Some responses to the Abbas and Netanyahu speeches today:
MUSTAFA BARGHOUTHI, former independent candidate for the presidency of the Palestinian Authority:
‘Netanyahu proved once again that he is a professional liar. He could not deny the clear facts about Israel’s apartheid regime described by President Abbas. Instead, Netanyahu’s speech was condescending and typical of a colonialist. For his part, Abbas’ speech was a clear admission of the failure of Oslo and the negotiations approach. For years, we have been talking about Israeli apartheid, and the need for Boycotts, Divestment, Sanctions, and popular nonviolent resistance, to end it. Finally, this message has found its way into the official Palestinian discourse.’
YOUSEF MUNAYYER, executive Director of the Jerusalem Fund and the Palestine Center in Washington DC:
‘Mahmoud Abbas’ comments on the Palestinian question reflected the desperation of Palestinians under occupation and the need for international solidarity and intervention on their behalf. While Abbas rightly said Palestinians should not be expected to return to a process that has continuously failed them, there is little indication that the main reasons for the failure, Israeli intransigence and biased US mediation, will change any time soon. He argued that the two-state solution must be urgently saved but there is little urgency displayed on the part of Israel or the United States to save it, while many others believe it is well past the point of salvation. When, we should be asking, will the world draw a red line on Israeli colonialism?
‘Netanyahu, who spoke shortly after Abbas, focused on Iran to distract attention from Israel’s occupation of Palestine. He put forward, as usual, a Manichean worldview which is not conducive to solving problems. Further, and perhaps most perplexingly, he urged “red lines” to be drawn to alter Iran’s decision calculus while simultaneously arguing that Iran is irrational and undeterrable. He simply cannot have it both ways. This blatant contradiction is an insult to the intelligence of listeners and was amplified by Netanyahu’s patronizing classroom antics before an audience of diplomats, who will find it increasingly difficult to take him seriously.’
DANIEL LEVY, Senior Fellow and Director for Middle East and North Africa at the European Council on Foreign Relations:
‘For Palestinian Authority President Abbas it’s the last chance for the two-state solution, again. For Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu it’s the last chance to stop the Iranian nuclear juggernaut, again. Both leaders have contributed to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict slipping down the international agenda after having headlined at last year’s General Assembly. Netanyahu has done so intentionally, with his Iran war drum-beat, and Abbas unintentionally, by remaining stuck in a set of donor dependency relations, not least with the U.S. and Israel, and failing to link the Palestinian struggle for freedom and rights with the democratic momentum of the Arab awakenings. In an unusual departure, both leaders made the point of stressing that their respective peoples would not be thrown off the land. Abbas called for Palestine to be recognised as a non-member observer state at the UN. But even that wouldn’t change much, unless it marks a strategic Palestinian switch to a diplomacy that is more assertive and independent of the U.S. and more challenging to Israel – but Abbas’ speech contained few signs of that despite his singling out of Israeli impunity as undermining prospects for peace.
‘Netanyahu appeared to go head to head with President Obama on not one but two issues today. First, placing himself as a champion of a clash of civilisations narrative in opposition to Obama’s search for shared values and tolerance. The second issue is, of course, Iran, and Netanyahu’s insistence on a different red line than the President, with a kindergarten guide picture of a bomb in hand. But Netanyahu is about much more than the Romney-Bibi 2012 ticket. Netanyahu’s speech attempted to place himself in the driver’s seat in how the international community navigates the Iran file, placing impossible conditions or intentionally unreachable conditions on negotiations, while pushing for further intensification of sanctions and escalation of a military presence in the Gulf designed to produce an inevitability of military conflict or regime change. And Netanyahu guaranteed that the “will he or won’t he” attack Iran guessing game will continue long into 2013.
‘Many Israelis will though find their prime minister’s contrast of the struggle between modernity and medievalism strange given the composition of Netanyahu’s own coalition, a quarter of whose members come from ultra-orthodox parties who are busy banishing women to the backs of buses and banning the I-Phone and who presumably fit the Netanyahu definition of medievalists.’
MOUIN RABBANI, Visiting Senior Fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies:
‘The key question before Mahmoud Abbas was whether the Palestinian leadership will finally begin to irrevocably disengage from the Oslo process that has brought the Palestinians nothing but accelerated occupation and colonization. This would entail a strategic campaign to internationalize the question of Palestine at the United Nations. As expected, Abbas played it safe. The Palestinians will do nothing to upset relations with the United States this side of the American presidential elections, and the “intensive consultations” he spoke of regarding Palestinian membership in additional UN bodies are just that – talks about as purposeful as twenty years of talks with Israel. The decisive turn away from Oslo the Palestinian people so desperately need and require apparently awaits a new and different Palestinian leadership.
