Abbas calls for International Conference at UNSC

Abbas calls for International Conference at UNSC

Update from AIJAC

Update 02/18 #06

This Update looks at the speech given by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday at the UN Security Council in which, among other things, he called for an international peace conference on Israeli-Palestinian issues. The speech itself is here in full – some of the most controversial passages are highlighted here. (Though this report claims that Abbas also made the statement, “No one has held Israel accountable when it occupied our territories in 1948” which is not part of the official text distributed and may have been an extemporaneous addition.) There were also notable responses to Abbas from Israeli Ambassador Danny Danon and US Ambassador Nikki Haley – which unfortunately Abbas did not stay in the chamber to hear.

We lead with a useful rundown of the key moments in the speech, the responses and analysis by experts from Sean Savage of JNS. The key expert consulted is Palestinian politics expert and Abbas biographer Grant Rumley, who says the speech should be seen more as an ageing Abbas’ attempt to secure a historical legacy than any serious attempt at peacemaking. He says the call for an international conference is nothing new, and the apparent Palestinian effort to remove the US from the peace process is simply unlikely to work. For Rumley’s complete view and other key details,  CLICK HERE.

Next up is Washington Institute Palestinian politics expert Ghaith al-Omari – himself a former PA official. Al-Omari says the key takeout from the speech is that Abbas has decided to maintain his existing diplomatic course – and must recognise that the international conference he calls for has almost no chance of eventuating. Al-Omari says the speech was designed to read as defiant for his domestic audience, while appearing ready for diplomatic compromise and peace internationally, and likely pleased neither intended audience. For all of al-Omari’s analysis of it,  CLICK HERE.

Finally, veteran Palestinian affairs journalist Khaled Abu Toameh says a key priority for Abbas at the moment is to foil the peace plan currently being put together by the Trump White House. Moreover, Abu Toameh notes, Abbas is even prepared to join hands with Hamas to oppose the peace plan – whose details are currently still unknown – even though on another level, Hamas and Fatah are currently locked in a bitter fight over control of Gaza. The article also discusses the deprivation and problems that are caused in Gaza by the Hamas-Fatah fight over a still unimplemented reconciliation agreement signed last year – including especially the lack of medicines and fuel for generators in Gaza hospitals. For all the details,  CLICK HERE.

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Abbas’s U.N. speech about his legacy not solving conflict, expert says

P.A. President Mahmoud Abbas took to the international stage on Tuesday to call for a conference to advance peace efforts amid a falling out between the Palestinians and the Trump administration.

BY SEAN SAVAGE

JNS.org, Feb. 20, 2018

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas took to the international stage on Tuesday to call for a conference to advance peace efforts amid a falling out between the Palestinians and the Trump administration.

“We call for the convening of an international peace conference in mid-2018, based on international law and relevant U.N. resolutions, with broad international participation including the two concerned parties, and the regional and international stakeholders,” Abbas said in a 30-minute-long speech to the U.N. Security Council.

Abbas’s speech comes amid ongoing tensions between the Palestinians and Washington that stem from President Donald Trump’s announcement in early December that the United States will recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move its embassy there from Tel Aviv. As a result of the move, Abbas has said he no longer considers the United States to be an “honest broker” in Mideast peace and has called for an alternative to the U.S.-led process.

“It has become impossible today for one country or state alone to solve a regional or international conflict,” he said. “It is essential to establish a multilateral international mechanism emanating from an international conference.”

The P.A. leader also took aim at the Trump administration’s threats to cut off aid to the Palestinians. He additionally cited the administration’s decision to slash funding for UNRWA—the U.N. agency in charge of Palestinian refugees, which he said the United States “helped establish”—while criticizing Trump for threatening to shutter the Palestine Liberation Organization’s offices in Washington, D.C.

He added that Palestinians would step up efforts for full membership at the United Nations.

“We will come to this council. We were rejected last time,” stated Abbas. But “we will come again and call for” full membership.

