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UN General Assembly becomes battleground of words for Abbas, Netanyahu

Sept. 23, 2016 7:16 P.M. (Updated: Oct. 25, 2016 3:14 P.M.)
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the 70th session of the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 30, 2015 at the United Nations headquarters in New York. (AFP/Don Emmert, File)
By: Chloe Benoist

BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- The 71st session of the United Nations General Assembly became the scene of tense words regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on Thursday, with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu bitterly responding to accusations by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas of countless Israeli human rights violations against Palestinians.

‘How can anyone seeking peace perpetrate such actions?’

In his speech in front of the UN General Assembly in New York City on Thursday, Abbas reminded the community of world leaders of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s (PLO) recognition of a state in Israel in 1993, and its commitment to seeking to establish a state of Palestine within the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital.

“We remain committed to the agreements reached with Israel since 1993,” Abbas said. “However, Israel must reciprocate this commitment and must act forthwith to resolve all of the final status issues.

“It must cease all of its settlement colonization activities and aggressions against our cities, villages and refugee camps. It must cease its policies of collective punishment and its demolition of Palestinian homes. It must cease its extrajudicial executions and cease the arrest of our people, and must release the thousands of our prisoners and detainees. It must cease its aggression and provocations against the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque. For all of these policies and practices prevent an environment in which peace can be realized in our region.”

“How can anyone seeking peace perpetrate such actions?” Abbas asked. “We can never accept the continuation of the prevailing situation. We will never accept the humiliation of the dignity of our people.”

“There is no conflict between us and the Jewish religion and its people. Our conflict is with the Israeli occupation of our land,” Abbas added.

However, Netanyahu rebuked Abbas’ statements regarding Israeli crimes in the occupied Palestinian territory in his own speech to the General Assembly several hours later, claiming that “this conflict is not about the settlements, it never was,” despite the international community’s condemnation of illegal Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem as being one of the main hurdles to the establishment of a two-state solution.

Netanyahu, however, accused Palestinian authorities of sowing incitement against Israel among Palestinian youth, while affirming that Israel, which has mandatory military service for most of its citizens, “educate(s) our children for peace.”

Palestinians have routinely pointed the frustration and despair brought on by Israel's nearly 50-year military occupation of the Palestinian territory and the absence of a political horizon as being the main factor inciting Palestinians to violence.

While Netanyahu condemned the deadly arson attack committed by Israeli extremists in July 2015 in the West Bank village of Duma which killed a Palestinian baby and his parents, leaving Ahmad Dawabsheh, then five years old, the sole survivor, he did not mention of the 230 Palestinians who have been killed by Israelis since October 2015, nor of the thousands of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel, the rising number of demolitions of Palestinian homes by Israeli authorities, and of Israel’s policy withholding bodies of Palestinians killed while allegedly carrying out attacks.

He did, however, slam the Hamas movement in Gaza for “unbelievably cruelly refus(ing) to return three of our citizens and the bodies of our fallen soldiers, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin.”

Disputed commitments to the two-state solution

Meanwhile, Netanyahu insisted that “the persistent Palestinian refusal to recognize the Jewish state in any boundary” remained “the true core of the conflict” -- in spite of repeated statements by Palestinian officials over the years recognizing Israel's right to exist.

“Had the Palestinians said yes to a Jewish state in 1947, there would have been no war, no refugees and no conflict,” Netanyahu added, erasing in his statement the estimated 700,000 Palestinians who became refugees upon the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. “And when the Palestinians finally say yes to a Jewish state, we will be able to end this conflict once and for all.”

Abbas warned the United Nations that the continuation of Israel’s settlement expansion would “destroy whatever possibility and hopes are left for the two-state solution on the 1967 borders.”

Meanwhile, Netanyahu said he remained “committed to a vision of peace based on two states for two peoples.”

“The issue of settlements is a real one and it can and must be resolved in final status negotiations,” he conceded, before adding: “Israel is ready, I am ready to negotiate all final status issues but one thing I will never negotiate: Our right to the one and only Jewish state.”

In his speech, Abbas addressed Netanyahu, saying that “our 1993 recognition of the existence of the State of Israel, a recognition which remains valid to this moment, is not a gratuitous recognition.”

“Israel must reciprocate with recognition of the State of Palestine and an end to its occupation of the land, so that the State of Palestine can coexist alongside the State of Israel in peace and security and as good neighbors, each within secure and recognized borders,” the Palestinian head of state added.

On Tuesday, during the opening of the General Assembly session, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon warned that “prospects for a two-state solution are being lowered by the day” as the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem neared half a century.

“As the friend of both the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, it pains me that this past decade has been ten years lost to peace. Ten years lost to illegal settlement expansion. Ten years lost to intra-Palestinian divide, growing polarization and hopelessness,” Ban said.

