Abbas Signs Climate Accord, Accuses Israeli Settlements of Destroying the Environment

Speaking at signing of Paris Agreement at UN headquarters, Palestinian president calls on international community to help end Israeli occupation. Israel's UN ambassador accuses Abbas of 'spreading hatred at UN.'

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signs the Paris Agreement on climate change at the UN on April 22, 2016 in New York City.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas signs the Paris Agreement on climate change at the UN on April 22, 2016 in New York City. Credit: Spencer Platt / Getty Images / AFP

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel on Friday of destroying the environment in the West Bank, as he joined representatives of at least 175 countries in signing  the landmark Paris Agreement on climate change. 

Speaking during the signing ceremony at the UN headquarters in New York, Abbas said that the "Israeli occupation is destroying the climate in Palestine, and the Israeli settlements are destroying the environment in Palestine."

The Palestinian president called on the international community to "help us in putting an end to the occupation and to settlements."

Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon responded by accusing Abbas of exploiting the ceremony to "mislead the international community."

"Instead of spreading hatred here at the UN, President Abbas should act to stop Palestinian terror," he said after signing the treaty.

"This climate summit is supposed to be a demonstration of global unity for the sake of the future of our planet," he added. "Unfortunately, President Abbas chose to exploit this international stage to mislead the international community."

Earlier this week, Danon and Palestinian envoy Riyad Mansour yelled "shame on you" at each other during a regular UN Security Council meeting on the situation in the Middle East. That meeting turned into a rare shouting match.

U.S.-brokered Israeli-Palestinian peace talks have been in tatters since 2014.

Abbas' presence at the signing ceremony had symbolic importance in the wake of Palestine's de facto recognition of statehood by the United Nations, which since 2012 has considered Palestine a non-member observer state.

It was the first time a Palestinian president sat in the General Assembly hall as a state party to a treaty at a signing ceremony.

Palestine's accession to the treaty could lead to complications for the United States, which has a law barring U.S. funding for "any organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood."

U.S. senators sent a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry saying that Palestine's participation in the UN climate change secretariat and the Paris agreement would prohibit the United States from paying money into a global climate fund.

The letter, signed by 21 Republican Senators, was the latest attempt by Congressional Republicans to block U.S. participation in global climate initiatives.

The U.S. State Department said it received the letter and was preparing a response.

Five years ago the United States stopped funding UNESCO, the UN cultural agency, after it granted the Palestinians full membership. 

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