Analysis

Abbas' Speech: Palestinian President Talks Tough, but Is Thin on Strategy

Aside from backing Trump, Abbas spelled out – mainly for his own followers – that his conscience was clear

President Mahmoud Abbas speaking at the Palestinian Central Council, January 14, 2018.
Mohamad Torokman / Reuters

Despite the overall grim mood and drama ahead of Mahmoud Abbas speech at the Palestinian Central Council on Sunday, the Palestinian president sounded relaxed, even amused. But he didnt flinch at bashing Donald Trump like no U.S. president has been bashed before.

Abbas also attacked Trumps ambassador to Israel David Friedman and UN envoy Nikki Haley. He also took on the Arab nations, telling them to stop meddling in Palestinian affairs, and had a go at Hamas, which chose to boycott the council. But Abbas didnt provide any breakthrough regarding Palestinian strategy.

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During his long speech, he focused on his personal manifesto. Abbas spelled out – mainly for his own people – that his conscience was clear. He related how he was offered money to soften his positions on the Arab peace initiative, but never once in his 13 or so years at the helm did he concede on principles.

At my age, I have nothing to fear anymore, and I know whats going on around me and who can be trusted, Abbas said. The flexibility and pragmatism that characterized his management of Palestinian policy dont mean he made concessions on the national principles that were laid down by the Palestinian National Council in 1988.

Still, Abbas admitted that the tremendous Palestinian achievements on the international front, including recognition of the Palestinian state by the UN General Assembly and dozens of pro-Palestinian resolutions by the UN Security Council, failed to end the occupation and did not lead to self-determination. We remain an authority without authority, he said. Who can I complain to other than Allah?

Beyond his personal statement and unusual choice of phrases, which included hoping the houses of Trump and Israel fall down, Abbas didnt shake the tree much in describing the next stage of Palestinian strategy. He did agree to continue negotiations, under international auspices, and agreed to the Arab peace initiative as originally formulated. He also agreed to a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders and said he was open to talking to Israels peace camp.

Abbas hopes that on Monday night his opinions and recommendations will be turned into resolutions by the council, to the dismay of many of his party colleagues, including advocates of a one-state solution.

Yet Abbas knows he cant wait another quarter-century for the international community to supplant the United States and pressure Israel until it fulfills his expectations. And he offered one more message: Even if they dismantle the Palestinian Authority and its institutions, the Palestinians are here to stay, with or without the occupation, in a single state or two.