Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Two Men, Two Speeches, Two Agendas

By James Knoop - October 03, 2012
Section: [Main News] [Opinion] [Life under Occupation] [Features]
Tags: [Mahmoud Abbas] [Benjamin Netanyahu]

What a difference a year makes.

Last September, with international and local momentum behind him, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas went to the United Nations General Assembly to declare to the world his intention to have the Security Council confer upon Palestine the status of state. His impassioned speech received ovations from the crowd as thousands of onlookers watched on a giant TV set up in downtown Ramallah. World press was largely sympathetic after the failed peace talks with Israel and took an interest in covering the story of a rebellious Palestine squaring off against an entrenched United States that was bound to veto any move.

This year, looking tired and defeated, President Abbas offered a watered-down re-hashed version of the same speech he gave last year with the less ambitious aim of receiving 'observer status’ before the General Assembly. Prior to that, the United Nations released a press report stating this would be one of the busiest sessions of the General Assembly ever given the daily bloodshed in Syria and the proposed sanctions on Iran, but failed to even mention Palestine.

There were no crowds in downtown Ramallah to watch the speech this year. No one but old men in the PA and the PLO seem to care about the recent move. President Abbas touted a hardly inspiring message: “There is still a chance – maybe the last – to save the two-state solution and to salvage peace.”

His speech, full of bellicose imperatives, belittled Palestinian moves as unimportant, and claimed the true dangers in the world are the forces of ' medievalism’ and 'radical Islam

Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu spoke shortly after President Abbas, barely wasting the time to acknowledge the Palestinian statehood bid except to say, “We won’t solve our conflict with libelous speeches at the UN…We won’t solve our conflict with unilateral declarations of statehood.”

His speech, full of bellicose imperatives, belittled Palestinian moves as unimportant, and claimed the true dangers in the world are the forces of ' medievalism’ and 'radical Islam.’

Negotiations between the two speech-makers broke down in 2010 when President Abbas halted talks after Israel refused to commit to halting its settlement construction in the West Bank. Abbas stated he will not reengage until a clear Terms of Reference is settled upon – a legal term that means they need to decide what they will talk about.

Prime Minister Netanyahu, on the other hand, paradoxically equated Israel with the forces of modernity. He said Israel won’t begin negotiations with the Palestinian leadership unless a “demilitarized Palestinian State recognizes the one and only Jewish state.” As if a religious state has anything to do with modernity.

Prime Minister Netanyahu attempted to focus the world’s attention on Iran and its impending capacity to create a nuclear bomb. This is a strategically sound option for Israel because it is likely that his country faces the greatest danger by this development. Instead of making peace, he called on the rest of the world to draw a red line on Iran’s nuclear program, essentially delivering an ultimatum.

But the PLO considers this posturing a mere distraction from the real issue of the occupation. At a press conference recently, PLO spokeswoman Hanan Ashrawi said, “What worries us is that he is diverting attention by attempting to create a situation whereby there is a threat.”

Prime Minister Netanyahu is not the only one who is avoiding the real issues.

As President Abbas pointed out, “There can only be one understanding of the Israeli government’s actions in our homeland …That one understanding leads to one conclusion: that the Israeli government rejects the two-state solution.”

Misplaced faith in the Security Council

So what exactly is the point of going to the United Nations? President Abbas claims he is going to the United Nations to prevent another Nakba, referring to the catastrophe of 1948. He says, “Israel’s overall policy is ultimately leading to the weakening of the Palestinian National Authority, undermining its ability to carry out its functions and to implement its obligations, which threatens to undermine its very existence and threatens its collapse.”

President Abbas is placing his confidence in the United Nations to settle the occupation through negotiations if Palestine is fully accepted as a state. He wants the Security Council to define the Terms of Reference for negotiations. But can he really rely on the Security Council when it has issued resolutions that are not followed, and denied granting Palestine a state status just last year?

“The Security Council is called upon to urgently adopt a resolution comprising the basis and foundations for a solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict that would serve as a binding reference and guide for all if the vision of two states, Israel and Palestine, is to survive,” said Abbas.

Relying on the Security Council is exactly what President Abbas is doing. Yet, the PLO’s ace up its sleeve is the possibility of using the International Criminal Court or the International court of Justice to go after Israel for war crimes under the Geneva Conventions.

“If the international community does not intervene to end Israeli violations, then we should be able to try to get some sort of judicial accountability for Israel,” said Ashrawi.

Yet, what doesn’t add up with the PLO’s approach is: if a Nakba is imminent then why is Abbas adopting a pragmatic and negotiations-oriented, slow moving approach?

The Palestinian public doesn’t believe going to the United Nations is the right answer. There are several articles circulating in the press that are highly critical of the manoeuvre. Most view it simply as a watered down version of last year’s requests and doubt the results of such an endeavor more than last year’s failed attempt.

Furthermore, Abbas is largely viewed as not having the mandate to lead the people anymore. His presidential term expired in 2009, and the last elections were held in 2005. The public doubts the Security Council, doubts the United Nations, doubts the Oslo Accords, and the doubts that the Palestinian Authority can accomplish anything at all.

So, while Prime Minister Netanyahu dismisses Palestinian demands to cease all settlements and attempts to focus the world’s attention of what he believes to be the bigger problem of Iran, President Abbas is pursuing a policy the Palestinian people don’t believe in – one that even if it is successful won’t see any fruits of its results for a very long time.

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