Buttu, Erakat, Dajani, Rabbani and Abunimah respond to UN speeches

Israel/Palestine
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Following yesterday’s speeches by Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu before the United Nations General Assembly, the Institute for Middle East Understanding sent out a sheet of expert quotes responding. Here are the IMEU’s excerpts:

Diana Buttu, former PLO legal advisor and negotiator, current Fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government:

“Netanyahu went on at length about the needs of the Jewish state, but made no mention of the principal of equality, either for Palestinians living under Israeli military rule in the occupied territories or those living as second-class citizens in Israel itself. He omitted any reference to Muslim and Christian Palestinians suffering from systematic discrimination in Israel, a state which grants superior rights to Jews based solely on their religion. 

“If Netanyahu was truly serious about extending his hand to Palestinians in a gesture of peace, he would have said that he sees them as equals. Instead, he put condition after condition on any future Palestinian state, and showed that he intends to continue dictating to Palestinians, rather than negotiating with them in good faith.” 

Mouin Rabbani, Visiting Senior Fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies:

“Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s speech demonstrated precisely why Palestinians need to internationalize their cause and definitively break away from bilateral negotiations under unilateral American custodianship.

“Consider Netanyahu’s call for negotiations without pre-conditions. In practice this means not a single right accorded to the Palestinian people by the United Nations and international law forms a relevant basis for the resolution of the conflict. At the same time Israel – several decades after negotiations have commenced – is free to raise entirely new and outrageous demands, in this case recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, as pre-requisites for agreement. If the only thing he has to offer in 2011 is negotiations without preconditions, we can reasonably assume his successor will be making a similar plea in 3050.” 

Omar Dajani, Professor of law at the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law, former member of the PLO’s Negotiations Support Unit:

“In his speech before the General Assembly, President Abbas poignantly described the road that the Palestinian people have traveled so far, but he missed an opportunity to chart the road ahead. Three important strategic questions were left unaddressed.

“First, although he advised the General Assembly that Palestinians would be turning to the Security Council for admission to the UN, a step sure to face a US veto, he had nothing to say about what options could and should be pursued within the GA itself — or to explain how the UN bid, in general, could serve the interests of the Palestinian people. Second, while he paid lip service to the burgeoning non-violent resistance movement in Palestine, he has done little to create synergy between those efforts and the diplomatic showdown in New York. One would have expected him to use the podium he was offered today to speak not only to the Assembly, but also to his people. And third, by blandly reiterating the PLO’s commitment to agreements it has signed with Israel (even after pointing out that Israel has taken a range of unilateral actions in breach of those agreements), Abbas seemed to foreclose any steps on the ground to exercise the sovereignty he is claiming for Palestine.” 

Noura Erakat, human rights attorney and writer, adjunct professor of international human rights law in the Middle East at Georgetown University, and the Legal Advocacy Coordinator for the Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Refugee and Residency Rights:

“For the past two decades, bilateral negotiations have quarantined a matter of broad international concern and consequence. Under the veneer of a peace process, Israel has aggravated its role as an Occupying Power and continued its colonial settlement expansion and its forced population transfer of Palestinian civilians in its efforts to establish ever-changing facts on the ground, which bilateral negotiations have euphemistically referred to as pragmatic realities. 

“Rather than challenge those policies on behalf of the Palestinians it purports to represent, for the past twenty years the Palestinian leadership has succumbed to US pressure and muted its public protest and international advocacy against Israeli policies in exchange for the promise of a better negotiation position.” 

Ali Abunimah, analyst, media commentator, co-founder of the Electronic Intifada, and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse:

“Before Abbas mounted the UN podium, he had already lost his gamble. According to his officials, the purpose of the UN bid was to break the status quo of the failed US-led peace process, and to re-set the terms for negotiations. In particular Abbas wanted the US and other powers to push for an Israeli settlement freeze and to declare the sanctity of the 1967 borders as the basis for a two-state solution. But in his speech to the UN, US President Barack Obama did neither. He gave not the speech of a president concerned about peace, but the speech of a candidate running for re-election amid strident — and false — Republican claims that he is not “pro-Israel” enough. 

“Whatever the fate of the Abbas’ application for UN membership for Palestine, the fact remains that the Palestinian Authority remains beholden to the Oslo process that created it and which have turned it into the enforcement arm of Israel’s occupation. On the ground, Palestinians remain in the grip of a brutal Israeli occupation and colonization project, and millions more Palestinians remain in involuntary exile.”

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