Grant Rumley, a research fellow and expert on Palestinian politics at the Foundation For Defense of Democracies, told JNS that he believes this was a legacy speech for Abbas.


Palestinian politics expert and Abbas biographer Grant Rumley: “At this point, I think [Abbas] cares more about what his presidency doesn’t create – i.e., compromises on issues like Jerusalem – than what it does. 

“Abbas wanted to put down his final positions and then, when they’re inevitably not met, he can walk away without being viewed as compromising too much. At this point, I think he cares more about what his presidency doesn’t create–i.e., compromises on issues like Jerusalem–than what it does,” he said.

Rumley noted that Abbas’s call for a multilateral mechanism for the peace process is also not something new. “For years, the Palestinian leadership has viewed the international arena as an area of strength, and Abbas has sought to get them move involved in a way that creates leverage vis à vis Israel. In the past, that may have been marginally successful, such as when their status at the U.N. General Assembly was upgraded or when they joined the ICC [International Criminal Court].”

Nevertheless, he believes that the international community harbors no aspirations to take on the mantle of Middle East peace, and that the role of the United States will remain in place.

“I think there is little appetite for other countries to step forward in the way the Palestinians envision,” said Rumley. “There may be an international peace conference, or the [Middle East] Quartet may reassert itself, but the U.S. will still be the primary driver of peace negotiations.”

‘In Arabic, you convey a different message’

Following his remarks, Abbas quickly left the chamber and did not stay for follow-up remarks by the U.S. and Israeli delegations.

“I’m sorry that he declined to stay in the chamber to hear remarks of others,” said Nikki Haley, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

Similarly, Danny Danon, Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, noted that the Palestinians need real leadership—“leadership that will speak to Israel and not run away from dialogue.”

“When you speak before international forums, you speak of peace,” said Danon, adding that “when you speak to your people in Arabic, you convey a different message.”

“Mr. Abbas has refused to meet Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and sit at the negotiation table,” the Israeli envoy said. “Mr. Abbas, you have made it clear that you are no longer part of the solution, but part of the problem.”


US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, responding to Abbas: Says US ready to work with the Palestinians, “but we will not chase after you.”

In her remarks, Haley took aim at Palestinian chief negotiator Saed Erekat, who told her earlier this month to “shut up” over her criticism of Abbas.
“I will decline the advice I was recently given by your top negotiator, Saeb Erekat. I will not shut up,” she said. “Rather, I will respectfully speak some hard truths.”

Haley criticized the U.N. Security Council for holding another session on this issue, saying “this session on the Middle East has been taking place each month for many, many years. Its focus has been almost entirely on issues facing Israelis and Palestinians, and we have heard many of the same arguments and ideas over and over again. We have already heard them again this morning.”

She added that “it is as if saying the same things repeatedly—without actually doing the hard work and making the necessary compromises—will achieve anything.”

The U.S. ambassador said the Trump administration “stands ready” to work with the Palestinians.

“Our negotiators are sitting behind me,” she said. “But we will not chase after you.”

Shortly after the speech, the White House said it is still moving forward with a Middle East peace plan, spearheaded by Trump’s Mideast advisers, Jared Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, while calling Abbas’s speech “old talking points and undeveloped concepts for each of the core issues.”

“[We] will continue working on our plan, which is designed to benefit both the Israeli and Palestinian people,” said White House spokesman Josh Raffel. “We will present it when it is done and the time is right.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu similarly remarked that Abbas’s speech offered “nothing new.”

“He continues to run away from peace,” said Netanyahu, “and continues to pay terrorists and their families $347 million.”

Moving forward, FDD’s Rumley sees little options left for Abbas as he is being squeezed by both the Trump administration and Israel, while also seeing attempts at unification with Hamas fail.

“Behind the scenes, Abbas has few remaining options,” affirmed Rumley. “He won’t pursue violence, nor will he embrace the popular protests fully, nor compromise and coexist with Hamas. The international arena is the only arena he’s comfortable engaging today, and even that is not a comprehensive strategy for statehood.

