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Abbas and Netanyahu present competing visions of peace, and Trump, at UN General Assembly

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Both Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed the 73rd session of the UN General Assembly on Thursday in New York.

While Netanyahu spent most of his speech boasting of Israel’s raid on an alleged secret Iranian nuclear facility, railing into the Obama-administration’s Iran deal, and criticizing Iran’s influence in Syria and Lebanon, Abbas presented a lackluster criticism of Israel, the Trump administration, and the international community.

Abbas, who spoke prior to Netanyahu, began his address by saying “We will remain believers in peace. We will maintain peace and we will arrive at our independent state through peace because God is with us, our issue is just, our people sacrificed a lot and you all are supporters of peace.”

He framed his address as a plea to the international community to help the Palestinian people, living under a 51-year occupation, achieve freedom and peace.

“I return to you today as this colonial occupation continues to suffocate us and to undermine our serious efforts to build the institutions of our cherished State, which this revered General Assembly recognized in the year 2012,” he said.

Abbas mentioned that he was instructed by the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) to essentially cancel the Oslo Accord and “suspend the Palestinian recognition of Israel until Israel recognizes the State of Palestine on the 4 June 1967 borders.” He, however, remained vague on his actual stance on the issue and whether he would be willing to make such a move.

Nation State law

After mentioning ongoing settler attacks against Palestinians and their holy sites, Abbas dove into criticism of the widely-condemned Nation State law passed by Israel’s parliament in July.

“This law denies the connection of the Palestinian people to their historic homeland and dismisses their right to self-determination and their history and heritage, as well as the United Nations resolutions relevant to the Palestine question and the agreements concluded with Israel,” Abbas said.

He continued, saying the law stripped the Palestinian citizens of Israel — who number around 20% of Israel’s population — of their rights, and would “inevitably lead to the creation of one racist state, an apartheid state, and nullifies the two-state solution.”

Voicing a position expressed by many Palestinian citizens of Israel who say they are treated as “second-class citizens,” Abbas said the Nation-State law was only enshrining a longstanding practice of racism within the country.

He compared the current state of affairs in Israel to apartheid-era South Africa, pleading with the international community and the member states of the UN  “to act to reject it and condemn it as a racist, illegal law and deem it null and void, just as the United Nations condemned apartheid South Africa in several resolutions in the past.”

‘We can’t be racist because…’

On the other hand, after spending more than half his speech on Iran and Hezbollah, Netanyahu refuted any “absurd” accusations of racism by Abbas with a series of argumentative cliches.

He started off by saying that Israel could not be racist because it “airlifted Ethiopian Jews to freedom and a new life in Israel, in the Jewish state.”

“Israel’s Arab citizens vote in our elections, serve in our parliament, preside over our courts, and have exactly the same individual rights as all other Israeli citizens. Yet here at the UN, Israel is shamefully accused of apartheid,” he continued.

Netanyahu continued to paint a rosy picture of life in Israel for Palestinian citizens, despite a documented history of police brutality against Palestinians in Israel, lack of basic services and economic opportunities in Palestinian villages, and the fact that not a single new Palestinian community has been built in Israel since 1948, compared to hundreds of new Jewish communities.

Rights groups have said that over the years, between 40-60% of historically Palestinian-owned land has been confiscated by the state for Jewish use, and that in Israel proper, there are around 928 settlements that exist exclusively for Jews, or have a very small minority of non-Jews living there.

But Netanyahu pressed on, saying that Israel cannot be accused of ethnic cleansing, because “today, there are at least five times as many Palestinians as there were in 1948,” a phenomenon that is likely more significant of normal trends in population growth than Israel’s nurturing of it’s Palestinian population.

The ‘new anti-Semitism’

Reverting to an old favorite trope of his right-wing government, Netanyahu went on to conflate Palestinian grievances with the Nation State law, and general criticism of Israel as an increasingly racist and apartheid state as anti-Semitism.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, you know what this is? It’s the same old anti-Semitism with a brand new face. That’s all it is,” he told the audience of delegates.

