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Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas escalated the tone of his speech in front of the United Nations General Assembly to the point of threatening Israel on 23 September 2022. The Palestinian president suggested alternative options that focused on several points.
First, Abbas referred to international community resolutions 181 and 194. The first resolution calls for the division of Palestine into two states, Jewish and Arab. As is well known, the first state exists, and the second does not because of Israel and its practices. The second resolution calls for the return of about one million Palestinian refugees to their homes and lands.
Both resolutions were prerequisites for the international community’s recognition of Israel and its admission to membership of the UN under Resolution 273 of 1949. Israel, however, did not need to comply with either resolution due to the support of the US and the West.
Second, Abbas announced his intention to convey the Palestinian issue to the UN General Assembly. In doing so, the Palestinian president seeks to push the General Assembly towards the recognition of Palestine by promoting its membership from an observer to a full member and by swaying the international community to grant Palestine full statehood.
Third, Abbas explicitly blamed the United States for its policies that protect and support Israel, especially since it occupies Palestinian lands and discriminates against them.
He called on the US and UK to apologise for the grievances inflicted on the Palestinians since the establishment of Israel. While calling for compensation for the Palestinians, he called for the Palestinian people to be allowed to establish their independent state in the occupied territories.
In his speech, Mahmoud Abbas scrutinised Israel’s violations of the rights of Palestinians. He also discussed Israel’s attempts to change reality through settlements, land confiscation and repression of the Palestinians, which has caused their suffering and pain for 74 years.
He emphasised the Palestinian narrative of Palestinian national identity. This narrative is based primarily on the Nakba as a founding event. The Nakba resulted in the establishment of Israel — at the expense of the Palestinian people and giving rise to the Palestinian refugee problem. It must be noted that Palestinian official discourse and literature have long since shifted away from this narrative.
Fourth, Abbas stressed in his speech that the Palestinian leadership had moved towards negotiations and peace and that Israel had done everything to undermine the Oslo Accords and prevent the establishment of a Palestinian state.
The Palestinian president stressed that Israel is not a partner for peace, calling for concerted efforts by the international community to implement its resolutions on the Palestinian issue. He also demanded the stigmatisation of Israel as an occupying power, practising apartheid.
In short, the Palestinian president’s speech was comprehensive, especially as it presented the totality of Palestinians’ pain in the Palestinian territories, the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem, and abroad.
The speech emphasised the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) status as the Palestinian people’s sole legitimate representative. Considering the circumstances and his faith in the usefulness of the settlement process, the Palestinian president’s speech was in line with expectations.
However, many issues can be raised in this regard.
First, betting again on negotiations will not be effective as Israel’s indifference comes from a position of power, and it is not pressured to behave otherwise.
Furthermore, Israel has been edging more towards the extreme right. Israel has had ten Prime Ministers since the Oslo Accords, none of whom, even symbolically, fulfilled the requirements for the settlement process.
Second, unfortunately, Abbas does not hold any cards to force Israel’s hand. On the Arab and international levels, there is a decline in the status of the Palestinian cause as opposed to increased attention for other issues.
On the Palestinian level, Abbas has yet to consolidate enough power. During his presidency, the PLO was sidelined in favour of the occupation. The representation of refugees on the national level has also been weakened.
Furthermore, the Palestinian political system is impaired by division, disagreement and decay of legitimacy, not to mention the gap between the Palestinians and the political class. This includes the weakening civil society in the West Bank and Gaza.
Third, this is not the first time president Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to use other options, as he has done so for over a decade. These threats included withdrawing the Palestinian recognition of Israel, halting security coordination, and reducing compliance with the Paris Protocol (annexed to the Oslo Accords).
However, the Palestinian president has always quickly backed down from his threats. Previous setbacks have been due to the authority‘s political, economic and security difficulties and crises, as well as the gap between the regime and the people that has been widening as a result of the continued relations with the occupation and the dependence on the Oslo Accords.
Abbas’s usual retreat may also be due to the unwillingness of the political class to opt for radical options as these threaten its place in power. The decisions of the PLO’s National and Central Councils have been ignored in this regard since 2015.
Fourthly, talk of the UN’s recognition of the State of Palestine – despite its moral importance – poses a new problem. Even if the State of Palestine were to be recognised in the General Assembly, it would remain without implementation.
Establishing such a state within the 1967 borders and its recognition would require favourable international, regional and Arab input. It also requires a favourable Palestinian situation and pressure on Israel. None is available, and the Palestinian people do not need another illusion.
The current escalations will not be better than before. Whether or not the Palestinian leadership is serious about its latest threat, this threat will, in time, reach an impasse. The Palestinian leadership’s willingness and seriousness depend on the ability to make decisions and the necessary capabilities to translate them into action.
Frankly, it’s too late for this leadership to change its policies. The reason for this is simple: the existence of this leadership – its legitimacy, status and privileges – depends on the ongoing negotiations with Israel.
In other words, the current Palestinian leadership bases its existence on the relations resulting from the Oslo Accords. This assessment is based on the circumstances and dependencies within which this authority and the political class that shape it are operating.
In short, pursuing alternative and different national policies in the face of colonial and racist occupation requires changes in the structure of the political class that controls the dominant Palestinian entities, including the PLO, the Palestinian Authority and all factions. The situation requires representation, democracy and reforming the Palestinian leadership around the struggle.
This means founding a narrative of Palestinian identity and patriotism that resonates with the people, the land and the cause. Without this approach, all threats or policies are worthless.
The opinions expressed in this publication are those of our bloggers. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of Fanack or its Board of Editors.