In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly on Friday, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas demanded that Israel withdraw to the 1967 boundaries within one year or else face repercussions.
While Abbas had initially announced that he would travel to New York for the diplomatic meet, he later opted to remain in Ramallah, citing travel concerns due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Israeli authorities have one year to withdraw from the Palestinian territory it occupied in 1967, including East Jerusalem,” Abbas said in a pre-recorded video message.
During this year, the PA would be willing to work with Israel on borders and other issues necessary to resolve in any Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement, Abbas said.
If Israel did not comply, Abbas said the Palestine Liberation Organization could withdraw its recognition of Israel within the 1967 borders. The PLO recognized those boundaries as part of the Oslo peace process in the 1990s.
“If this is not achieved, why maintain recognition of Israel based on the 1967 borders? Why maintain this recognition?” Abbas said.
Abbas also threatened Israel with action at the International Court of Justice should the current deadlock in the peace process continue. The International Criminal Court in The Hague is currently investigating both Israel and the Palestinians for war crimes committed since 2014.
Should Israel fail to move towards establishing a Palestinian state “we will go to the International Court of Justice as the supreme international judicial body, on the issue of the legality of the occupation of the land of the Palestinian state,” Abbas said.
Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan slammed the speech, saying it highlighted Abbas and the Palestinians rejection of peace. “Those who really support peace and negotiations don’t issue threats and delusional ultimatums from the UN platform.”
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has said that his government will not allow the establishment of a Palestinian state.
“I oppose a Palestinian state — I think it would be a terrible mistake,” Bennett told the Kan public broadcaster earlier this month.
Nor does Bennett have any plans to meet his Palestinian counterpart.
“I don’t see any logic in meeting someone who is suing IDF soldiers at The Hague and accusing them of war crimes, and at the same time paying salaries to terrorists,” Bennett said in the same interview.
Throughout his speech, Abbas decried what he charged were “double standards” applied to the Palestinians, but not to Israel. As an example, he cited Palestinian textbooks, which critics have charged incite violence against Israeli civilians and glorify avowed terrorists.
“We are made to explain and justify what appears in our educational materials, even though it explains our narrative and our national identity. Meanwhile, no one demands to review Israeli curricula and media, so the world can see the true incitement by Israeli institutions,” Abbas said.
Abbas said that the Palestinian Authority was engaged in “constructive dialogue” to resume full ties with the United States, which have been mostly frozen since 2017.
But he also defended Ramallah’s controversial policy of distributing welfare payments to Palestinians killed, wounded, or imprisoned by Israeli forces, including those convicted of brutal terror attacks.
Both Israel and the United States have sought to crack down on the prisoner payments in recent years, which they say incentivize Palestinians to kill Israelis. Reforming the salaries constitutes a central obstacle to restoring broken ties between Ramallah and Washington.
“Why should we have to clarify and justify providing assistance to families of prisoners and martyrs, who are the victims of the occupation and its oppressive policies? We cannot abandon our people and we will continue striving to free all our prisoners,” Abbas said.
Abbas repeated his call for an international peace conference to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict under the supervision of the Middle East Quartet, a joint initiative of the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations.
“Do Israel’s rulers dream of maintaining the occupation forever? … Are there not other options — such as liberty, for example?” Abbas asked rhetorically.
The PA president also urged the international community to increase pressure on Israel to end its military rule in the West Bank.
“This is not incitement or antisemitism. It is the duty of every free person in the world,” Abbas said.
Abbas addressed the international community as he faces deepening unpopularity at home. He has ruled for over a decade and a half, although his elected term in office expired in 2009.
Many Palestinians see the PA as corrupt, weak and ineffectual at achieving their dream of an independent state. In the meantime, the Hamas terror group has seen its popularity skyrocket since its May battle with Israel.
A recent survey by veteran Palestinian pollster Khalil Shikaki found that nearly 80 percent of the Palestinian public wanted Abbas to resign. In a testament to an increasingly censorious media climate, however, the poll did not reach the headlines of several major West Bank news sites.
In an apparent attempt to renew his regime’s legitimacy, Abbas issued a decree ordering the first Palestinian national elections since 2006 in January. The 2006 parliamentary elections dealt Abbas’s Fatah movement a resounding defeat at the hands of the Hamas terror group.
But in late April, a month before Palestinians were set to head to the ballot box, Abbas indefinitely delayed the elections. The PA premier blamed Israel, saying they had not received Israeli consent to hold the vote in Jerusalem. Most observers said that Abbas likely delayed the vote to avoid an embarrassing defeat by his rivals in Hamas and within Fatah.
In his address to the UN General Assembly, Abbas stressed that the elections had only been postponed, not canceled.
“We call on the international community to help us bring pressure to bear upon the occupying Power to ensure these elections are held in Jerusalem as we cannot continue being deprived of elections,” Abbas said.
Abbas’s PA has also been struggling to reinforce its legitimacy among Palestinians following the death of anti-PA activist Nizar Banat, which sparked rare protests calling for Abbas’s resignation.
Banat, who frequently assailed Ramallah’s leadership on social media, died following a PA raid on his Hebron hideout in early June. Fourteen PA officers were later charged for beating him to death.
The demonstrations rarely saw more than several hundred people take to the streets of Ramallah. But they were brutally suppressed by PA officers, who arrested peaceful demonstrators and smashed the cameras of journalists seeking to document the scenes, drawing international criticism.
According to Shikaki’s polling, 74% of Palestinians viewed the arrests as a violation of the demonstrators’ rights.