He continued: “Once, it was the Jewish people that were slandered and held to a different standard. Today, it’s the Jewish state that is slandered and held to a different standard.”

Netanyahu went on to allege that criticisms of Israel and the Nation State law were anti-Semitic, because other countries have religious symbols on their flags and have singular official languages, but “none of those countries are denigrated or libeled for celebrating their unique national identity. Only Israel is denigrated. Only Israel is libeled.”

Praise and condemnation of Trump’s America

In both of their speeches, Abbas and Netanyahu addressed their starkly different perspectives on the US foreign policy in the region under President Trump.

Abbas began his criticism of Trump by stating that since he took office, Palestinian leaders have upheld the “same positive engagement” that they have practiced over the years on the international stage in regards to the peace process.

“We awaited his peace initiative with utmost patience, but were shocked by decisions and actions he undertook that completely contradict the role and commitment of the United States towards the peace process,” Abbas said.

The Palestinian President went on to list all the measure Trump has taken against the Palestinians over the past year, including the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and the defunding of UNRWA.

“All such decisions threaten the Palestinian national cause and constitute an assault on international law and relevant United Nations resolutions,” he said.

Abbas criticized Trump’s policies as having “undermined the two-state solution” and called Trump’s “deal of the century” “ironic,” asking “what is left for this administration to give to the Palestinian people? Humanitarian solutions?”

He continued: “When Jerusalem, refugees, security and other issues are removed from the table, what is left that can be provided to us as a part of a political solution for the Middle East?”

Abbas criticized the US as an unfair arbiter of the peace process that is biased towards Israel, a belief that has long been held by Palestinian citizens and activists.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu offered up high praises for the Trump and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, for their “unwavering support they’ve provided Israel at the UN.  They have unequivocally backed Israel’s right to defend itself.”

His comments were received with applause and a standing ovation from the Israeli delegation at the Assembly.

“Day after day, the Trump administration has stood up to what has long been a specialty here at the UN—slandering Israel,” he said, after praising the US’ exit from what Netanyahu called a “morally bankrupt” UN Human Rights Council and a “history-denying” UNESCO.

“They stopped funding, President Trump and Ambassador Haley, they stopped funding an unreformed UNRWA, an organization that instead of solving the Palestinian refugee problem, perpetuates it,” he continued.

‘Achieving peace’

In the conclusion of their addresses, Netanyahu and Abbas put forward two very different versions of their ideas of achieving peace.

“As long as you recognize the State of Israel and the two states, why do you not recognize me?” Abbas asked the Assembly.

He called on the international community to recognize Palestinian statehood, but rejected the idea of boycotting participation in peace negotiations, saying “that does not mean we will not go to negotiations, but rather it strengthens the international political position for us to go to negotiations with your support.”

Abbas went on to note that “Israel, the occupying power, has not implemented any single resolution of the hundreds of resolutions adopted by the Security Council,” citing 705 General Assembly resolutions and 86 Security Council resolutions from 1947 until today, saying “not one resolution has been implemented” by Israel, with the backing of the US.

“How long will Israel remain outside the rule of law, fooling around and rebelling as it wants?” he asked.

Abbas reassured the international community that the Palestinians will not resist the occupation violently, stating over and over again his belief in peaceful resistance.

Despite hopes that Abbas would focus on the case of Khan al-Ahmar, and drive home the importance of preventing Israel from demolishing the West Bank Bedouin community, he devoted only a few sentences to the issue, saying “if the village is destroyed, the unity of the West Bank will be destroyed, dividing it between the north and south.”

While Abbas droned on about his government’s commitment to peace and non-violence as a reason for support from the international community, Netanyahu railed on Abbas for “proudly paying Palestinian terrorists who murder Jews,” referring to the PA pension program for the families of Palestinian political prisoners.

“This is not the way to peace.  This is not the way to achieve the peace we all want and need and to which Israel remain committed. This body should not be applauding the head of a regime that pays terrorists. The UN should condemn such a despicable policy,” Netanyahu said.

