Abbas' UN Speech Is an Attempt to Buy Time and International Support

Many wonder how Abbas will make good on his threats to back down from preexisting agreements with Israel.

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas attends a ceremony to raise the Palestinian flag at the UN.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas attends a ceremony to raise the Palestinian flag at the UN.Credit: AFP
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

The Palestinians and Israelis that listened on Wednesday to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas' speech at the UN General Assembly in New York probably wondered how he intended to make good on his threats to cease honoring preexisting agreements with Israel. This weekend, when he returns to Ramallah, Abbas will have to take some time and figure it out, as well.

Falling in line with expectations, Abbas did not announce the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority, he didn’t declare that he and his colleagues in the Palestinian leadership were stepping down. He limited himself to remaining "unbound" by previous agreements, claiming that Israel has systematically violated them, thereby turning the PA into a kind of sub-contractor. Abbas and his partners in the Palestinian leadership understand that they cannot make unilateral moves, neither civil nor security related, without Israel's permission, or at least nothing short of full international support.

Israel certainly won't help Abbas launch a firesale at the PA, as Israel does not wish to assume responsibility for 2.5 million Palestinians in the West Bank, nor find itself partly responsible for the wellbeing of Gaza Strip residents. The international community, with the U.S. taking the lead, is in no rush to make steps that would bolster the Palestinian position, such as approving a Security Council resolution that would recognize a Palestinian state within 1967 borders.

Abbas is well aware that he sitting between a rock and a hard place, and almost completely alone, to boot. The Arab world is divided, bleeding and dealing with internal issues, and would likely reject any strategy that could bring about chaos and offset the delicate status quo. Thus all that's left for the Palestinian president to do is to try and buy a little more time, while ramping up pressure on Israel, in hopes that he can sway international public opinion just enough to jump start the peace process. That's exactly what Abbas' speech was meant to do, as he called on the international community to defend the Palestinian people, expressed his disappointment that the UN and the Security Council did not heed his calls in recent years to recognize Palestine as a full state, and clearly declared that he will continue to turn to international organizations for support, including the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Regarding Israel, Abbas chose to completely ignore Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government, instead directly addressing the Israeli people. He spoke of his desire to reach an agreement based on the principle of two states. When he mentioned the murders of the Dawabsheh family in Duma, and Mohammed Abu Khdeir in Jerusalem, Abbas decided emphasize the word "fire" again and again, well aware of that word's significance for Israeli and international sensitivities regarding the Holocaust.

Soon, when he will be faced with the practical repercussions of the speech he made Wednesday, Abbas will likely explain that the time has not come to fully back down from agreements with Israel, and will attempt to focus on international efforts, such as the French initiative. He hopes that these efforts will make headway before the situation on the ground deteriorates completely. In such a scenario, it's doubtful that he will stand at the UNGA and speak in the name of the Palestinian people.



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