The sense of despair that was evident in Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ speech to the United Nations General Assembly Friday should disturb Israel more than his ultimatum to the state.
“Israel, the occupying power, has one year to withdraw from the Palestinian territory it occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem,” he declared. He added that if Israel does not comply, “[W]e will go to the International Court of Justice ... on the issue of the legality of the occupation of the land of the Palestinian state.”
It’s hard to believe that anyone, Israeli or Palestinian, takes these remarks at face value. Nevertheless, even if there’s no cause to start the countdown to the deadline, we cannot ignore the pain that they expressed: “We are at a crossroads. We have had enough.
This situation cannot continue, and our people cannot endure it any longer.” Despair is like oxygen, fanning the flames of hatred, growing violence and the burning of diplomatic bridges.
Abbas accused Israel of recalcitrance and roundly rejected the assertion that there is no partner on the Palestinian side. “I have dedicated my life to achieving peace and chose the path of peaceful, legal and diplomatic work in international fora,” he said, adding: “We have extended our hands time and time again for peace and still we cannot find a partner in Israel that believes in and accepts the two-state solution.”
Abbas was correct when he said Israel left his diplomatic hand hanging in mid-air. Israel indeed weakened him and deliberately endeavored to sabotage the two-state solution by building heedlessly in the settlements while simultaneously according greater respect to Hamas’ violent approach. His speech included an additional empty threat: that the elimination of the two-state solution “will open the way for other alternatives imposed on us by the situation on the ground ... including returning to a solution based on” the 1947 UN Partition Plan.
As expected, Israel’s ambassador to the United States and the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, jumped at the opportunity to ridicule Abbas over his “delusional” ultimatums, remarking that at one time the Palestinian president had suggested suing Britain over the Balfour Declaration, and now wants to return to the Partition Plan. “[Abbas] proved once again that his time has passed,” Erdan noted, ignoring the fact that his own appointment to the UN was the act of the previous Israeli government, and that it is its sick diplomatic culture that is obsolete.
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It doesn’t matter how much the right wing under Benjamin Netanyahu tried to starve Palestinian nationalism to death. It didn’t die. And it doesn’t matter how much Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid ignore it in an effort to maintain the stability of their government. It won’t disappear.
The Palestinian problem was and remains the signal Israeli problem, and the two-state solution was and remains the right solution for both peoples. Abbas’ desperate call must be taken seriously, and a new page must be turned in relations with the Palestinian Authority. The first step in that direction is replacing Erdan.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.