As expected, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas submitted an application for Statehood to the UN Secretary General. The application can be downloaded HERE. In addition to this, both Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the UN General Assembly and their two speeches (below) have provoked international uproar, especially in light of the speech one day earlier by US President Barack Obama. As The Australian reported, this was a different Obama from the one who spoke previously in the same forum.
That persistence has put the Palestinians on a collision course with the US and Israel. A frustrated Mr Obama told world leaders yesterday in his UN speech that “there are no shortcuts” to peace.
A year ago, he made a case for Palestinian statehood, but in his speech he did not mention key issues such as an end to the construction of Jewish settlements in the West Bank or Palestinian demands that borders be drawn largely according to those that existed before the 1967 Mid-East war.
“Peace will not come through statements and resolutions at the UN,” Mr Obama told delegates. “If it were that easy, it would have been accomplished by now.”
While speculation has been rife as to why exactly Obama has seemingly reversed his position, mostly positing that he was motivated by internal US politics, there is a stark truth that few have taken into consideration: the PA has placed Obama in a position that he neither needs nor wants to be in. Obama began his presidential term as a seeming supporter of the PA and its platforms; he made the settlements the number one issue in peace negotiations and putting a huge amount of pressure on Israel and in return, all he got from Abbas was a refusal to enter into negotiations, even when Israel gave him the settlement freeze that he demanded.
Now, Abbas is rubbing salt on the proverbial wound by potentially forcing Obama to have to veto the state bid, which Obama clearly sees as counter-productive. This is a lose-lose situation for the US President – if he does not veto the bid, he will be going against his own instincts and the popular consensus in America and will seriously damage his domestic credibility; if he does exercise the veto power, he will further damage his already weak public image in the Middle East. Abbas’ intransigence on the issue, therefore, is isolating his biggest supporter and the single biggest benefactor of the Palestinians, who essentially funds their economy.
To make matters even worse, Abbas belied his own claims in the speech that he gave on Friday. As noted by American Jewish Committee President David Harris, the speech had few surprises, it followed the age-old Palestinian narrative unwaveringly, made absolutely no compromises and was overly critical of Israel while accepting no responsibility on behalf of his own people for any of the ills that have befallen them.
It was filled with recklessly incendiary language — “colonial military occupation,” “brutality of aggression,” “racial discrimination,” “multi-pronged policy of ethnic cleansing,” “war of aggression,” “apartheid policies,” “racist annexation Wall,” and more.
Is that the language of a peacemaker determined to narrow the space between himself and his adversary? It may play well with many in the General Assembly, but not where it really counts — in Israel, the other half of the Israeli-Palestinian equation.
Abbas truly damaged his credibility however over the issues of negotiations, which he himself raised:
We adhere to the option of negotiating a lasting solution to the conflict in accordance with resolutions of international legitimacy. Here, I declare that the Palestine Liberation Organization is ready to return immediately to the negotiating table on the basis of the adopted terms of reference based on international legitimacy and a complete cessation of settlement activities.
Taking the same podium shortly after, Netanyahu called his bluff, asking Abbas to come and sit down for negotiations while they were both under the same roof.
In two and a half years, we met in Jerusalem only once, even though my door has always been open to you. If you wish, I’ll come to Ramallah. Actually, I have a better suggestion. We’ve both just flown thousands of miles to New York. Now we’re in the same city. We’re in the same building. So let’s meet here today in the United Nations. Who’s there to stop us? What is there to stop us? If we genuinely want peace, what is there to stop us from meeting today and beginning peace negotiations? [emphasis added]
The need for negotiations has been recognised by all key players in the region, including Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd. This was reflected by the fact that the Middle East Quartet promptly issued their own call for the immediate resumption of negotiations. It is here that Abbas truly exposed his unwillingness to do what is necessary to achieve peace and to improve the lot of his people. Despite being under the same roof as Netanyahu, he has still been bluntly refusing to sit down at the same table.
Obama is not the only supporter lost by Abbas over his counter-productive actions. For example, The Sydney Morning Herald, traditionally sympathetic to the actions of the Palestinian Authority, has broken from sister paper The Age and editorialised in favour of the Quartet plan, noting that Abbas has damaged the opportunity of reaching a peace agreement.
Whether his bold diplomatic gambit has hastened the day when Palestinians achieve an independent nation is a very different question… In the meantime, the Abbas ploy seems, if anything, to have hardened attitudes on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide.
… So success prospects for a hastily contrived diplomatic initiative by the so-called Quartet – the US, the European Union, the UN and Russia – look bleak. The idea is to avoid, or postpone, a UN showdown by getting the two sides to reopen negotiations, based on set deadlines, leading to a two-state resolution in a year – a tall order.
But it is worth a try. Otherwise everybody stands to lose.
Bafflingly, The Age has taken a line that goes against the Quartet, the US, Australia and almost every serious player or analyst on Middle East issues. In its editorial today, the masthead spoke against negotiations and in favour of Palestinian unilateralism, somehow claiming that Israeli agreement is not necessary for Palestinian statehood. This implies that the Palestinians can have a viable state without resolving the ongoing conflict, a worrying thought for both of the parties who have been suffering at each others’ hands for over six decades.
It will remove the rarely declared but ever present assumption that has led to the failure of so many earlier rounds of negotiations: that Palestinian independence must depend upon Israeli agreement. Reluctance to accept that consequence, even more than the political clout wielded by settler parties in Israeli elections, perhaps underlies the Netanyahu government’s implacable resistance to the statehood vote. It is a resistance, however, that is preventing Israel from accepting an outcome that is in its own best interests.
A far more sensible editorial line came from The Australian, which noted that Israel’s leaders have indicated a willingness to negotiate and to make the tough concessions that a peace deal will require. The Palestiniant leadership, however, have demonstrated the opposite.
If Mr Netanyahu is willing to talk without preconditions on the basis of a two-state solution and pre-1967 borders with land swaps, the Palestinian leader should do the same. Mr Abbas must stop deluding himself. The only way Palestine will achieve statehood is through direct talks with the Israelis. Grandstanding at the UN is no substitute. It can’t give Palestine what it wants. Mr Abbas should grasp the opportunity presented by the quartet’s proposals, immediately and without preconditions.
To continue accusing Israel of being the party blocking peace, at this stage, is disingenuous. Nothing can illustrate that more than the words of the leaders themselves.
The core issue here is that the Israeli government refuses to commit to terms of reference for the negotiations that are based on international law and United Nations resolutions, and that it frantically continues to intensify building of settlements on the territory of the State of Palestine.
There’s an old Arab saying that you cannot applaud with one hand. Well, the same is true of peace. I can not make peace alone. I cannot make peace without you. President Abbas, I extend my hand – the hand of Israel – in peace.
Netanyahu’s speech, transcript HERE.
Abbas’ speech, transcript HERE.