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Abbas' UN Address: A Speech Laced With Helplessness and Lack of Strategy

There were no surprises in Thursday's speech: As opposed to Arafat who always had a rabbit in his hat for better or worse, Abbas has long since given up the option of the gun or the threat of chaos

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaking at the UN General Assembly in New York, September 27, 2018.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaking at the UN General Assembly in New York, September 27, 2018.Credit: Bloomberg
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

November ‘74 was the first time the world heard a Palestinian voice speak – that was the late Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat, when he spoke to the United Nations General Assembly.

“I came here Mr. President holding the gun of a revolutionary in one hand, and an olive branch in the other. Do not topple the olive branch from my hand, don’t make the olive branch fall from my hand”: A sentence enshrined in Palestinian national awareness and the world applauded.

Forty-four years have passed, and if you peel off all the slogans and events that have happened since, it turns out the Palestinian is still in the same place, without a state nor the right to self-determination, and waiting for the world to intervene.

>> Read more: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' 2018 UN General Assembly speech | FULL TEXT

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' speech on Thursday at the UN General Assembly was a clear expression of helplessness and a lack of strategy. As opposed to Arafat who always had a rabbit in his hat for better or for worse, Abbas has long since given up the option of the gun or the threat of chaos out of a concept that the gun won’t bring anything under existing circumstances other than bloodshed and destruction, and he is still waving the olive branch and explaining time and time again that he opposes violence and terrorism, and favors negotiations that will lead to peace and a two-state solution in the ‘67 borders.

Whoever listened to and followed Abbas’ speeches in the past year sees clearly that in Thursday’s speech there is nothing new, not any surprises, and even the discussion of the nation-state law revealed nothing new; he has more than once expressed the distrust in the current American administration headed by Donald Trump. There was no direct response to Trump’s statements with regard to the two-state solution.

In the small tool box he has at his disposal, Abbas does carry decisions by the Palestinian National Council which he mentioned in his speech, the possibility of implementing decisions which would mean cancelling the Oslo Accords and mutual recognition — which from his standpoint are on the table — but Abbas is aware that this threat is not popular and doesn’t impress any heads of state. And if that’s not sufficient, even in the internal Palestinian arena, Abbas' situation is not so great, and that’s an understatement.

The latest reconciliation talks have hit a deadlock, and instead of a show of unity, at least internationally, Hamas and Fatah have in recent days have engaged in mutual recrimination and accusations. This is not the way to build a state.

>> At UN, Netanyahu reveals secret Iranian nuclear facility and hidden missiles in Beirut ■ Abbas tells UN: No peace without Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as capital

This helplessness and lack of strategy have been well discerned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Palestinian issue was nearly absent from his speech and the Palestinian president took no position or step to force Netanyahu to change his own speech and relate seriously to the Palestinian issue. From his standpoint, Israel isn’t in strict control of the Palestinians both in the West Bank and Gaza, the incidents on the border fence and even the confrontations with Hamas will not change the rules of the game and there is no significant leverage that can lead to a change in policy.

The Palestinian demographic increase doesn’t play any decision-making role in Netanyahu’s Israel, which will use technological means and its huge advantage over the Palestinians in every realm, allowing Israel to control the Palestinians for generations. Until then, let the great grandchildren worry about it.

From Netanyahu’s standpoint, Abbas and his successor can return to the UN General Assembly time and time again and wave their demands for a state. With the current U.S. administration and world apathy on the one hand and the typical naivete of the Arab world on the other, Israel has nothing much to fear.

Abbas looked tired on Thursday and coughed throughout his speech; his medical situation unfortunately symbolizes his political one as well, such that the olive branch that Arafat waved before him, and which he has held on to for 14 years, can dry up and disintegrate into piece and nobody will notice.

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