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PA’s Abbas says he opposes armed resistance, for now

In rare interview, Palestinian Authority president attributes recent attacks against Israelis to ‘oppression,’ calls Israel’s UN membership ‘illegal’

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas holds a joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on August 16, 2022. (Jens Schlueter/AFP)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas holds a joint press conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, on August 16, 2022. (Jens Schlueter/AFP)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said Wednesday in a rare interview that he is opposed to taking up arms against Israel, but warned he might change his mind.

“I do not support armed Palestinian resistance, but that could change. It could change — tomorrow, the next day or some other time. Everything changes,” Abbas told the Saudi Arabian news station Al Arabiya.

He also rationalized recent violence when asked about the high number of Palestinian attacks against Israelis.

“The [Palestinian] people are being oppressed and oppressed and oppressed to the point where they explode,” he said, adding that “Palestinians are being made to lose their patience.”

Abbas has long advocated non-violent resistance and negotiations with Israel rather than organized terrorism or militant activity. The stance has helped Abbas maintain power, enabling foreign partners to feel more at ease bankrolling the PA, and leading some Israeli leaders to trust him enough to coordinate on issues of shared concern, such as security.

The declared renunciation of terror by the Palestine Liberation Organization under Yasser Arafat in 1988, though never universally accepted as genuine by Israelis, was an important step toward convincing Israeli governments at the time to recognize the PLO as the Palestinians’ political representative and eventually as a partner for negotiations.

Abbas’s preference for what he calls “popular resistance” rather than armed struggle has sometimes put him at odds with members of his Fatah party and with the Palestinian general public, 56 percent of which supports armed attacks against Israelis, according to a June 2022 poll.

Earlier this year, Abbas condemned two terrorist attacks — in Tel Aviv in April and in Elad in May. While often speaking out against terrorism in general, the statements were rare instances of Abbas condemning individual attacks.

The Israeli military and PA security forces work together to tamp down terrorism in the West Bank, coordination that is condemned by a significant majority of Palestinians, according to opinion polls.

In response to that criticism, Abbas said in Wednesday’s interview, “Security coordination is a part of the agreements [with Israel]. When it comes to security coordination our approach is to fight terrorism no matter where.”

He noted that the PA has signed agreements to combat violence and terrorism with 85 countries worldwide.

Soon after mentioning the agreements with Israel, Abbas hedged, however.

“We are, along with Israel, against terrorism and violence. But if Israel continues with its behavior, I will not be bound by the security agreement. I will cancel my commitment to it,” he said.

The PA briefly suspended security coordination with Israel in 2020 due to the government’s stated intention at the time to annex all or parts of the West Bank. Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu later that year axed those plans after it became clear that the Trump Administration would not support them and, subsequently, in order to establish the Abraham Accords.

Netanyahu is currently holding coalition negotiations after his bloc won a majority in last month’s election and is expected to become prime minister again in the coming weeks.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during a state funeral for the late president Shimon Peres, at Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem on September 30, 2016. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

“I will work with [Netanyahu],” Abbas said, “without giving up any of my longstanding commitments.”

He claimed that the incoming Netanyahu government — slated to be the most right-wing in Israeli history — would in no way differ from previous Israeli governments, including the one in power when Israel was established in 1948, which he accused of committing massacres against Palestinian civilians.

Abbas also highlighted his recent efforts to raise awareness on the international stage, such as the PA’s appeals to international courts for advisory opinions on Israel’s military rule in the West Bank.

He described a growing international consensus in support of the Palestinians but said the US was standing in the way of UN resolutions against Israel being implemented on the ground.

Abbas argued that Israel’s membership in the UN is in fact “illegal” because of Israel’s failure to implement two resolutions in particular. He claimed Israel’s admittance to the UN as a full member in 1949 was conditioned on compliance with Resolution 181, from 1947, which partitioned Mandatory Palestine into a Jewish and an Arab state, and 1948’s Resolution 194, often interpreted to enshrine Palestinians’ right to return to the places from which they left, fled or were expelled during the War of Independence.

Israel’s promises to comply are in fact noted in the text of the resolution admitting Israel, but they’re not portrayed as having been necessary conditions for the new state’s accession. Palestinian political representatives rejected Resolution 181 when it was passed by the UN.

Abbas has long fought for full member status in the UN in order to strengthen Palestinians’ diplomatic position. Currently, the “State of Palestine” is an “observer non-member,” a status it shares only with the Holy See.

Critics say Palestinian appeals to the international community are a way to pressure Israel while avoiding direct negotiations.

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