Mahmoud Abbas’ speech Friday at the United Nations General Assembly was the high point in the Palestinian bid towards recognition as a sovereign state. A thorough examination of his words attests to the current Palestinian position – one of of deep, total hopelessness with the Israeli partner.
Abbas’ address, which detailed the historic Palestinian narrative, was meant for Palestinian and international ears. The speech itself was firm and utterly ignored the Israeli partner Abbas is ultimately supposed to sit with at the negotiating table.
The address was emotional and touched the Arab world’s raw nerves. Abbas, who called for a “Palestinian spring,” managed to enlist Palestinian public opinion to the cause and conveyed a message to the Arab world whereby the Palestinian issue would only be resolved through self-reliance, one of Fatah’s basic pillars. He indicated that 63 years after the “Nakba,” the Palestinians decided to take their diplomatic fate in their own hands and are now determined to achieve recognition for a sovereign Palestinian state.
In order to secure this objective, Abbas was willing to utilize the heaviest diplomatic weapon at his disposal: The unilateral recognition bid.
Throughout the speech, Abbas juggled words while being aware of the complex situation in the international theater. Yet the Palestinian bid for statehood was undertaken through the wholesale smearing of the State of Israel. At the same, time the Palestinian president made sure to note that he recognizes Israel’s right to exist and its legality, but wishes to establish the state of Palestine alongside it. He directed his criticism exclusively and directly at the settlement enterprise and Israel’s military presence in the West Bank.
This indicates that despite the Abbas’ “Arafat-style” speech, he made sure to draw lines that would enable him to maintain the image of the Palestinians as underdogs who are fighting for independence using civilian tools. This was also the case when Abbas made sure to condemn the utilization of terror as a means for solving the conflict, yet later noted he was referring to “state terrorism.”
Military weakness, diplomatic power
At the UN podium, Abbas reinforced his status as the leader of the Palestinian national movement. Millions of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza saw on their television screens the great applause for the president. Hamas members also listened to Abbas’ words and watched the display of power he produced. Using diplomatic means, Abbas managed to return the Palestinian issue to the global agenda and stir positive feelings towards independence aspirations.
The Palestinians’ unilateral bid attests to the rift between them and Israel’s government as well as the US mediator. Abbas decided to speak to the world above Benjamin Netanyahu and Barack Obama’s head. His objective remained clear, yet it appears that the tactics changed.
In his speech, Abbas sought (and apparently succeeded) in turning the Palestinian military weakness into diplomatic power. The Palestinian bid at the Security Council will now produce a saga of ongoing diplomatic struggle, which may also undermine America’s status among Arabs in the region.
In his speech, Abbas wanted to reinforce and boost his status in the Palestinian theater, yet his harsh words caused him to lose points among Israel’s public opinion – the same public opinion that no genuine peace process can exist without.
Dr. Ido Zelkovitz, an expert on Palestinian society and politics, is a Mideast history lecturer and research fellow at the University of Haifa’s Ezri Center for Iran & Persian Gulf Studies
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