“At this point, I think he’s comfortable laying down his conditions, and then walking away and waiting out the current administration.”

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Abbas at the Security Council

 

Ghaith al-Omari

Policy Watch, February 20, 2018

While the occasion of a Palestinian leader addressing the council was novel, the speech itself was classic Abbas: balancing his domestic need to appear defiant, but avoiding irretrievable diplomatic damage.

In a first for the Palestinian Authority leader, President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the UN Security Council today, offering remarks that addressed two distinct audiences: the Palestinian public and international diplomats. For his home audience, he reiterated the traditional Palestinian narrative and grievances, emphasized his unwillingness to compromise on core Palestinian interests, and repeated his rejection of the U.S. decision to formally recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. For international listeners, he repeated his commitment to a two-state solution, his willingness to negotiate, and his rejection of violence. He also presented a peace plan that does not deviate much from previous PA proposals, then demanded a multilateral framework and a timeframe for reaching an agreement.

While addressing the council would have been a good opportunity to retract claims he made on January 15, when he denied the Jewish connection to Jerusalem, his speech fell short. Instead, he stated that the future Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem will be open to Muslims, Christians, and Jews.


Abbas notably failed to retract his previous denial of Jewish connections to Jerusalem. 

Bluster aside, the speech indicated Abbas’s intention to maintain his current diplomatic course. Although he called for an international conference, there is very little chance of that happening—the very model he cited, the January 2017 Paris Peace Conference, demonstrated how untenable that approach is. In reality, he seems set on energizing an international approach that entails confronting U.S. diplomacy without crossing U.S. redlines.

Specifically, he indicated that he will once again try to obtain a Security Council vote to admit Palestine as a full UN member. That plan is bound to fail—even if it garners the necessary nine votes, which it has failed to do in previous attempts, the United States would veto it. Yet Abbas likely believes that an American veto would still work in his favor, allowing him to exhibit defiance to his public.

His speech also mentioned seeking Palestine’s entry into more than 500 international organizations and treaties. Even on this front, however, he avoided measures that would force Washington’s hand. By law, the U.S. government is obligated to cut funding to any UN agency that admits Palestine as a full member, as happened to UNESCO years ago. To avoid a repeat of the UNESCO situation, Abbas said he would not join twenty-two similar agencies that would trigger mandatory U.S. cuts.

Regarding actions on the ground, Abbas hinted that he will not implement last month’s Palestinian Central Council decision demanding the severing of relations with Israel. Although his speech was replete with criticism of Israel, he nonetheless stated his commitment to maintaining the PA’s “institutions and achievements.” Indeed, Palestinian-Israeli security cooperation has continued since the Central Council decision, and high-level civilian officials have held numerous meetings.

In short, while the occasion of a Palestinian leader addressing the UN Security Council was novel, the speech itself was classic Abbas: balancing his domestic need to appear proactive and defiant, but avoiding irretrievable diplomatic damage. He will likely meet the bare minimum on both points without satisfying either audience. And despite the heightened rhetoric and diplomatic posturing of late, he has yet to find a way out of the current stalemate.

An American peace plan may tip the balance in favor of returning to negotiations, but it would need to meet Israel and the PA’s minimum requirements. It would also need to be coordinated in advance with Arab and international allies in order to address their needs and recruit them in the effort to influence Abbas. Short of that, a U.S. plan may end up tipping the balance in the opposite direction.

Ghaith al-Omari, a senior fellow at The Washington Institute, previously served in various advisory positions with the Palestinian Authority.

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Hamas and Fatah join hands against Trump

 

By Khaled Abu Toameh

Saudi Gazette, Feb. 22

Palestinian Authority President and leader of Fatah Mahmoud Abbas (right) meets with Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal (left) in Cairo, in 2011 as the two announced a partnership between their parties – which has never really come about. 

HAMAS and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s ruling Fatah faction are continuing to contest control of the Gaza Strip. However, the two rival parties are prepared to lay aside their differences and work together to foil US President Donald Trump’s plan for peace in the Middle East, the details of which remain unknown.

