Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the UN General Assembly on Thursday, asserting that the Palestinians would seek full UN membership and condemned “relentless” attacks by “terrorist settler militias” in the West Bank.
“We contend with attacks on our people, our mosques, our churches and our schools,” Abbas said, in an apparent reference, in part, to the burgeoning phenomenon of price-tag attacks and vandalism in response to Israeli evacuations of outposts in the West Bank.
“They are unleashing their venom against our fields, trees and properties,” he said.
Abbas said that “settler crimes” could be traced back to the Israeli government and were an “inherent byproduct” of continued occupation and an Israeli policy of “ethnic cleansing.”
Israel was trying to altering Jerusalem’s “historic character and the glorious image of the Holy City,” Abbas charged, through “a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Palestinian people via the demolition of their homes and prevention of their construction; the revocation of residency rights; the denial of basic services, especially with regard to construction of school; the closure of institutions; and the impoverishment of Jerusalem’s community via a siege of walls and checkpoints that are choking the City.”
Throughout his speech, Abbas referred to Israel as “the occupying power.”
Israeli actions on the ground — the “occupation of Palestinian water basins” and “control over the most fertile agricultural areas in our land as well as over our air, skies and borders” — were “making the implementation of the Accords extremely difficult if not completely impossible,” the Palestinian leader warned.
“There can only be one understanding of the Israeli government’s actions in our homeland… That the Israeli Government rejects the two-state solution… Israel is promising the Palestinian people a new catastrophe, a new Nakba.”
Participants described Abbas as emphasizing an urgent need to return to talks with Israel due to the protests and fighting roiling the Arab world, and due to increased tensions with Iran. He asked his Jewish interlocutors why Israel was demanding that he recognize Israel as a Jewish state when he had repeatedly recognized its legitimacy.
He was told that insensitivity to Jewish claims helped fuel the demand, and was reminded that last year, in his speech to the UN General Assembly, he noted only Muslim and Christian claims.
The president repeated his commitment to a Palestinian state, and said that he accepts a 2002 Arab proposal to find a “justified and acceptable” solution to the refugee problem.
However, others reported that Abbas at times appeared to despair of the situation of the Palestinian economy and talked of abandoning the Oslo Accords and retiring from public life.
Greg Tepper and JTA contributed to this report.