The Opinion Pages | CONTRIBUTING OP-ED WRITER
OCT. 6, 2014
RAMALLAH, West Bank — The latest speech by Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, before the United Nations General Assembly represented a significant departure in his thinking. Until last week, Mr. Abbas had been the firmest believer in and most loyal champion of direct negotiations with Israel under the exclusive sponsorship of the United States. He insisted constantly that these negotiations were the only way to reach a political settlement to the conflict.
Over the years, he was extremely conciliatory toward Israel, and offered up one concession after another on several key issues, presuming that that would enable him to appease Israel and convince it to end its occupation and work with him to achieve a political settlement, which would finally allow for the creation of the long-awaited Palestinian state.
None of Mr. Abbas’s conciliations or concessions to Israel ever bore fruit. In fact, over time, the country tilted increasingly rightward and its stubbornness and intractability toward the Palestinians grew. There has not been the slightest indication that Israel may change its stance. Yet Mr. Abbas was expected, both by Israel and by the United States, to continue to accept the status quo, hidden by useless and fruitless negotiations.
Mr. Abbas drew out the process for as long as he could — until the latest Israeli war against Gaza, with its unprecedented level of destruction and killing, brought an end to his dawdling. The internal pressure left him with only one option, to see things as they truly are, and not as he wished them to be.
Mr. Abbas’s speech before the United Nations was one of his best since he became Palestinian president nine years ago. It was not apologetic, nor evasive, nor conciliatory. It was direct, clear and honest in its conclusions, and the message the speech carried was both loud and powerful: Israel rejects the two-state solution, refuses to end its occupation and rejects the Palestinians’ right to establish a state that is genuinely free and sovereign. Thus, there is no point in negotiating with Israel, unless the talks take place with international backing and have a specified goal of ending the Israeli occupation within a strict, predetermined time frame.
He also promised to present a resolution on the matter to the Security Council, and vowed to seek justice in international forums.
While Mr. Abbas’s position now reflects the desires of the Palestinian people, the shift in his stance will not necessarily improve the Palestinian position on the international scene. There are obstacles that will complicate the new direction in Palestinian policy, and most likely lead to its failure.
The first is the global preoccupation with confronting the Islamic State, which has reached the level of obsession. The subject dominated the agenda at the General Assembly, leaving little room for anything else.
The second obstacle is America’s unequivocal support for Israel, no matter what it does or how it behaves. This support essentially covers Israel with a protective umbrella on the international level. Israel is comforted by the fact that America will thwart any Palestinian attempt to pass a Security Council resolution calling for a time frame to end the occupation; it is also comforted by the fact that the United States will punish the Palestinian side for merely considering this option.
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There is no better proof of this than the United States’ abrupt and curt response to Mr. Abbas’s speech. A State Department spokeswoman described it as containing “provocative statements” and “offensive characterizations that were deeply disappointing and which we reject.”
Of course, the Americans did not mention what alternatives the United States would pursue, nor what it expects from the Palestinian side, besides remaining caged in a negotiation process that America sponsors and Israel controls, and which is having the de facto effect of consolidating Israeli occupation.
As long as the United States continues to support Israel blindly, then all Palestinian attempts to seek other options in international forums will be met with American rejection and pressure that simply closes more doors in the face of the Palestinians.
The third and most significant obstacle has been Mr. Abbas’s hesitation until now to bring up the measures that he intends to take if Israeli and American intransigence continues.
Complaining about the situation will not be enough on its own, but should be accompanied by practical steps to change the situation.
The international community must be convinced to move beyond managing the conflict to solving it. This will not happen until Israel and America fear that the situation within Palestine and Israel will deteriorate. And this will only happen if Mr. Abbas declares that he will dissolve the Palestinian Authority unless there is a set time frame to end the occupation.
As it stands, the Authority performs a role that comforts Israel. Israel gets the Authority to keep it safe through “security cooperation,” while Israelis are absolved of responsibility for their occupation while avoiding its costs. Indeed, until Mr. Abbas takes a tangible step toward dissolving the Authority, the international community, especially Israel and America, will not take him seriously, and his demands will remain nothing but complaints.
A change in the fate of Palestine will need more than a fiery speech in the United Nations.
Ali Jarbawi is a political scientist at Birzeit University and a former minister of the Palestinian Authority. This article was translated by Ghenwa Hayek from the Arabic.