Analysis

Palestinian President Abbas Puts One-state Solution on the Table

The humanitarian crisis in Gaza and despair in the West Bank in the face of massive settlement construction have left the Palestinian president with few options and his back against the wall

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gestures after addressing the United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 20, 2017.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gestures after addressing the United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 20, 2017. Seth Wenig/AP

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ speech at the UN General Assembly on Wednesday was punctuated with anger and frustration. Abbas is aware that his ability to inspire hope in his people – the hope of an independent Palestinian state – is diminishing before his own eyes. This very forum, which applauded Abbas six years ago when he submitted an application for the recognition of Palestine, has since failed to turn its support into facts on the ground.

The Palestinians had high expectations for the Obama administration, which has made way for an administration unwilling to wholeheartedly commit to a two-state solution to the conflict based on 1967 borders. Even during Abbas' meeting with Donald Trump ahead of the former’s speech before the assembly, the U.S. president voiced only slogans rather than a concrete plan.

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Speaking at the highest international forum, Abbas declared that the one-state solution is an option for the Palestinian leadership. “Neither you, nor we, will have any other choice but to continue the struggle and demand full, equal rights for all inhabitants of historic Palestine,” he said. “This is not a threat, but a warning of the realities before us as a result of ongoing Israeli policies that are gravely undermining the two-state solution.”

One can argue, not without merit, that Abbas' repeated threats to throw in the towel in recent years are empty: The Palestinian Authority leadership would never give up its status and the privileges that come with it. It will always find a reason to preserve itself while shelving any potentially dramatic step.

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And yet those who follow developments in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip understand that this game cannot last forever. The siege and humanitarian crisis in Gaza and despair in the West Bank in the face of massive Israeli settlement construction have left the Palestinian president with his back against the wall.

Abbas and his political circle know very well that a quarter of a century after the Oslo Accords, the Palestinian public has lost hope. Survey results released before Abbas’ visit to New York found that two-thirds of the Palestinian public demands that he resigns.

The poll, conducted by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, headed by Khalil Shikaki, also found that 57 percent of Palestinians no longer believe in a two-state solution, while 74 percent think the Trump administration is not serious in its intentions to reach a peace agreement.

The hope Abbas instilled in the international community has also vanished. He made clear that even if the world gives up on the two-state solution, some 6.5 million Palestinians still live between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River. In his speech, Abbas implied that they will not disappear, evaporate or be expelled. Instead, they will demand their full rights. Israel, the United States and the international community will have to figure out how to accomplish that.