Both Abbas and Netanyahu mentioned Hamas, the ruling party in the Gaza Strip, in their addresses, with Abbas criticizing Hamas for not upholding its end of the national reconciliation agreement, and Netanyahu calling on Hamas to release the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed in 2014, and two Israeli citizens who have been held in Gaza since.

Yumna Patel

Yumna Patel is the Palestine correspondent for Mondoweiss.

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13 Responses

  1. Ossinev on September 28, 2018, 1:48 pm

    “How long will Israel remain outside the rule of law, fooling around and rebelling as it wants?” he asked.”

    As long as puppet self serving appeasers like you continue to pretend that there is a viable 2SS.

    Gone,vanished and it was only ever at best part of the ongoing smokescreen to cover the real Ziocolonial dream agenda of an Arab free Eretz Reich from the river to the sea . The only other reason that it isn`t officially dead and buried is because the Europeans have wanted to put off for as long as possible the prospect of having to deal with an in your face Apartheid entity on their doorstep viz diplomatic ties, trade arrangements,visa arrangements,economic ties,cultural ties,sporting ties etc etc having to be severed. South Africa has provided the historical template for the actions which they will be required to take and in the Internet age boycotts and sanctions busting can`t be kept under wraps. Forget the bought and bent US particularly with Trump the Chump smooching Adelson. The rumours of a State of Palestine recognition by some European states may just be a final roll of the dice.

    • Misterioso on September 29, 2018, 1:05 pm


      “Federal Judge Nixes Arizona Anti-Boycott of Israel Law”

      Posted by News Post, September 29, 2018

      “A federal judge in Phoenix has ruled in favor of free speech. The Arizona legislature passed a state law in 2016 ‘that denies state and local government contracts to firms unless they agree not to boycott Israel or companies that operate there.’ The argument by those in favor of the law, equates challenging Israeli government policies as being a form of ‘anti-Semitism.’ Jewish members of Jewish Voice for Peace, who support boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel, for example, would find this notion as nonsensical. US District Court Judge Diane Humetewa wrote: ‘Collective boycotting activities undertaken to achieve social, political or economic ends is conduct that is protected by the First Amendment.’

      “For more background see: ‘Will BDS Replace Iran As The Enemy of Choice In Israel,’ ‘Arizona attorney general defends law keeping public money from firms that boycott Israel’ and ‘ACLU sues to overturn Arizona law targeting Israeli boycotts.’”

      • JWalters on September 30, 2018, 5:07 am

        Very good news! Zionism’s mind control may run aground on the 1st Amendment. Actually, companies applying for government contracts should get USS Liberty points for boycotting Israel.

  2. DaBakr on September 29, 2018, 12:18 am


    The nor correct answer is when, as admitted the other day by Jordanian FM, when the arabs are militarily able to take on the zionists with confidence they will then the back all of the land they consider occupied.

  3. Misterioso on September 29, 2018, 10:41 am


    “The nor [sic] correct answer is when, as admitted the other day by Jordanian FM, when the arabs are militarily able to take on the zionists with confidence they will then the back all of the land they consider occupied.”

    As the Jordanian FM knows full well, all out war between the Arabs and Israel is not an option, especially, as Israel has a vast array of advanced long range missiles with nuclear warheads and Hezbollah is armed to the teeth with thousands upon thousands of advanced conventional missiles. Given their close proximities the consequences of such a war would be mutual horror beyond comprehension.

    The best strategy is for the Arabs to clean up their own backyards, concentrate on achieving implementation of international law per UNSC Resolution 242 and UNGA Resolution 194 (i.e., Israel’s withdrawal from Palestinian and other Arab lands it is illegally/brutally occupying and a just solution to the plight of the Palestinian refugees) and let fascistic Israel continue to rot internally with plunging immigration and ever increasing emigration of Jews as it rushes towards worldwide pariah status, which will inevitably include the U.S.

    For the record:
    By signing the 1993 Oslo Accords, the PLO accepted UNSC Res. 242 and thereby agreed to recognize a sovereign Israel within the 1949 armistice lines, i.e., as of 4 June 1967 – 78% of mandated Palestine.

