FRESH AIR

Mahmoud Abbas implicitly acknowledges Palestinian failures in UN speech

Oct 2, 2020 | Judy Maynard

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu made something of a splash with his annual address to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday because he used the occasion to reveal new intelligence about Hezbollah missile factories or storehouses in civilian neighbourhoods of Beirut.

By contrast, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ statement to the just-completed 75th session of the United Nations General Assembly last Friday generated little media interest – which is perhaps unsurprising given he had little new to say.

He himself alluded to this at the outset: “I wondered while preparing this statement what more could I tell you, after all that I have said in previous statements, about the perpetual tragedy and suffering being endured by my people…”.

Herein also lay the implicit acknowledgement of his, and his predecessor Yasser Arafat’s, failure to make any real progress in improving the lives of Palestinians.

Nor is it surprising that the lack of substance underpinning Abbas’ narrative achieved nothing constructive for Palestinians. The Palestinian leadership’s lack of vision, initiative and accountability have brought only violence, chaos and misery to their people.

“Until when”, Abbas asked, “will the Palestinian people remain under Israeli occupation and will the question of millions of Palestine refugees remain without a just solution in accordance with what the United Nations has determined over 70 years ago?”

“Over 70 years ago”, in 1947, the UN determined “a just solution” in the form of the partition plan that would have created the, thenceforth elusive, two-state peace. The Palestinians rejected it, and have continued rejecting similar plans ever since.

Abbas also claimed, “we have always sought a just, comprehensive and lasting peace, and we have agreed to all the initiatives presented to us.” Except for all the times they didn’t and made a virtue of saying no: to Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s offer in 2000 of the whole of Gaza and some 92% of the West Bank including parts of east Jerusalem and the dismantling of over 60 settlements; to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s offer to withdraw almost completely from the West Bank and relinquish Jerusalem’s Old City to international control (2008) – which Abbas himself has said he rejected “out of hand”; to US President Donald Trump’s Peace to Prosperity Plan, rejected by Abbas with “a thousand noes” even before it had been announced, among others.

Now that the UAE and Bahrain have called out this Palestinian rejectionism by signing normalisation agreements with Israel, with the likelihood that other Arab states will follow, Abbas called on the UN and Middle East Quartet to convene an international conference in 2021 “to engage in a genuine peace process”. If past decades are anything to go by, this is as likely to appear as the fabled “Godot”.

In similar vein, the PA President in the 16th year (so far) of a four-year term, declares his commitment to “democracy and the rule of law”.

In last year’s paean to democracy before the same forum, Abbas explained, “From the outset, we have believed in democracy as a foundation for the building of our State and society. We have enshrined this in our constitution and exercised this on the ground. We conducted general elections in 1996, 2005 and 2006 …However this democratic process was paralyzed by the coup by Hamas in 2007, which is an unbearable situation. Therefore, I have decided, upon my return from this international gathering, to announce a date for the holding of general elections in Palestine.” We’re still waiting.

But Abbas has a history of bending the truth. He holds a doctorate in Holocaust denial – literally. He would do well to remember the saying that a liar must have a good memory. Here he trots out the recently invented fiction of Palestinian indigeneity, declaring, “The Palestinian people have been present in their homeland, Palestine, the land of their ancestors, for over 6000 years”, evidently forgetting that in 2018 he’d told the UN Security Council they’d been there for 5000. PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat has claimed his family has had direct connection with the land for 9000 years, so the numbers are clearly a little rubbery.

Before this recent inventive phase, the Palestinians knew who they were. In 2012 in a televised address, Hamas minister Fathi Hammad declared, “…we all have Arab roots, and every Palestinian, in Gaza and throughout Palestine, can prove his Arab roots – whether from Saudi Arabia, from Yemen, or anywhere. We have blood ties. So where is your affection and mercy? …Personally, half my family is Egyptian. We are all like that. More than 30 families in the Gaza Strip are called Al-Masri [“Egyptian”]. Brothers, half of the Palestinians are Egyptians and the other half are Saudis.”

Abbas’ statement ended on a note of peace – which may have sounded nice, but would have rung hollow to anyone who knows that the Palestinian leadership has not only rejected three serious peace offers, but has been refusing to negotiate at all since 2014.

But a more familiar tone was struck by the threat he issued a few paragraphs earlier: “Let everyone know there will be no peace, no security, no stability and no coexistence in our region while this occupation continues and a just, comprehensive solution to the question of Palestine, the core of the conflict, remains denied.”

With the UAE and Bahrain breaking with that historical consensus, and other major Arab states lining up to follow, Abbas’ repetition of long-standing mantras about Palestinian demands being at the core of the conflict not only rang hollow, but only underlined the Palestinian leadership’s apparently complete and ongoing inability to adapt to the region’s changing realities.

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