‘Binyamin Netanyahu’s address was pure caricature. Rarely has one man managed to pack so many mindless clichés into such a banal speech. He managed to draw a red line, but where exactly it lies is anyone’s guess. Nevertheless, the obsession with Iran has served Bibi and Israel well, successfully relegating Israel’s occupation and continued colonization to the margins.’
ABIR KOPTY, Palestinian citizen of Israel and spokesperson for the West Bank-based Popular Struggle Coordination Committee:
‘Abbas claimed that he is speaking on behalf of the Palestinian people, but he failed to represent more than 70% of Palestinians. He did not mention the struggle of Palestinian citizens of Israel against apartheid and racial discrimination inside Israel, and he failed to represent Palestinian refugees and their right to return to the homes that they were expelled from, which is guaranteed by international law. Stating only that the fate of refugees should be “agreed upon” in negotiations is giving up this right, which no politician has the right to do.
‘Abbas also failed to represent the reality on the ground. The two-state solution is dead. Negotiations have not led to any Palestinian achievements. If Abbas wants more diplomacy and to please foreign ears, he shouldn’t do it at the expense of Palestinian rights. Abbas was right about growing Palestinian anger, however this anger will not be satisfied by half measures, but only with a just and lasting solution. Unfortunately, the international community continues to urge Palestinians to compromise, while failing to hold Israel accountable for its grave and systematic human rights abuses and violations of international law, which are at the root of the conflict.’
OMAR BARGHOUTI, founding member of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), and the Palestinian Civil Society Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign:
‘Mr. Abbas’s condemnation and diagnosis of Israel’s injustices against the entire Palestinian people were unprecedented in their clarity and accuracy. Reminding the world of the horrors of uprooting and ethnic cleansing that most Palestinians were subjected to during the 1948 Nakba, he dissected Israel’s occupation, apartheid, racially discriminatory laws, and even collusion with ‘terrorist militias’ of fanatic Jewish settlers to tell the world that Israel’s ‘racist settler colonialism must be condemned, punished and boycotted.’ This is a significant reflection of the growing clout and impact of the BDS movement and the overwhelming support for it among Palestinians and people of conscience around the world.”
‘Spending almost all of his speech explaining how Iran may soon develop the capacity to manufacture a nuclear weapon, Netanyahu sounded like a senile used-car salesman who failed to recognize the irony of it all. The prime minister of Israel, a distinctly belligerent state that cannot kick the fatal habit of starting devastating wars of aggression every few years, that is fast becoming the world pariah, as South Africa once was, that is armed with hundreds of nuclear weapons, and that refuses to define its borders or to comply with UN resolutions, is trying to scare the world about another country having the mere potential of one day developing a deterrent. No wonder the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement is growing at an amazing rate on his watch.’
PHYLLIS BENNIS, writer, analyst, and director of the New Internationalism Project at the Institute for Policy Studies:
‘Chairman Abbas’ speech aimed to reclaim his dwindling support among Palestinians, while outlining Palestine’s intention to move for a new “non-member” state status at the UN. While not granting full UN membership, that would identify Palestine as a “state” in the UN family, allowing it to join the International Criminal Court, enabling an ICC investigation of potential Israeli war crimes on Palestinian territory. Abbas’s call for the Security Council to set the terms of reference for any renewed diplomatic process seemed to contradict his longstanding willingness to allow U.S. control of the negotiating process. In language clearly designed to win support from Palestinians, many of whom remain dissatisfied with the current Palestinian leadership, he spoke of Israeli “apartheid” and asserted the need to continue “peaceful popular resistance” against occupation. In a clear effort to win support from Palestinian civil society, whose call for a global campaign of boycott, divestment and sanctions has fundamentally challenged longstanding PLO/PA strategy, he spoke in a language of rights, and identified Israel’s “settler colonialism” as something that must be “condemned, punished and boycotted.”‘
‘Reflecting the huge political gain that Prime Minister Netanyahu has won from his year of escalating threats against Iran, his UN speech barely touched the Palestinian question. As long as the claim, however specious, that Israel faces an “existential danger” from Iran is on the table, no one, certainly not the U.S., has been willing to exert any real pressure on Israel regarding the occupation. Netanyahu’s speech focused almost solely on Iran, comparing it to Nazi Germany and calling for the world – especially the U.S. – to endorse his specific red lines for using force against Iran. Ignoring the existing U.S. red line, preventing Iran from obtaining a bomb, Netanyahu used a grade-school level poster prop and insulting “this is a bomb; this is a fuse” language. He set his red line as Iran’s ability to enrich uranium to bomb grade, and demanded that the U.S. join. While Iran has not enriched anywhere close to that level, Netanyahu’s language reflected his longstanding red line on Iran’s “capability,” a line that he again argued is almost here, and on the need to attack Iranian facilities while they are “still visible and still vulnerable.”‘