In perhaps his most fiery speech since this past summer’s violence between Israel and Hamas, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas addressed the United Nations General Assembly Friday, blasting Israel for conducting a “war of genocide” over its 50-day operation in Gaza that resulted in the deaths of more than 2,000 Palestinians and 69 Israelis. In his speech, Abbas stated that he would seek a U.N. resolution to establish a deadline to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory captured in the War of 1967.
In response, both Israeli and American officials blasted the speech as a provocative statement that “undermine[d] efforts to create a positive atmosphere and restore trust between the parties,” as stated by State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki.
But those wishing to write off Abbas’s speech as contrary to the interests of peace are not listening carefully enough.
Though Abbas’s sentiments were filled with charged language, using terms such as “genocidal crime” and “racism” to capture the Palestinian people’s frustration with this past summer’s violence, that wasn’t all the leader said. In fact, underneath all that rhetoric, Abbas’s ultimate message has remained the same: a commitment to ending the occupation and achieving a Palestinian State with East Jerusalem as its capital based on 1967 borders alongside a secure State of Israel.
Before passing judgment on Abbas’s rhetoric, it is important to understand where he is coming from. For starters, his speech was made following not only one of the most violent operations the region has seen in recent memory, but also the Israeli government’s decision to illegally annex nearly 1,000 acres of Palestinian land. Amid the bloodshed and continued settlement expansion, it’s almost laughable that the United States and Israel would accuse Abbas of undermining the peace process when such negotiations have yet to lead to any real substantive results.
It is clear from his appeal that Abbas has no interest in returning to the cycle of negotiations that have proven to be largely futile over the past two decades. His intention to pursue unilateral action through the United Nations indicates he is no longer content with the status quo, and instead intends to pursue future negotiations with Israel not as a nation under occupation, but as the president of an internationally recognized country and a serious partner for a peaceful resolution.
Abbas is no fool — he is well aware that the U.N. General Assembly has no real political teeth and that any substantive measure approved will be vetoed by the United States should it attain a majority in the Security Council. But by addressing the United Nations in such a way, Abbas is making his stance clear: The era of fruitless and repetitive attempts at negotiation is over.
Rather than grasp at straws to paint Abbas as a threat to peace, both American and Israeli leadership ought to engage in meaningful action to bring an immediate end to the occupation, and a legitimate return to negotiations. With the recent announcement of the Palestinian Authority assuming control over the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, as well as Hamas’s support of the establishment of a Palestinian State within 1967 borders, the opportunity to move forward and reach a long-term solution to this interminable conflict is imminent.
It would be a shame to waste it.
Yasmeen Serhan is a junior majoring in international relations. She is also the special projects editor of the Daily Trojan. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Tuesdays.