“The hour of independence of the State of Palestine has arrived,” were the final words of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s speech at the 69th annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA).
In his outspoken address, Abbas referred to the latest Israeli military operation in Gaza as a “genocide” carried out by the “racist occupying State (of Israel).” He argued that the difference with former Israeli military assaults like Operation Pillar of Defense (2012) and Operation Cast Lead (2008/9) was the scale of the crimes and the unprecedented list of killed, wounded and disabled.
Israel’s 50-day assault on Gaza, dubbed Operation Protective Edge, killed more than 2,0104 Palestinians, nearly 70% percent of which were civilians according to the latest UN statistics.
The Palestinian President continued with critical remarks towards the international community, stating that the Israeli crimes were carried out “before the eyes and ears of the entire world (…) in a manner that makes it unconceivable that anyone today can claim that they did not realize the magnitude and horror of the crime.” He argued that supporting Israel’s right to self-defense cannot equate with ignoring the fate of Palestinian victims, whose lives are “as precious as the life of any other human being.”
Apart from his criticism, Abbas applauded the worldwide demonstrations that condemned the Israeli military offensive and the grassroots support for the international boycott campaign. “These manifestations of true solidarity constituted an important message to those who were facing genocide in Gaza, helping them to feel that they were not alone,” he said.
Abbas reaffirmed his support for a two-state solution in various instances. He explicitly listed what foundations the State of Palestine should be built upon, including “a sovereign and independent State living in peace (…) that deepens the Palestinian enlightened traditions of tolerance, coexistence and non-exclusion (…) and cares for the needs and interests of its people.”
In the speech, Abbas was critical towards future negotiations. He expressed that the objective of any negotiations should be to end Israeli occupation and to create a State of Palestine “with East-Jerusalem as its capital on the entire Palestinian Territory occupied in the 1967 war.”
“There is no value in negotiations which are not linked to a firm timetable for the implementation of this goal,” he said, while refraining from including details on what this timetable should entail.
Abbas also reaffirmed his plans to present a resolution to the UN Security Council (UNSC) on the issue, as he had announced last week during a press conference with French President Francois Hollande. It is expected however that the United States, which is one of the permanent members of the UNSC, will veto the resolution. The US holds presidency of the Council at the moment and has vetoed many other UNSC-resolutions on the Palestinian question, the most recent being a 2011-resolution that called a halt to illegal Israeli settlement construction.
The main US-argument has been that a solution should be found through direct negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian representatives instead of via the UN. Jen Psaki, spokeswoman of the US State Department, was therefore quick to condemn Abbas’s speech at the UNGA. “Abbas’s speech included offensive characterizations that were deeply disappointing and which we reject,” she said. “Such provocative statements are counterproductive and undermine efforts to (…) restore trust between the parties.”
Senior officials in Netanyahu’s office also denounced Abu Mazen’s speech “of incitement filled with lies.” Right-wing Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman even called the speech “diplomatic terrorism” which showed that Abbas “does not want to be, and cannot be, a partner for a logical diplomatic solution.”
Abbas did not, however, set a deadline for the birth of the State of Palestine, as many believed he would. Aides close to the Palestinian president suggest the PA is looking at 2017 as the official birth year of the Palestinian state.
Hanan Ashrawi, a leading member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said earlier this month that the PLO was looking at a three-year statehood deadline.
In his address on Friday, Abbas asserted that despite years of negotiations, Israel continues to forge ahead with settlements and land theft, all the while maintaining its blockade of the Gaza Strip.
“The future proposed by the Israeli government for the Palestinian people is at best isolated ghettos for Palestinians on fragmented lands,” Abbas said.
“At worst it will be a most abhorrent form of apartheid,” he warned, in reference to the racist regime that ruled South Africa up until 1994.