A Tale of Two Speeches: Yair Lapid and Mahmoud Abbas at the UN General Assembly
Sep 30, 2022 | Oved Lobel
Both Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the UN General Assembly last week. But the two speeches were a study in contrasts.
Lapid’s speech touched on Israeli accomplishments, history and strength; antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment, including at the UN; the dangers of Iran’s nuclear program; the dangers of disinformation; and Israel’s expanding relationships with Muslim countries across the world. Part of the speech was also dedicated to addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and prospects for peace, and he endorsed a two-state resolution to it. Unlike Abbas, Lapid’s speech was partially directed at a domestic Israeli audience in view of upcoming Israeli elections on November 1.
Abbas, on the other hand, delivered what can only be described as an unhinged diatribe filled with historical distortions, outright lies and slander and terrorism promotion (for a full accounting of these, see here, here and here). If one only read the following partial quote towards the end of the speech, one might think Abbas had reciprocated Lapid’s peace overtures:
I listened in the last few days what US President Joe Biden, Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid and other world leaders said in support of the two-State solution, and this is positive…The State of Palestine yearns for peace, so let us make this peace in order to live in security, stability and prosperity, for the sake of our future generations and all the peoples of the region.
In fact, Abbas was speaking out of both sides of his mouth, and the context and content of the rest of the speech make clear he is no more interested in peace than he’s ever been, having rejected or undermined all two-state peace offers since 2008.
Lapid’s Call for a Two-State Peace
“An agreement with the Palestinians, based on two states for two peoples, is the right thing for Israel’s security, for Israel’s economy and for the future of our children,” Lapid asserted. “We have only one condition: That a future Palestinian state will be a peaceful one. That it will not become another terror base from which to threaten the well-being, and the very existence of Israel.”
Discussing the disaster that was the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, which led to the takeover of the Strip by the terrorist group Hamas, the destruction of the greenhouses and other economic infrastructure Israel had left behind for the Palestinians and multiple wars involving tens of thousands of rockets launched at Israeli civilians, Lapid continued:
I say from here to the people of Gaza, we’re ready to help you build a better life, to build an economy. We presented a comprehensive plan to help rebuild Gaza. We only have one condition: Stop firing rockets and missiles at our children. Put down your weapons, there will be no restrictions… Bring home our children who are being held in captivity… and we will build your economy together. We can build your future together, both in Gaza and in the West Bank. Put down your weapons and prove that Hamas and Islamic Jihad are not going to take over the Palestinian state you want to create. Put down your weapons, and there will be peace.
Unrealism and Belligerence from Abbas
Abbas is heavily dependent on Israeli security and intelligence forces for his survival even in the West Bank, where Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and other terrorist groups, including Fatah’s own military wing, present an existential danger to his grip on power. He and Fatah have little legitimacy or popular support and greatly fear new elections that would likely bring Hamas to power in the West Bank, which is why they keep postponing them.
While Abbas doesn’t have the means to ensure Lapid’s condition of peaceful statehood can be met, he could at least have addressed the reality, even obliquely, that Israel cannot withdraw from areas of the West Bank because this would collapse his own regime and lead quickly to a Hamas takeover. This is a far greater threat to any two-state solution than settlements in the West Bank. This is one reason why Abbas’ calls for the world to recognise the “State of Palestine” in his speech are so ludicrous.
“It has become clear, ladies and gentlemen, that Israel, which disavows the resolutions of international legitimacy, has decided not to be our partner in the peace process. Israel is the one that destroyed the Oslo Accords… It is the one that, with its current policy, has premeditated and determined to destroy the two-state solution, which proves with conclusive evidence that they do not believe in peace… and therefore there is no longer an Israeli partner with whom to talk,” Abbas said. This is quite ironic given that Abbas has rejected multiple peace offers since 2008, undermined talks in 2014 and has refused to talk to the Israelis ever since then.
“Israel has left us nothing of the land to establish our independent state in light of its frenzied settlement attack, so where will our people live in freedom and dignity? Where will we establish our independent state to live in peace with our neighbors?” Abbas asked rhetorically. This, of course, is neither true nor the most pressing issue. Were security concerns to be resolved, the logistics of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Israeli withdrawals would not be a real obstacle. Naturally, this is currently impossible given the popularity and power of Hamas and its rule over Gaza.
Vastly exaggerating figures and entirely distorting history since the establishment of Israel, Abbas claimed Israel had committed “more than 50 massacres” since 1948, “which claimed the lives of tens of thousands of children, women, the elderly and innocent people.” Perhaps one should be thankful he at least stopped saying Israel has inflicted numerous “holocausts” on the Palestinians, at least in front of international audiences.
Abbas went on to openly promote terrorism, saying “All glory to the righteous martyrs of the Palestinian people who enlightened the path of freedom and independence with their pure blood,” and specifically supporting terrorist prisoners in Israeli jails. Singled out for praise was Nasser Abu Hamid – serving several life sentences for murdering seven Israelis and planning to murder several more – and his family, several of whom were also terrorists. “I salute from this podium Nasser’s mother, the mother of prisoners and martyrs,” Abbas declared, making a mockery of his claims to want peace.
As if this wasn’t enough, Abbas continues to reject the very legitimacy of Israel itself, attacking the US and Great Britain for allegedly causing all issues since the Balfour Declaration by helping create the Jewish state, whose very existence he insisted was a crime. “We call on Britain, America and Israel to acknowledge their responsibility for this great crime committed against our people, apologize and make reparations, and provide compensation to the Palestinian people.”
He also went out of his way to reject the Jewish connection to the land, referring throughout the speech to “colonialism” and Israel’s supposed attacks on “The religious holy sites, Christian and Islamic, especially in Jerusalem, our eternal capital and the jewel of the crown.” Of course, the only reason Jerusalem is holy to anyone is that it was supremely important to the Jews first, but he was unable to even acknowledge its status as a Jewish holy site.
Nothing Abbas said in his speech was new, but it was certainly a major contrast with Lapid, who attributed Israel’s success to the fact that it “decided not to be a victim. We chose not to dwell on the pain of the past. But rather to focus on the hope of the future.”
Abbas, on the other hand, even when he managed the rare legitimate criticism of Israeli policy amidst the slander and conspiracy, focused entirely on eternal Palestinian victimhood and projected a lack of any historical or contemporary Palestinian agency. He also failed to give even token recognition of Israeli security concerns, and actually exacerbated them with his terrorism promotion.
Whatever happens in the Israeli election November 1, it will clearly not change the current impasse as long as people devoted to the myths and extremism on display in Abbas’ speech continue to dominate the Palestinian leadership.