    The PLO also agreed to the US/EU/UN supported 2002 Arab League Beirut Summit Peace Initiative, which offers the entity known as “Israel” full recognition as a sovereign state (per UNSC Res. 242, i.e., within its June 4/67 boundaries with possible minor, equal and mutually agreed land swaps), exchange of ambassadors, trade, tourism, etc., if “Israel” complies with international law (e.g., the UN Charter, The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Fourth Geneva Convention and the Rome Statute.) Fully aware of “Israel’s” demographic concerns, the Beirut initiative does not demand the return of all Palestinian refugees. In accordance with “Israel’s” pledge given to the UNGA in 1949 and by signing the 1949 Lausanne Peace Conference Protocol to abide by UNGA Res. 194 regarding the then 800,000 Palestinian refugees (determined by Walter Walter Eytan, then Director General of the Israeli Foreign Ministry) as a precondition for admittance to the UN (after being rejected twice), the Arab League’s Initiative “calls upon Israel to affirm” that it agrees to help pursue the “achievement of a just solution to the Palestinian refugee problem…” “Israel” ignored the Arab League’s peace proposal.

    Other peace initiatives that Israeli governments have rebuffed include: U.S. Secretary of State William Rogers’ The Rogers Plan (1969); The Scranton Mission on behalf of President Nixon (1970); Egyptian President Sadat’s land for peace and mutual recognition proposal (1971); U.S. President Jimmy Carter’s call for a Geneva international conference (1977); Saudi Arabian King Fahd’s peace offer (1981); U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s Reagan Plan (1982); U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz’s Schultz Plan (1988); U.S. Secretary of State James Baker’s Baker Plan (1989); and the previously noted 1993 Oslo accords signed by Yasser Arafat and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin that unravelled following the latter’s assassination and subsequent return to power of the Likud party from 1996-1999 under Benjamin Netanyahu; continuation of the Taba II negotiations (2001); the unofficial Geneva Peace Initiative of November/December 2003; and the 2014 Kerry Initiative.

    As for the much touted 2000 Camp David Summit, working in tandem, Barak and Clinton tried to shove a very bad deal down Arafat’s throat. It could only be rejected. Suffice to quote Shlomo Ben-Ami, then Israel’s foreign minister and lead negotiator at Camp David: “Camp David was not the missed opportunity for the Palestinians, and if I were a Palestinian I would have rejected Camp David, as well.” (National Public Radio, 14 February 2006.)

    The “offer” made in 2008 by then Israeli PM Ehud Olmert was never seen as serious because it lacked cabinet approval, he was under indictment with only a few weeks left in office, had a 6% favorable rating, and, therefore, couldn’t have closed the deal, even if the Palestinians had accepted it. (Olmert was imprisoned.)

    Unfortunately, Israel’s response to every peace overture from the Palestinians, including Hamas, and Arab states, has been rapidly increasing illegal settlement construction along with escalating dispossession and oppression of the indigenous inhabitants in occupied Palestine and other Arab lands.

    • Jon66 on September 29, 2018, 4:05 pm

      “In accordance with “Israel’s” pledge given to the UNGA in 1949 and by signing the 1949 Lausanne Peace Conference Protocol to abide by UNGA Res. 194…”

      This is incorrect. The protocol speaks of the parties committing to a discussion. Not agreeing to abide by a resolution. If you have any evidence to the contrary please provide it.

    • JWalters on September 30, 2018, 5:09 am

      Thanks for that lucid and detailed account of that scenario and its history.

  4. JWalters on September 30, 2018, 5:05 am

    Netanyahu’s dodgy vision is clearly detached from reality.

    Perhaps from childhood indoctrination he really believes he is doing God’s will and re-creating a Biblical story. And perhaps strong emotions block him from looking at facts conflicting with that vision.

    Or perhaps he is fully aware that his remarks do not accurately depict reality, and that he is covering up a massive injustice. But perhaps that doesn’t matter because he doesn’t believe in morality, is in essence a predator, and believes this is the best move for him and his gang.

