Mr. Abbas Comes to New York: Palestinian Leader at the Security Council
George Baumgarten, United Nations Correspondent
He is the cherished leader of his people, as well as both anathema and enigma to Israelis and others in many parts of the world. He has convinced himself that Israel is the source of all his problems, and the frustration of his national aspirations. For the first time in nine years, Mahmoud Abbas came to speak—not in the General Assembly, as he does every Autumn—but to the U.N.’s Security Council.
Abbas’s visit was an outgrowth of this month’s Kuwaiti presidency of the Council. Kuwait’s ambassador, Mansour Al-Otaibi, decided to give him a platform, to present his view of his people’s situation, as he saw it.
The meeting began with a short speech—of both welcome and warning—by the Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres. Having just returned from Kuwait—where there were positive developments for Iraq—he said those were in fact “an exception in the region”. And he promised the best efforts of the U.N., to achieve a two-state solution for Israel and the Palestinians. He noted that “there is no Plan B”, but felt that the international consensus for such an outcome “could be eroding”. Conditions in Gaza and the shortfall in funding for UNRWA (the Palestinian refugee agency) have the potential to threaten the stability of the entire region. Therefore, concerted action by all parties is critical.
Guterres’ was followed by Nickolay Mladenov. the Bulgarian who is the U.N.’s Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process. A thoughtful international civil servant, Mladenov may not always say what either side wants to hear, but he has—in this observer’s experience—judiciously noted the actions of both those sides.
Mladenov spoke of the importance of “the inalienable right of the Palestinian people to statehood” and “the Israeli longing for security”. He mentioned the immediacy of the situation in Gaza, and the urgency of a two-state solution. And he said there must be an effort by the Palestinian Authority to bring Gaza back under its control.
Mladenov spoke next of the UNRWA shortfall, due to the U.S. reduction in its contributions. Other states, he said, should make up the difference. He also mentioned civilians of both sides killed in the West Bank, rockets fired into Israel, and Israeli airstrikes in response. And he mentioned the Israeli soldiers and civilians—both living and dead—being held in Gaza. He lauded the intention of the Palestinian Authority to create 20,000 new jobs in the Gaza Strip. And he again reiterated that Gaza must be returned to the control of the Palestinian Authority.
Mladenov also noted the increasing tensions on the Golan, and the recent flare-up there—with a Syrian drone shot down over Israel, and a fighter jet shot down (albeit with the pilots only injured) over Syria.
Speaking to the Council, Abbas said that his people were the descendants of the Canaanites, who had always lived in their land. And he cited Britain’s 1917 Balfour Declaration which “…views with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people…”. “The British Government”, he said, “bears responsibility for the catastrophic consequences…”.
Abbas cited the Oslo Accords, which he said called for a Final Status Agreement by 1999. He mentioned several other Agreements his government had signed, asking “How can it be said that it is we who reject negotiations?”. And he stated that his quarrel was not with Judaism—a monotheistic religion, like Christianity and Islam—but with “the occupiers of our land”.
Abbas noted his several meetings with President Donald Trump, but asked whether he was for a two-state or a one-state one. The United States, he said, has “contradicted itself”, and still keeps the P.L.O on its terror list. He also called for an international peace conference, to be held by mid-2018. It should include “mutual recognition by Israel and Palestine”, and full membership for Palestine in the United Nations (despite lack of agreement on its borders). Abbas further called for all parties to refrain from any unilateral actions during the peace conference, and for acceptance of the Arab Peace Initiative.
Speaking next, Israel’s Danny Danon gave a speech of somewhat lesser length. In a line he repeated to the press corps after his address, he said of Abbas “…you are no longer part of the solution. You are the problem”.
Danon noted that Abbas had called the Zionist movement “...a colonialist project that has no connection to Judaism”. He had inspired a culture of hate, and made repeated payments to the families of suicide terrorists, money that could much better have been used to build schools, hospitals and other public facilities.
Israel, Danon said, had marked the 70th Anniversary of General Assembly Resolution 181 [on the Partition of Palestine] with celebration, while the Palestinians had still marked it with grief and mourning. Abbas had rejected Israel’s offers at Camp David, and on numerous other occasions. Rather than follow in the “courageous footsteps” of Anwar Sadat and King Hussein, Mr. Abbas has failed his own people., and rejected offers from Prime Ministers Barak and Olmert. He has extended a fist, rather than a hand, to Israel, but extended a hand to the terrorists of Hamas.
Quoting from Jewish prayers, Danon hoped God would grant peace to the people of Israel. And he expressed confidence that one day the Palestinian people will have leaders who can likewise work for peace.
U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley spoke more briefly, and directly, to the Council. She noted pointedly that the entire U.N. spends a disproportionate amount of time condemning Israel, when the Middle East has so many other horrendous problems. The Palestinians in Gaza live in “truly awful” conditions. And too many of those in the West Bank have also died. She expressed her profound regret that Mr. Abbas had left the Council Chamber, right after his own address.
Ambassador Haley extended America’s hand to the Palestinian people, in the cause of peace. She granted that the Palestinians do not like the U.S. decision to move its Embassy to Jerusalem. But she assured her listeners that that decision would not change. Noting that the U.S. negotiators, Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner, sat right behind her, she told Mr. Abbas, in absentia, that “we will not chase after you”.
This was the end result—or lack thereof—of this Security Council meeting. The meeting was held, as it is every month. But was anything really accomplished at all?
© Copyright 2018 George Alan Baumgarten