Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Friday was laden with questions.
Among those he asked the audience in New York and the watching, widely sympathetic world: Why are the Palestinians still living under occupation? Why, after hundreds upon hundreds of pro-Palestinian resolutions passed by the General Assembly, the Security Council and the UN Human Rights Council, have the Palestinians still not been granted full membership status at the UN? Why do they not yet have a state? And what more do they have to do in order to achieve one?
I’m not deaf to his people’s aspirations for independence. I’m not indifferent to the corrosive effect of Israel’s ongoing control of Palestinian lives. And I’m deeply aware of the threat to Israel’s Jewish democracy if we cannot separate from millions of hostile Palestinians.
Nevertheless, I also found that the answers to Abbas’s frustrated, ostensibly baffled questions could be found within his speech.
He claimed to genuinely want peace with Israel, but in other passages of his address made clear that he rejects Israel’s very legitimacy: he denounced the Balfour Declaration; described Israel as a colonizing power for 75 years — that is, since its historic rebirth in 1948; airbrushed Judaism out of his “eternal” Jerusalem in which there are only Muslim and Christian holy sites, under relentless, unjustified, daily Israeli attack.
In his narrative, there was no acknowledgment, no sign of internalization, of why Israel might hesitate to relinquish any more of the territory he has sought all these years for a Palestinian state.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas holds up a New York Times front page showing children killed in the May 2021 Israel-Hamas conflict as he addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 23, 2022 (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images/AFP)
His comments included powerful passages on the terrible deaths of children in Gaza, complete with a New York Times front page filled with the faces of young people killed in May 2021’s conflict.
But there was no mention that Israel dismantled its settlements and withdrew all its soldiers from Gaza in 2005. No hint that Hamas took over, and has relentlessly provoked conflict with Israel ever since, using its civilian population as human shields for its indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israel, subverting all relevant resources for weaponry — and battering home the lesson to Israel that relinquishing the adjacent territory where Abbas demands sovereignty merely empowers the forces that seek our destruction.
In his depiction, last year’s 11-day war between Hamas and Israel was the latest of “50 massacres” carried out by Israel against the Palestinians since 1948; at least this time he refrained from calling them “holocausts.”
Moreover, his championing of the heroic “martyrs” who “have lit the way to freedom and independence with their blood,” was a debasement of his claim that the Palestinians “we will not resort to weapons… will not resort to violence… will not resort to terrorism.”
Indeed, so deaf or indifferent to his own transparent bad faith was Abbas that he devoted some of the closing passages of his address to the case of Nasser Abu Hamid. Abu Hamid, who has cancer, is serving multiple life terms for the murders of seven Israelis and the attempted murders of 12 more.
Abbas allowed that Abu Hamid had “committed a crime,” but also described him as a martyr dying in jail because — he again produced a picture to make the point — of ostensible Israeli medical negligence, with his mother not allowed to visit him.
Palestinian prisoners “are the living conscience of our people,” Abbas declared — treading his well-worn path of championing the killers of Israelis to whom his Palestinian Authority insists on paying salaries, thus nurturing the next generations of murderers. “Living martyrs,” he called them. Heroes who “have taken four or five life sentences,” he specified; no minor offenders, these.
Abbas made potent arguments about the expansion of settlements gradually reducing the viability of a Palestinian state, and about the dangerous rise of Israeli Jewish extremist organizations. And he affected to welcome Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s readiness-in-principle for a two-state solution, as set out at the same podium on Thursday. “We are thankful for that; that is of course a positive development,” he said.
But he ignored the “one condition” Lapid set for the implementation of that vision: “That a future Palestinian state will be a peaceful one. That it will not become another terror base from which to threaten the well-being and the very existence of Israel.”
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid addresses the UN General Assembly on September 22, 2022. (Screenshot)
For three-quarters of an hour, the Palestinian Authority president fulminated against Israel’s refusal to grant the Palestinians full sovereignty on all the territory they seek, and condemned the international community, led by the United States, for failing to force Israel’s hand. He professed bitter indignation at Israel’s brutal intransigence and utter bafflement at the world’s complicity.
But his speech contained the explanations. Like his unlamented predecessor Yasser Arafat, he continues to resist the very fact of Israel’s legitimacy as the revived historic homeland of the Jews, encourages his people to believe that it is a colonizing presence that can be ejected, and incites and rewards murderous hostility toward it.
Lapid on Thursday offered Abbas a one-sentence formula for Palestinian independence: ‘Put down your weapons, and there will be peace.” But as ever, and tragically for our people and his, the Palestinian leader was not minded to listen.