    • Maghlawatan on September 30, 2018, 1:52 pm

      Netanyahu has never been anywhere near reality. He sells unlimited power plus chronic vulnerability, shooting and crying, cruelty and attention seeking. Every single leader of Likud has been a hardliner and a cruel bastard and he is no exception. But the mood has changed and Israeli violence has become a liability. Netanyahu does not know how to respond. He belongs in The Hague.

  5. Nathan on September 30, 2018, 9:24 pm

    Mahmoud Abbas might or might not “suspend the Palestinian recognition of Israel until Israel recognizes the State of Palestine on the 4 June 1967 borders”. It’s really a very strange political culture. Actually, it’s as if Mr Abbas doesn’t understand the meaning of “recognition”. How does one suspend recognition of a state? Anyway, it’s worthwhile reminding Mr Abbas that there was a mutual recognition within the Oslo Agreement of 1993: The PLO recognized the State of Israel, and the State of Israel recognized the PLO.

    Palestinian statehood is one of the five final-status issues. Another final status issue is the question of borders. So, obviously, it is absurd that Mr Abbas expects Israel to recognize his state in the June 1967 borders when both the issue of the Palestinian state and the issue of borders must be negotiated (and the conflict must end). It would be nice if Mr Abbas would agree to renew the negotiations.

    Another final-status issue is the status of Jerusalem. Mr Abbas complains that the USA has recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel even though this issue was supposed to be negotiated between the two sides. By the same token, Mr Abbas has asked for recognition of the Palestinian state even though this issue is supposed to be negotiated as well. Actually, both these ploys are the two sides of the same coin: Mr Abbas does not want to negotiate with Israel, so he went to the UN to get recognition of Palestinian statehood (without having to agree that the conflict has ended) – and the Americans have established that if the Palestinians don’t agree to negotiate, they’ll decide about Jerusalem (even though the conflict is unresolved).

    Mr Abbas claimed that the Nation-State Law “stripped the Palestinian citizens of Israel… of their rights”. Instead of debating with him that his claim is total nonsense, someone should whisper in his ear that he has messed up the propaganda war with Israel big time. For years and years, we hear the bla-bla-bla that the Palestinian citizens of Israel don’t have rights. Now, suddenly, Mr Abbas is admitting that until now they certainly had their rights, but only with the new Nation-State Law were they “stripped of the rights”.

    Getting back to the unusual perception of “recognition” in Palestinian politics, I’d like to repeat that one cannot suspend recognition. Once you recognize a state, it really is final. However, as we see in Mr Abbas’ speech, he sees things very differently. He thinks that he can take back his recognition of Israel, and this is apparently quite normal. Well, the truth is that the Palestinians don’t recognize Israel. Throughout the years, you hear a Palestinian representative in a press conference saying “we recognized Israel…” Never will you hear a statement in the present tense: “We recognize Israel”. It’s always in the past tense. Saying “we recognized Israel” in the past tense is obviously a true statement (the signing of the Oslo Agreement indeed happened in the past), but it is very tricky. In the Palestinian political culture, as we see in the UN speech of Mr Abbas, you can take back your recognition, and apparently they have. So it’s always “we recognized Israel”, hiding the simple fact that “we do NOT recognize Israel”.

    • RoHa on October 1, 2018, 3:00 am

      Israel never intended to abide by the Oslo accords, and ignored them. They were already a dead letter when Netanyahu announced that there would not be Palestinian state while he was leader of Israel. This was a straightforward repudiation of the Oslo accords.

      So what is there for Abbas to negotiate?

      • Nathan on October 1, 2018, 10:51 am

        RoHa – Abbas doesn’t want to negotiate with Israel. I’m certain that he knows what’s best for his people.

  6. RoHa on October 2, 2018, 12:05 am

    “I’m certain that he [Abbas] knows what’s best for his people.”

    I’m not convinced of that at all. He is still clinging to the two-state idea.

    “Abbas doesn’t want to negotiate with Israel. ‘

    It doesn’t matter whether he wants to or not. Israel has ruled out negotiations.

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