At UN, Abbas urges int’l conference for ‘genuine’ peace bid, pledges elections

Weeks after UAE and Bahrain agreed to establish ties with Israel, PA leader says no one can ‘negotiate or speak in our place,’ reiterates call for Palestinian state on 1967 lines

Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas gives a pre-recorded speech aired at the UN General Assembly on September 25, 2020. (Screen capture: UN)
Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas gives a pre-recorded speech aired at the UN General Assembly on September 25, 2020. (Screen capture: UN)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas demanded a speedy international conference to launch a “genuine peace process” and criticized the recent normalization deals Israel signed with the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, in his address to the United Nations General Assembly on Friday afternoon.

He also said the Palestinians were preparing to hold elections at all levels for the first time since 2006. “Here we are… preparing to hold parliamentary elections, followed by presidential elections, with the participation of all factions and political parties,” Abbas told the UN.

In response to recent diplomatic setbacks, the Fatah-dominated Palestinian Authority has returned to unity talks with its rival Hamas, the terror group that controls Gaza. After a round of meetings in Istanbul, the two movements announced Thursday that pan-Palestinian legislative elections would be held within the next six months.

Palestinian legislative elections have not been held since 2006, when a Hamas victory over Fatah led to a bloody struggle for control of Gaza. Hamas expelled the PA from Gaza in 2007, after which the Palestinian Legislative Council essentially ceased to function.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, right, and then-Palestinian prime minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas speak as they head the first cabinet meeting of the new coalition government at Abbas’ office in Gaza City, March 18, 2007. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)

Unlike some of his other UN addresses, Abbas’s pre-recorded speech on Friday was concise and restrained. No new policy initiatives were announced and he refrained from attacking his Palestinian and Arab rivals.

“I asked myself as I prepared these remarks, what could I tell you that was new, after all that I’ve told you before?” Abbas asked rhetorically in the opening lines of his speech.

Abbas’s remarks came in the wake of successive setbacks for the Palestinians in recent weeks, beginning with the United States’ announcement that the UAE was normalizing relations with Israel.

Two weeks later, in another blow to the Palestinians, the Arab League failed to pass a resolution condemning the normalization deal. A few days later, Bahrain joined the UAE in announcing it too would normalize ties with the Jewish state.

The PA has long seen most Arab countries’ refusal to normalize ties with Israel before the establishment of a Palestinian state as a key diplomatic tool. Palestinian officials have regularly invoked the 2002 Arab Peace Initiative, a Saudi-backed proposal that offered Arab normalization with Israel in exchange for the establishment of a Palestinian state along the so-called 1967 lines with a capital in East Jerusalem, and with a “just” and “agreed upon” solution to the Palestinian refugee question.

(L-R) Bahrain Foreign Minister Abdullatif al-Zayani, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, US President Donald Trump, and UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahyan hold up the documents they signed at the Abraham Accords ceremony where Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates recognized Israel, at the White House in Washington, DC, September 15, 2020. (Avi Ohayon / GPO)

The PA president briefly discussed the normalization accords in his remarks — but in a markedly different tone from some of his other recent comments.

While Abbas previously described the agreements, known officially as the Abraham Accords, as “a poisoned dagger,” Abbas merely called them a “violation of the Arab Peace Initiative.”

Bahraini monarch King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa defended his country’s decision to establish open relations with Israel, arguing in his address to the UN on Wednesday that peace between the two countries would advance the Palestinian cause.

“We consider this a cornerstone for achieving a just and comprehensive peace leading to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital, based on the resolutions of international law and the Arab Peace Initiative,” Al Khalifa said.

Other Arab states were more critical, however. Qatar — whose leadership has been at odds with other Gulf countries since 2017 — criticized the normalization accords as a distraction from the Palestinian cause.

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani attends the opening of the 30th Arab Summit in Tunis, Tunisia, March 31, 2019. (Fethi Belaid/ Pool photo via AP)

“Such arrangements do not realize peace. Not even if they’re labeled as such,” Qatari head of state Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani told the General Assembly on Tuesday.

For his part, Abbas said no Arab country had the right to normalize with Israel before the establishment of a Palestinian state, or to argue that they were making peace on behalf of the Palestinians.

“The PLO does not mandate anyone to negotiate or speak in our place. The only way to a comprehensive and just peace is the establishment of a Palestinian state on the 1967 borders,” Abbas said.

Abbas also called upon the United Nations and the so-called Mideast Quartet — the UN, US, Russia and the European Union — to convene a multilateral peace conference early next year with an eye towards establishing a Palestinian state.

“The conference should have full authority to launch a genuine peace process based on international law,” Abbas said. “It should aim to end the occupation and grant the Palestinian people their freedom and independence in their own state along the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital and settle final-status issues, notably the refugee question.”

“Those who believe the Palestinian people can coexist with the occupation or be subdued by pressure and diktats are under an illusion, as are those who are being misled to believe that they can circumvent our people,” Abbas said.

Abbas claimed the Palestinians had kept to their agreements with Israel but got nothing in return, while charging that Israel advanced unilateral measures as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank. The annexation was set to begin on July 1 but has since been suspended as part of the agreement with the UAE.

“We have always sought a just, comprehensive and lasting peace, and we have agreed to all the initiatives presented to us,” Abbas said. “And what did Israel do in return? Israel breaks all of the agreements signed with it.”

“We will not bow down, we will not surrender, we will not compromise… and we will triumph,” Abbas said.

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