Israel’s Criticism of Abbas’ Speech Is the Rhetoric of Despair

Even when the Palestinian president is accusing Israel of genocide and crimes against humanity, he hasn't turned his back on the diplomatic process.

Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial
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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas acknowledges the audience after delivering a speech at Cooper Union, Sept. 22, 2014.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas acknowledges the audience after delivering a speech at Cooper Union, Sept. 22, 2014.Credit: AP
Haaretz.
Haaretz Editorial

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ aggressive speech at the UN General Assembly was seen in Israel as clear proof that Abbas does not want peace, that he is slandering Israel and cannot be a partner for an agreement. “This is not the way a man who wants peace speaks,” came a remark out of the Prime Minister’s Office. What exactly does Israel expect from a person who has 2,200 dead Palestinians on his mind — a greeting for a happy Jewish New Year in Hebrew?

Since the Palestinian president was elected a decade ago, Israel has tried to prove that he is not a partner for negotiations because he is “too weak,” “too extreme,” “does not control Hamas” or, on the contrary, is Hamas’ loyal partner. So Israel can’t complain that its policies, starting with its constant nose-thumbing at Abbas’ demands to freeze construction in the settlements, led to Abbas’ speech in front of the international community.

Rhetoric plays a great role in creating an atmosphere and promoting policy. But it should not be confused with policy.

Even when Abbas is accusing Israel of genocide and crimes against humanity, he has not turned his back on the diplomatic process, which remains an anchor of his policy. The Palestinians, he said, seek “to achieve peace by affirming the goal of ending the Israeli occupation and achieving the two-state solution, of the State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, over the entire territory occupied in 1967, alongside the State of Israel.”

At the same time, Abbas made clear to the Palestinian people, Israel and the countries of the world that he aspires to hold the next talks with Israel as president of a recognized country, not as head of an organization, a movement or an authority. He intends to ask the United Nations to set a date for the end of the occupation and a renewal of talks with Israel on borders. That’s a worthy policy after the 47 years that have eroded Israel’s borders.

The government is now grasping at Abbas’ statements as if it were grasping at a life raft. This helps Israel market its opposition to renewing peace talks; it helps it keep hold of the territories and expand the settlements. But leaning on Abbas’ speech reflects nothing but fear and weak leadership. Israel has neither an answer nor a strategy for the diplomatic elements in Abbas’ address.

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