Mahmoud Abbas demands end to Israeli occupation in UN speech
NEW YORK // Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said on Friday that his government had given up on two decades of US-led efforts to negotiate a peace settlement with Israel.
He said he would ask the United Nations Security Council to pass a binding resolution that sets a date for ending the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.
“It is impossible, and I repeat — it is impossible — to return to the cycle of negotiations that failed to deal with the substance of the matter and the fundamental question,” Mr Abbas told the United Nations General Assembly. “The time has come to end this settlement occupation.”
Palestinian Authority officials were expected to deliver a draft resolution to the Security Council after Mr Abbas’ speech that would force Israel to negotiate the framework for a two-state solution “within a specific time frame”, Mr Abbas said, that creates a Palestinian state roughly within the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a “agreed upon solution” to the status of Palestinian refugees who fled during the formation of Israel in 1948.
During his speech, he said that the draft resolution would also call for the immediate resumption of direct negotiations between the PA and Israel “to demarcate the borders, reach a detailed and comprehensive agreement and draft a peace treaty between them”.
The war this summer between Israel and Hamas in Gaza that killed more than 2,000 Palestinians struck a sharp blow to Mr Abbas’ leadership. It increased political support for Hamas, just months after US-led mediation efforts imploded following Israel’s refusal to release Palestinian prisoners as a confidence building measure.
As a result of the failure of the on-again-off-again cycle of negotiations, and the political fallout in the West Bank, Mr Abbas was forced to pursue a new strategy for achieving statehood.
During his speech, Mr Abbas blamed Israel for the end of the talks, and the inability of the US to pressure Israel to stop settlement construction.
“Throughout the months of negotiations, settlement construction, land confiscations, home demolitions, killing and arrest campaigns, and forced displacement in the West Bank continued unabated and the unjust blockade on the Gaza Strip was tightened,” he said.
But there is little optimism within the PA leadership or on the part of Mr Abbas that any binding resolution will pass a vote in the Security Council, where the US is almost certain to veto it, as it has done in the past.
Mr Abbas is likely, then, to bring the resolution before the General Assembly for a vote, as he did in 2012 when the assembly overwhelmingly voted in favour of granting Palestine non-member observer status at the UN.
This paved the way for the PA to join UN bodies, including the International Criminal Court, where the Palestinians could bring war crimes charges for the first time against Israeli officials.
That widespread international support was evident after Mr Abbas’ address on Friday, when he received an unusual drawn-out ovation from the assembly.
But a vote there would not be binding, and PA officials have said that the next step will be to apply to join the international organisations, including the ICC.
The new strategy to internationalise the conflict by Mr Abbas at the UN set the stage for another diplomatic clash with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, though there is little Israel can legally do to block the PA from joining the ICC.
In the meantime, Israel has stepped up its annexation of Palestinian land and settlement construction, announcing this month that 1,000 acres of land near Bethlehem, in the West Bank, would become Israeli land and used for settlements.
Mr Abbas used his speech to accuse Israel of “war crimes carried out before the eyes of the world” during the latest conflict in Gaza, saying it had committed “genocide”. “We will not forget and we will not forgive, and we will not allow war criminals to escape punishment,” he said.
He also tied the violence to the threat of extremist violence by ISIL that has been the central topic of this year’s General Assembly.
Combating the group, Mr Abbas said, “requires…bringing an end to the Israeli occupation of our country, which constitutes…an abhorrent form of state terrorism and a breeding ground for incitement, tension and hatred.”
The Palestinian prime minister, Rami Hamdallah, said on Tuesday that during a sideline meeting with donors at the UN he asked for $3.8 billion to help rebuild Gaza, and that Saudi Arabia had pledged $500 million. Mr Abbas said that Norway and Egypt will host a conference on reconstruction in Cairo in November.
* With additional reporting by the Associated Press
Updated: September 26, 2014 04:00 AM