Abbas brushes off Israeli threats surrounding UN bid

Abbas brushes off Israeli threats surrounding UN bid

While supporters call General Assembly vote on Palestine a ‘historic moment,’ Jerusalem downplays the bid as ‘a virtual move’

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting of the Palestinian leadership at his compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on Nov. 16 (photo AP/Majdi Mohammed)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during a meeting of the Palestinian leadership at his compound in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on Nov. 16 (photo AP/Majdi Mohammed)

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday told of massive Israeli pressure and “threats” ahead of the PA’s bid to upgrade its United Nations status to nonmember state, and expressed his determination to go through with the initiative later Thursday at the UN General Assembly in New York.

Pressure on him to retract the bid was “heavier than mountains,” Abbas told journalists.

“I’m not afraid of threats. I didn’t bolster my personal security detail. If Israel wants to harm me, it can do so, as, like all Palestinians, I’m under occupation,” he added.

Top Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat said the vote on the PA’s UN bid marked “a historic moment and historic day,” the culmination of the life’s work of the current generation of Palestinian leaders who were born “to put Palestine back on the map.”

The Palestinians “aren’t trying to confront anyone or isolate anybody,” Erekat, a member of the Palestinian Authority’s delegation to New York, told Army Radio. “We came [to the UN] in order to keep the idea of two states for two nations [alive].”

Like Abbas, Erekat dismissed Israeli threats — Jerusalem has backed down from statements regarding punitive measures — and said they made him doubt Israel’s sincerity in its avowals of support for a two-state solution. He added that the ostensible anger from Jerusalem about unilateral moves and “diplomatic terror” on the part of the Palestinians were “a joke.” Building settlements on Palestinian land, destroying Palestinians’ houses, and Israel’s annexation of Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, were similarly one-sided actions, Erekat said. “If the vote is unilateral, how shall we call Israel’s actions since 1967?”

While some Israelis supported the Palestinian UN move, including former prime minister Ehud Olmert and MK Ahmed Tibi, who flew to New York to help the PA delegation, Israel’s Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon called it a “virtual move” that would only harm the Palestinians.

Ayalon told Army Radio that the unilateral bid was a violation of previous accords signed by the two sides, and that following the passage of a UN resolution granting statehood, Israel “would be less obligated to agreements with the Palestinians.”

While there were a number of measures that Jerusalem could take in response to the move, Ayalon said, it was important to consider them carefully and “not to act from our gut.” At the end of the day, he predicted, the Palestinians would be the ones most hurt by the initiative.

The US and Israel have led opposition to the statehood bid, though the move has broad support in the United Nations General Assembly with some 130 nations expected to vote yes on the matter. On Tuesday France said it would support the move, joining Spain, Norway, Denmark and Switzerland and a host of other countries.

On Wednesday, Palestine Liberation Organization senior official Hanan Ashrawi urged the US to at least abstain, saying that voting no “would be seen as being really pathetic by the rest of the world” and would hurt American interests in the Middle East.

But US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Wednesday told reporters the US believes the Palestinians were going in the wrong direction to reach their goals.

Clinton stressed that the “path to a two-state solution that fulfills the aspirations of the Palestinian people is through Jerusalem and Ramallah, not New York.”

Joshua Davidovich contributed to this report.

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