“This is madness. Replacing a two-state solution with a one-state construct would spell doom: denying Palestinians their freedom and rightful future, and pushing Israel further from its vision of a Jewish democracy towards greater global isolation.”

Also on Tuesday, US President Barack Obama told the UN that “Israelis and Palestinians will be better off if Palestinians reject incitement and recognize the legitimacy of Israel, but Israel recognizes that it cannot permanently occupy and settle Palestinian land.”

Obama’s statement came less than a week after the Israeli and United States governments signed a $38 billion military aid package, promising Israel the hefty sum in the form of financial assistance and missile defense systems over the course of 10 years.

While members of the international community rested the solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the discontinuation of illegal Israeli settlements and the establishment of a two-state solution, a number of Palestinian activists have criticized the two-state solution as unsustainable and unlikely to bring durable peace, proposing instead a binational state with equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians.

Barbed words on Balfour

Abbas noted in his speech the upcoming centennial of the Balfour Declaration, a letter from British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour to Baron Rothschild, a British Jewish leader, declaring British support for the "establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people" in 1917.

“One hundred years have passed since the notorious Balfour Declaration, by which Britain gave, without any right, authority or consent from anyone, the land of Palestine to another people. This paved the road for the Nakba of Palestinian people and their dispossession and displacement from their land,” Abbas said.

“We ask Britain, as we approach 100 years since this notorious Declaration, to draw the necessary lessons and to bear its historic, legal, political, material and moral responsibilities for the consequences of this Declaration, including an apology to the Palestinian people for the catastrophes, miseries and injustices that it created, and to act to rectify this historic catastrophe and remedy its consequences, including by recognition of the State of Palestine,” he added.

Abbas also slammed past statements by Netanyahu ridiculing Palestinian Authority (PA) statements calling to sue the United Kingdom over the Balfour Declaration, saying that the Israeli prime minister had “the audacity to criticize” instead of “acknowledging the atrocities that it has committed and continues to commit against our people.”

Yet Netanyahu used his General Assembly speech to once again mock the PA’s position on the Balfour Declaration.

“That’s almost 100 years ago -- talk about being stuck in the past,” he jeered. “The Palestinians may just as well sue Iran for the Cyrus Declaration, which enabled the Jews to rebuild our Temple in Jerusalem 2,500 years ago.”

“Come to think of it, why not a Palestinian class action suit against Abraham for buying that plot of land in Hebron where the fathers and mothers of the Jewish people were buried 4,000 years ago?”

Netanyahu went on to imply that Abbas’ objection to the Balfour Declaration was “because it recognized the right of the Jewish people to a national home in the land of Israel,” before reiterating his claim that “the Palestinians still refuse to recognize those rights -- not our right to a homeland, not our right to a state, not our right to anything.”

Netanyahu made no mention of Israel’s non-recognition of a state of Palestine, nor of statements by members of his government who have called for the complete annexation of the occupied Palestinian territory.

‘If you do not protect us, who will?

Abbas highlighted that in spite of efforts by the United Nations, and notably its Security Council, Israel continued to violate international law unabatedly.

“Despite the Security Council's adoption of 12 resolutions condemning Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory since 1967, none of these resolutions has been implemented, encouraging Israel to continue pursuing its plans for the seizure of more Palestinian land in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, with impunity,” Abbas said.

“The Security Council is not upholding its responsibilities to hold Israel accountable for its seizure of the territory allotted to the Palestinian State according to the partition resolution,” he added. “If you do not ensure for us protection, then who will?”

“We continue to rely on the international community to shoulder its responsibilities, and we call on those countries in particular that have harmed the rights of our people to rectify this injustice.”

Abbas tied increased international involvement in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to addressing violent extremism in the Middle East.

“The international community's ability to advance the rights of our people and ensure their exercise of those rights and to end the oppression and injustice imposed on them for seven decades would surely constitute a unique opportunity for peace, stability and coexistence to prevail in our region and between the Palestinian and Israeli peoples,” he said. “This will create a better future for the current generation and generations to follow, and will be the beginning and the basis of ending extremism and violence in our region and the world.”

“I wish to reaffirm once again that there is no way to defeat terrorism and extremism and achieve security and stability in our region without ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine and ensuring the freedom and independence of the Palestinian people.”

Jordanian King Abdullah addressed the issue on Tuesday in front of the General Assembly, stating that the continued Israeli refusal to allow for the creation of the Palestinian state could only sow more discord in the region.

“No injustice has spread more bitter fruit than the denial of a Palestinian state,” he said. “I say: Peace is a conscious decision. Israel has to embrace peace or eventually be engulfed in a sea of hatred in a region of turmoil.”
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