdeir, in July.

Abbas accused the Israeli government of attempts to weaken the PA and undermine its institutions. He said after the reconciliation with Hamas that led to the establishment of the Palestinian unity government, the whole world welcomed it while Israel tried to counter it.

The Palestinian president said he had no intention of returning to the negotiating table with Israel merely for the sake of negotiations without dealing with the core issues of the conflict. “There is neither credibility nor seriousness in negotiations in which Israel predetermines the results via its settlement activities,” he said.

Abbas complained that for years the Palestinians and not Israel, had been required to make goodwill gestures and concessions to prove the seriousness of their intentions. In a barb at Netanyahu, Abbas said the Palestinians would not be the ones “to understand the conditions of the other party and the importance of preserving its coalition government while it entrenches its occupation.”

PA President Mahmoud Abbas speaking at the 69th United Nations General Assembly in New York City on Friday.Credit: AFP

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