Thwarting Trump’s peace plan has become a top priority for Hamas and Fatah. This is a mission that seems to be much more important than alleviating the suffering of the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, where 65% of families live under the poverty line.

Although details of the Trump plan still have not been made public, Palestinians across the political spectrum say they will never accept any peace initiative presented by the Trump administration. Whatever the peace plan will be, the answer is No.

In the eyes of the Palestinian leaders, the US administration has shown unprecedented “hostility” toward the Palestinians.

The Palestinians are not only voicing strong opposition to Trump’s plan, which is known as the “deal of the century.” Hamas and Fatah are now saying that they will do their utmost to thwart it.

They say they see the plan as being as a “conspiracy aimed at eliminating the Palestinian cause and national rights.” It is not clear why the Palestinians are opposed to a plan the details of which have not yet been made public.

The Palestinian rejection to the plan is evidently based on unconfirmed media reports and rumors.

In any event, the Palestinians know that no US peace plan would comply with their demands.

Abbas’s Fatah is demanding 100% of the territories Israel secured in 1967, namely the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

Hamas, for its part, is demanding 100% of everything, from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. As Hamas leaders repeatedly affirm, the goal is to “liberate all of Palestine,” meaning all of Israel.

The Palestinians have not presented precisely how they intend to foil Trump’s plan, if and when it is made public. At the very least, street protests and strong condemnations of the US, Israel and any Arab country that accepts the peace plan can be expected.

Hamas and Fatah, however, are still quarreling over the “reconciliation” agreement they signed in Cairo in November 2017.

According to Hamas, the agreement has failed because of Abbas’s refusal to lift the sanctions he imposed on the Gaza Strip last year.

The arm-twisting between the two rival parties is spurring intense suffering in the Gaza Strip, where a number of hospitals have been forced to close down as a result of severe shortage in medicine and generator fuel.


The Hamas-Fatah battle means that Gaza hospitals are running out of medicines and fuel for their generators.

While Fatah and Hamas are continuing to hurl abuses at each other, however, they see eye to eye on the issue of Trump’s “deal of the century.”

Hamas and Fatah are willing to support each other and join forces in the war on the US administration’s plan.

Former Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal has gone so far as to praise Abbas for his staunch opposition to the “deal of the century.” The former Hamas leader said that his movement would even support Abbas in a standoff with the US administration.

In statements published on Feb. 17, Mashaal said that Abbas was “the strongest party that is obstructing” Trump’s plan. The Palestinians, Mashaal added, will be the only ones to stand against the plan.

Mashaal’s remarks echo those of Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other radical Palestinian groups that have also emphasized that Trump’s peace plan “won’t pass.” His remarks are also compatible with those made by Abbas and Fatah, who in the past few weeks have used every platform to express their rejection of the plan.

Take, for example, a recent statement issued by Fatah regarding the plan:

“Without Palestinian compliance, the ‘deal of the century’ won’t pass. The Palestinians reject it. They (the Trump administration) won’t find one Arab who will agree to betray Jerusalem and the Palestinian people.”

In recent weeks, Abbas himself has also come out against Trump’s plan — a move that has clearly earned him the backing of the former Hamas leader. Abbas says that he sees the plan as an attempt by the US administration to “impose dictates” on the Palestinians.

“We don’t take instructions from anyone,” Abbas was quoted as saying. ” We have said ‘no’ to Trump and we won’t accept his plan. We say ‘no’ and 1,000’no-s’ when it comes to our fate, cause and people. We don’t accept the US as a broker between us and Israel.”

The Palestinian patients in the Gaza Strip who are dying for lack of proper medical treatment care little about Trump — or about any peace plan. Neither do the thousands of employees who have been deprived of their salaries or the students who are unable to leave the Gaza Strip because of the continued closure (by Egypt) of the Rafah border crossing. For them, this is a battle of survival. 

— The writer, an award-winning journalist, is based in occupied Jerusalem.

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