Expert Reactions to Abbas & Netanyahu Speeches at UNGA (September 2011)

Abbas’ Speech at UNGA full text | Abbas’  Speech at UNGA – video
Netanyahu Speech at the UN – in pictures

SR Editor | September 24, 2011 | Sabbah Report | IMEU, Sep 23, 2011

Obama veto PalestineMouin Rabbani, Visiting Senior Fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies, Policy Advisor to Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network, and a contributing editor with Middle East Report and Jadaliyya. He is also a former Senior Middle East Analyst with the International Crisis Group:

“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.

“Rather than endorse or even acknowledge the will of the international community as repeatedly proclaimed in United Nations resolutions, Netanyahu attacked the international consensus in a pitiful display of demagoguery: The Gaza Strip enjoys total freedom, settlements are so irrelevant they form not even a nuisance, and Palestine is and has always been the exclusive preserve of his people. And to prove it all, he found a ring with his name on it. As might be expected, those who even slightly demur from this patently nonsensical narrative were denounced as Nazis determined to exterminate the Jews.

“Once again proclaiming the theory that attempts to delegitimize either Israel or its occupation form the leading threat to international peace and security, Netanyahu lost no opportunity to delegitimize the Palestinians, their rights and aspirations, and did so with a characteristic display of vulgarity. Netanyahu lecturing and hectoring about Israel’s right to forever control the destiny of the Palestinian people admittedly produces ecstatic responses in the US Congress. As we saw today, however, the international community is much less impressed by such rhetoric.”

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, and Policy Advisor to Al-Shabaka: The Palestinian Policy Network:

“Netanyahu went on at length about the needs of the Jewish state, but made no mention of the principle 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.

“In his speech, President Abbas gave indications of an intent to further internationalize the conflict and its resolution. If so, this would mark a positive step away from viewing the US as honest broker, a situation that has led to the dire situation that Palestinians face today, after two-decades of a failed US led ‘peace process.”

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, and former advisor to the United Nations:

“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.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech to the General Assembly showcased his impressive rhetorical skills, but the paltry applause it elicited told the more important story. The delegations in the room understood that negotiations are at a stand-still not because the Palestinians are refusing to talk, but because Netanyahu refuses to halt the construction of settlements on Palestinian land. The Palestinians cannot negotiate about how to divide up the pie when Israel keeps serving itself slices of it. The delegations in the room also understood that Abbas has helped to deliver to the Israelis the best security situation it has faced in several decades, an effort that elicited neither acknowledgment nor gratitude from Netanyahu. And they understood that Netanyahu’s demands that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state are a ruse. The Palestinians unequivocally recognized the State of Israel almost 20 years ago. Instead of reciprocating, Israel now demands recognition as an ethno-religious state — something that it has not sought from any other state in the international community. Such recognition would place Palestinian citizens of Israel in a subordinate position in their own homeland. It is a way to avoid negotiations, not a starting point for them.”

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.

“The negotiations Abbas pleaded for are unlikely to happen and even less likely to reach the goal of a ‘two-state solution.’ The shift to a new paradigm based not on negotiations for partial rights in a mini-state but a broad-based struggle for the rights of all Palestinians in all parts of historic Palestine seems irrevocably under way.

“As for Netanyahu’s speech it offered absolutely nothing new. It was the same as his May speech to Congress with the same tired talking points grounded in Islamophobia and blame shifting to Iran rather than dealing with the actual situation in Palestine. But what sent Congress into ecstasy will not go over well at the UN. Netanyahu made clear, however, that Israel has no regard for international law, and no serious intent to do anything other than continue to occupy, colonize, dispossess Palestinians in the West Bank and besiege those in Gaza.”

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.

“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ speech today signaled that that policy has proven ineffective and must come to end by moving the conflict out of the dark and hushed corners of bilateralism to the stage of multilateral strategies.

“Words of course do not amount to deeds, and it is yet to be seen whether the Palestinian leadership intends to pursue the internationalization of the Palestinian struggle beyond the proceedings of the General Assembly’s 66th Session. If so, next steps will include inclusion of the Palestinian national body in representative elections, meaningful reconciliation with Hamas, and a diplomatic marathon intended to encourage compliance with the International Court of Justice’s 2004 Advisory Opinion on the Wall and making actionable the recommendations enumerated by the Fact-Finding Mission to Gaza.”

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