Last Friday, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the General Assembly of the United Nations. In his long awaited speech, Abbas requested recognition and UN membership for a Palestinian state within the pre-1967 borders. He had already laid out his strategy of going to the UN Security Council first, in an equally anticipated address on Friday, September 16. Thus, all eyes were on Abbas.
Both speeches, it became clear pretty soon, were extremely disappointing. People expected Abbas’ speech to be somewhat reconciliatory – at least I did, naively – and bridging the wide gap between Israeli’s and Palestinians. President Abbas didn’t try to bridge that gap, on the contrary, he didn’t address Israeli objections and reservations to his proposal at all. In fact, Abbas distanced himself from the Israeli government. Note: the list of lies and distortions that follows isn’t exhaustive and, but merely an incomplete presentation. You can watch both speeches below.
Abbas called Israeli settlements “the core of the policy of colonial military occupation of the land of the Palestinian people… This policy… is the primary cause for the failure of the peace process.” Furthermore “the occupying Power continues to target Palestinian civilians by assassinations, air strikes and artillery shelling, persisting with its war of aggression of three years ago on Gaza, which resulted in massive destruction of homes, schools, hospitals, and mosques, and the thousands of martyrs and wounded.”
By calling the “colonial military occupation” the primary cause for the failed peace process, Abbas neglects the waves of suicide bombings by Hamas and other groups, and the effect of the intifada. He also conveniently forgets the ongoing rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip that provoked the “war of aggression” and the fact that Hamas deliberately positioned its fighters in homes, schools, hospitals and mosques.
President Abbas continues, saying “the PLO and the Palestinian people adhere to the renouncement of violence and rejection and condemning of terrorism in all its forms, especially State terrorism.” Although he condemns all forms of terrorism, he doesn’t explicitly denounce acts of terror committed by Hamas or Islamic Jihad, (Israeli) State terrorism is the real problem here. “We extend our hands to the Israeli government and the Israeli people for peace-making… Let us build the bridges of dialogue instead of checkpoints and walls of separation, and build cooperative relations based on parity and equity between two neighboring States – Palestine and Israel – instead of policies of occupation, settlement, war and eliminating the other.” The Palestinian people are “armed only with their dreams, courage, hope and slogans.”
Israel, on the other hand, “has extended its hand in peace from the moment it was established 63 years ago.” Or so Netanyahu wants us to believe, when he began his address to the General Assembly: “On behalf of Israel and the Jewish people, I extend that hand again today.” It seems like Netanyahu is extending one hand, while signing permits to build settlements with the other. After this “gesture”, Netanyahu blames the United Nations for repeatedly condemning the one true democracy in the Middle East.
His speech then touches on anything, except the Palestinian statehood bid and their rights. The 9/11 attacks, nuclear proliferation (Iranian nuclear proliferation, that is), and subsequently, the dangers of militant Islam. The critics of Israel “praise those who unwittingly feed the insatiable crocodile of militant Islam as bold statesmen.”
Because of this “insatiable crocodile,” Israel can’t just give up the Westbank, because doing so would only strengthen them. Just like it did in Lebanon, when Israel pulled its forces out in 2000 and in Gaza, after the unilateral withdrawal of Sharon in 2005. I use the word ‘unilateral’ here, because Sharon refused to coordinate this step with the Palestinian Authority of Abbas, leaving a power vacuum that was quickly filled by Hamas. Apparently, Israel has made the same mistake of acting ‘unilaterally’ in the past.
Fortunately, Israeli’s have learned from the bitter lessons of Gaza, as Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu argues. Critics of Israel “irresponsibly advise Israel to go down this same perilous path again.” But that’s, of course, not the case. Not at all. Nobody advises Israel to unilaterally withdraw from the Westbank. The only thing Abbas asked for was for Israel to stop building settlements and negotiate a peace treaty. Netanyahu’s government repeatedly rejected this request. Even during the 10-month settlement freeze, building in some areas continued. According to Netanyahu, “The settlements are a result of the conflict…The settlements have to be.”
Both leaders said they are seeking peace. Both said they are extending – in fact always have been extending their hand to the enemy. But they also totally ignored their own flaws and each other’s positions. Moreover, both Abbas’ and Netanyahu’s speech contained lies and distorted facts. Two questions come to my mind. Are they also lying about their intentions? Are they truly pursuing peace? I really have my doubts. The fact that they didn’t even listen to each other only adds to these doubts.