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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 October 2018

UNGA speeches leave little hope for Israel-Palestine dialogue

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed strikingly different priorities.  

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves after addressing the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, New York, USA. EPA
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves after addressing the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, New York, USA. EPA

If there was any hope for the peace process after Donald Trump hinted at the US plan on Wednesday, it was dashed on Thursday after Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke at the UN General Assembly.

Analysts told The National that the speeches showed strikingly different priorities, as Mr Abbas focused on a Palestinian state while Mr Netanyahu spoke of Iran.

“The two speeches reinforce why, no matter what the Trump administration tries, there is no chance of negotiations and certainly not of an agreement while these two leaders are in power,” said Daniel Shapiro, of the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, who was an ambassador to Israel under Barack Obama.

“They so fundamentally distrust each other, and they have established such incompatible demands, that prospects of an agreement are zero.”

On the one hand, he said Mr Abbas’ praise “of Palestinian terrorists [Abbas considers them martyrs] with Israeli blood on their hands and calling Israel an apartheid state.”

On the other, Mr Netanyahu promised “nothing more than a Palestinian state-minus with no real sovereignty”, Mr Shapiro added.

This, he argued, erased the prospects of dialogue.

“In this atmosphere, any US plan would be dead on arrival,” he said. “Unless the plan contains a serious proposal for the two states, the Palestinians will continue to boycott contact with Washington. But if it does point toward two states it will be rejected by the Israeli coalition.”

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Mr Shapiro suggested that the US goal in this period “should not be to restart negotiations, which would only fail spectacularly, and likely be punctuated by violence”.

“Rather, the goal should be to steer the parties and other regional players toward practical steps that don’t require negotiations and that will help to keep the two-state solution alive and viable until new leaderships are in place,” he said.

Ghaith Al Omari, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said the speeches reflected the different priorities and audiences of the two leaders.

“Bibi’s [Mr Netanyahu’s] speech conveyed his diplomatic priorities: confronting Iran and cementing close relations with Mr Trump,” Mr Al Omari said.

In that context, the Palestinian issue “is low in that list and only received cursory treatment”.

Mr Netanyahu spent more than half of his speech going after Iran, pledging to act against it “wherever and whenever” and displaying photos of a “secret atomic warehouse” in the Turquzabad district of Tehran and a map of three Hezbollah missile sites near Beirut’s airport.

Mr Al Omari said that for Mr Abbas, “the priority was domestic. He offered no new diplomatic ideas but rather sought to present himself to his public as a steadfast, unyielding defender of Palestinians’ rights and narrative”.

“With this combination of two leaders who are not focused on making diplomatic progress, it is difficult to imagine how the peace process can move forward,” he said.

“This is further complicated by the breakdown of communication between the Palestinians and the US.”

Mr Abbas rejected exclusive US mediation in the peace process and called for the international Middle East Quartet – the UN, US, EU and Russia – or any other country to step in.

One breakthrough that emerged at the UN meetings on Thursday was when Jordan succeeded in securing funding for the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency, which received pledges of $118 million (Dh433.4m) from donor countries after the US cut its funding.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi announced on Thursday that Germany, Sweden, Turkey and Japan were among the countries that pledged to the UN agency at Thursday’s meetings, along with the EU.

“Five million Palestinian refugees were following these events very, very closely indeed,” said Peter Krahenbuhl, Commissioner General of UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine.

“It was year of tremendous existential concerns, of great anxiety. I think it is a very big step that has been achieved today.”

Mr Safadi said the new funding was “a message that the world does still care about the plight of Palestinian refugees”.

But the foreign minister highlighted the challenge “to sustain this effort”.

Mr Safadi said the meetings discussed “a long-term financial planning so every year in August, Palestinian kids will not be wondering if they have a school to go to.”