Last Friday, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas delivered an incendiary address to the United Nations General Assembly. His speech was packed with fighting words — rhetoric that, in an ironic twist, has turned out to be points of weakness.
Though his proposal to end Israeli occupation in the West Bank expresses his people’s frustrations well, Abbas’s fiery language empowers the wrong people in this struggle to bridge the Israeli-Palestinian rift.
“War of genocide,” “racism” and “war machine” on Israel’s part are just a few of the strong, provocative words included in Abbas’s address. No doubt he has reason to use these loaded terms. In an Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs’s Gaza Emergency Situation Report, the Palestinian death toll totaled 2,104 — 69 percent of which consisted of civilian casualties.
His very human account of the conflict gives those statistics depth and a glimpse into understanding things from the perspective of the Palestinians.
“The occupying Power has chosen to defy the entire world by launching its war on Gaza,” Abbas said. “Its jets and tanks brutally assassinated lives and devastated the homes, schools and dreams of thousands of Palestinian children, women and men in reality destroying the remaining hopes for peace.”
Yet, for each line that sheds light on the Palestinian side of the story, there are a dozen accusations of genocide that draw attention away from that plea for peace.
The cutting responses from the United States and Israel show how Abbas’s choice of words has backfired on him. “President Abbas’s speech today included offensive characterizations that were deeply disappointing and which we reject,” said Jen Psaki, a spokeswoman for the State Department.
Just as expected, the “offensive characterizations” are the focus of attention while lines that talk about Abbas’s commitment to maintaining “respect and commitment to international law” don’t seem to be worth mentioning. In their place, lines such as, “We will not forget and we will not forgive” are easily taken out of context to empower the Israeli right wing in painting Abbas as a warmonger, misrepresenting his message and worse, letting go of a chance at peace.
Ironically, it is Abbas’s own words that bear fault. Instead of repeatedly condemning Israel as the bad guy while intermittently inserting his desire for peace, Abbas should have delivered his message with more finesse and consistency. It is definitely understandable to call out the atrocities committed against his people, but not in a way that will cut off all chance of negotiation in the future. Abbas labeled Israel as an enemy when he could have approached the conflict in a way that left the past behind so that an agreement could be reached.
Though Abbas’s efforts “[to aspire] to correct the deficiency” of past negotiations were admirable, his delivery was not. Rather than help his case at ending conflict, the speech seems to have given opponents the power to paint him as a diplomat who has “lost all touch with reality,” as Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Liberman put it.
“It is impossible, and I repeat — it is impossible — to return to the cycle of negotiations that failed to deal with the substance of matter and the fundamental question,” Abbas declared. It’s clear that he’s fed up with talks that lead nowhere, but the bad news is, his own speech seems to be headed down that same road.
Valerie Yu is a junior majoring in English. She is also the editorial director of the Daily Trojan. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Tuesdays.