Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Wednesday that the PA would cease to abide by agreements signed with Israel, including the 1993 Oslo accords, claiming Israel had shown that it, too, was no longer committed to them.
“So long as Israel refuses to commit to the agreements signed with us, cease settlement construction and release prisoners, Israel has left us no choice but to insist that we will not remain the only ones committed to these agreements,” Abbas told the UN General Assembly in New York.
Israel, he said, must now “fully assume all its responsibilities as an occupying power… our patience for a long time has come to an end.”
“The state of Palestine, based on the 4th of June 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital, is a state under occupation, as was the case for many countries during World War II,” Abbas declared. “Our state is recognized by 137 countries around the world and the right of our people to self determination, freedom and independence is recognized globally as being inalienable and unquestionable.”
Abbas accused the Israeli government of running “an apartheid regime” in the West Bank. Israel “insists on continuing its destruction of the two-state solution and on entrenchment of two regimes on the ground,” he charged. “An apartheid regime that is currently imposed on the territory of the state of Palestine and against the Palestinian people on the one hand, and another regime of privileges and protection to the Israeli settlers on the other hand.”
The Israeli government later rejected the speech as “deceitful” and called for renewed peace talks.
Abbas also warned in his speech that Israel was in danger of turning a political conflict into a religious one, saying that its recent actions on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount holy site represented an attempt to change the status quo there.
Abbas said “extremist Israeli groups” visiting the compound under Israeli security protection were seeking to impose a new reality and divide the compound, which is host to the al-Aqsa mosque but is also sacred to Jews as the site of two biblical temples.
He accused Israeli “occupying forces” of entering the site while preventing Muslim worshipers from exercising their religious rights.
Such policies, he warned, could lead to an “implosion” in the region.
“It is no longer useful to waste time in negotiations for the sake of negotiations; what is required is to mobilize international efforts to oversee an end to the occupation in line with the resolutions of international legitimacy,” he said. “Until then, I call upon the United Nations to provide international protection for the Palestinian people in accordance with international humanitarian law.”
Abbas said that, as opposed to Israelis, the Palestinians were a “peace-loving” people, and urged full UN recognition of a Palestinian state.
“We do not respond to the Israeli occupation’s hatred and brutality with the same,” he claimed. “Instead, we are working on spreading the culture of peace and coexistence between our people and in our region, and we are anxious to realize it and to witness the day when all of the people in our region will enjoy peace, security, stability and prosperity.”
He alleged that world nations that do not support the recognition of a Palestinian state at the UN and other international platforms were in fact encouraging extremists in Israel, “making them believe that they are above the law.”
He accused the Israeli government of continuing “its illegal settlement expansion in the West Bank, especially occupied East Jerusalem.”
The Jewish state, he added, “continues its blockade of the Gaza Strip, thus deepening the immense suffering of the people there, in defiance of UN resolutions and agreement signed between the two sides.”
Abbas called for an end to the “humiliating” checkpoints in the West Bank and said “racist, terrorist, colonial settlement” was destroying the two-state solution.
“How does a nation that claims to be a bastion of democracy accept the existence of ‘price tag’ gangs?” he asked, referring to attacks by right-wing extremists against Palestinian civilians, which Israeli leaders have said constitute Jewish terrorism.
“Is it not time for racism to end? For Israeli checkpoints in our land to be removed? For the blockade of Gaza to be removed so that our people can move freely in their homeland? Is it not time to demolish the settlements that are ruining the two-state solution? Is it not time for Palestinian prisoners to know freedom and meet their families and communities?
“All of the crimes against our people…have passed without punishment. For how long will Israel remain above international law and without accountability?”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Abbas’s speech to the UN distorted the truth, and accused the PA president of having no intention of making peace with Israel.
“[Abbas’s] speech is deceitful and encourages incitement and disaster in the Middle East,” he said in a statement. “Unlike the Palestinians, Israel strictly adheres to the status quo on the Temple Mount, and is committed to continuing to do so in accordance with the agreements between Israel and Jordan and the Waqf. We expect and urge the [Palestinian] Authority and its leader to act responsibly and accept the offer by the prime minister of Israel to hold direct negotiations with Israel without preconditions. The fact that he time and again has not responded is the best proof there is that he has no intention of reaching a peace agreement.”
In an opinion piece published in the Huffington Post ahead of the speech, Abbas called for a multilateral peace initiative and accused the nations of the world of abandoning the Palestinian people and leaving them to suffer Israeli “ethnic cleansing” that was, he said, worse than apartheid.
“Palestine has languished on the UN agenda since the organization’s inception,” Abbas wrote. “This persistent neglect has cost too many lives, dampened hope, undermined international law and stained the reputation of the UN.”
In the run-up to the event speculation abounded that Abbas could rattle relations with Israel by making various bold declarations such as ending the ongoing security coordination with Israel, declaring the dismantling of the Palestinian Authority, or announcing his own resignation.
The speech is set to be followed by a ceremony marking the raising of the Palestinian flag at the United Nations, a highly symbolic move hailed by Ramallah as a milestone in the Palestinians’ drive for statehood.
Critics in Israel, the US and elsewhere have derided the move as unhelpful toward peace efforts, but Abbas in his Huffington Post piece blamed moribund peace talks on “Israel’s pursuit of reckless policies,” a likely reference to Israeli settlement building.
Israel Radio reported on Wednesday that Hamas and the Islamic Jihad had called on Abbas to use the speech to abandon the Oslo Accords that created the Palestinian Authority and have been the basis for cooperation with Israel ever since. The report cited Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestinian negotiator, as saying that Abbas knows a one-sided commitment to the accords is pointless.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he would use his speech at the UN the day after Abbas to call on the Palestinian Authority to desist from “gross lies” and “wild incitement” over the Temple Mount, saying Israel was committed to the status quo at the holy site.
Stuart Winer contributed to this report.