Abbas’s UN speech less a bombshell than a cry for help
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Analysis

Abbas’s UN speech less a bombshell than a cry for help

Promises of dramatic declarations fizzle in an address that highlights the Palestinian leader’s increasingly desperate plight

Avi Issacharoff

Avi Issacharoff, The Times of Israel's Middle East analyst, fills the same role for Walla, the leading portal in Israel. He is also a guest commentator on many different radio shows and current affairs programs on television. Until 2012, he was a reporter and commentator on Arab affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. He also lectures on modern Palestinian history at Tel Aviv University, and is currently writing a script for an action-drama series for the Israeli satellite Television "YES." Born in Jerusalem, he graduated cum laude from Ben Gurion University with a B.A. in Middle Eastern studies and then earned his M.A. from Tel Aviv University on the same subject, also cum laude. A fluent Arabic speaker, Avi was the Middle East Affairs correspondent for Israeli Public Radio covering the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the war in Iraq and the Arab countries between the years 2003-2006. Avi directed and edited short documentary films on Israeli television programs dealing with the Middle East. In 2002 he won the "best reporter" award for the "Israel Radio” for his coverage of the second intifada. In 2004, together with Amos Harel, he wrote "The Seventh War - How we won and why we lost the war with the Palestinians." A year later the book won an award from the Institute for Strategic Studies for containing the best research on security affairs in Israel. In 2008, Issacharoff and Harel published their second book, entitled "34 Days - The Story of the Second Lebanon War," which won the same prize.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas waits to speak at the United Nations General Assembly on September 30, 2015 in New York City (Andrew Burton/Getty Images/AFP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas waits to speak at the United Nations General Assembly on September 30, 2015 in New York City (Andrew Burton/Getty Images/AFP)

It ended up being far less dramatic than advertised. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas did not shock attendants of his speech at the UN General Assembly with an announcement of resignation, and did not even clearly and resolutely announce the voiding of the Oslo accords.

Abbas had promised to drop a “bombshell” during the speech. In the end he simply threatened for the umpteenth time that so long as Israel continues to breach its agreements with the Palestinians, the latter will not see themselves as unilaterally obligated to those agreements.

He stated that Palestine was effectively a state under occupation, but that declaration carries no meaningful consequence.

In the end it wasn’t so much a bomb; at most — as Arab media had guessed in advance — it was a stun grenade. The speech was intended to generate apprehension on the Israeli side as well as in the international community. And similar to a stun grenade, perhaps it managed to achieve that purpose momentarily.

But Abbas’s words carried little real significance, and were largely a reflection of the Palestinian leader’s dire situation, as well as his despair.

Abbas finds himself today, more than ever, at an impasse. The possibilities of launching a third intifada (or popular uprising) and of resigning are still there, but it is clear now that he is not interested in either option.

The Palestinian public, meanwhile, is as tired and as despondent as its president. It expresses its unhappiness with demonstrations against the PA chief, and public opinion polls convey growing support for his resignation.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the United Nations headquarters on September 30, 2015 in New York City (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the United Nations headquarters on September 30, 2015 in New York City (Spencer Platt/Getty Images/AFP)

Reconciliation with the Islamist Hamas movement is no longer viable. The economic situation in the Palestinian territories, according to the World Bank, is deteriorating for a third straight year. Abbas’s strategic choice — negotiations with Israel — is stalled and going nowhere. The Israeli leadership attacks him at every turn, and is in no hurry to appease him in the interest of renewing talks.

It is possible, however, the Abbas’s speech does signal an attempt to reestablish contacts with Israel, rather than head for confrontation. Three weeks ago Abbas asked to meet with former minister Meir Sheetrit in Ramallah, and asked him to tell Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he is interested in renewing talks. Netanyahu, too, expressed interest in the initiative; it was the US administration, surprisingly, that shot the idea down.

Is it conceivable that now, at the end of the UN General Assembly and following the bombastic but hollow speeches, we will witness new meetings between Netanyahu and Abbas? To find out, we’ll have to wait, as they say in Israel, until “after the holidays.”

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