Despite his assertions at the UN, Abbas has no political will to deliver
If Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas was serious about holding the international community and Israel accountable for the ongoing colonisation of Palestine, his UN General Assembly speech would have been more definite. “Today, on behalf of the Palestinian people, to whom I am proud to belong, I tell you that our confidence in achieving a peace based on justice and international law is waning, due to the Israeli occupation policies,” he said. “Do you want to kill what remains of hope in our souls?”
Commencing any major speech with rhetorical ambiguity does not bode well, especially when dealing with an international organisation which is dominated by former colonial powers and which has used its collective power to maintain Israel’s colonial existence.
In his speech, Abbas made a formal request for General Assembly resolutions 181 and 194 to be implemented: the 1947 Partition Plan and the Palestinian right of return respectively. “We ask you, in the event of Israel’s refusal to comply and the failure to implement these two resolutions, to impose sanctions on it and suspend its membership in the international organisation,” he declared. Aside from the fact that both resolutions protect Israel’s colonial project, the international community’s normalisation of Israel’s settler-colonialism, as well as its very existence, makes Abbas’s request fall short of what is required for Palestinians to stand a chance of reclaiming their land and having political autonomy. International backing for Israel was in part made possible by delaying the recognition of Palestinians’ political rights, a move which remains supported to this day by the humanitarian paradigm.
Very belatedly, Abbas is acknowledging Israel’s ongoing and systematic expansion over Palestinian land, yet his contradictory adherence to the two-state compromise stood out in his UN speech. Abbas listed a very detailed repertoire of Israel’s violations, yet his refusal to break away from international impositions on Palestine is a silent endorsement of all that is wrong with two-state politics, which the international community lauds and Israel rejects. The result has been clear for decades: normalising Israel’s colonial existence has resulted in its daily violations of international law being treated merely as abusive, exploitative, violent actions. These are duly condemned but Israel is spared being held to account, not because the proof of its violations is lacking, but because the international community has participated in Israel’s creation and has sustained it diplomatically and economically.
The PA, on the other hand, has ensured its continued existence by pandering to Israeli and international demands. Hence Abbas’s speech, albeit belatedly making valid points, lacked the impact it could have had, if only the Palestinian leadership had been unequivocal about the need for decolonisation.
Although less talked about in international media, the Palestinian narratives about the PA include repression; “sacred” (Abbas’s description) security coordination with Israel; exploitation of Palestinian prisoners; imposing sanctions on Gaza in a bid to coerce Hamas into ceding control; torture by the PA’s security services, at times to the point of death; and preventing Palestinians from voicing any opposition to Abbas. If the Palestinian leadership itself works against the interests of the Palestinian people, which UN member is ever going to take Abbas seriously?