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Abbas: Heading Out with a Bang

The summer conflict (or Operation Protective Edge) in Gaza brought a sense of urgency to the Palestinian quest for statehood. The 50-day bombardment of rocket attacks, bombings, and ground warfare left 2,127 Palestinians and 71 Israelis dead, over 500,000 Gazans displaced, and millions of dollars of destruction in its wake. The recently unified Fatah and Hamas factions are scrambling to aid Gazans and maintain their recent coalition in the process. In light of the summer engagement, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s speech to the United Nations General Assembly garnered international attention and pledges for action.

Abbas addressed the UN General Assembly on September 26th, and his speech stressed the resilience and strength of the Palestinian people who call for statehood. Abbas demanded justice for war crimes that were committed during the conflict; referencing the UN Human Rights Commission dispatched to analyze the Israeli use of airstrikes against Gaza civilians. He then vindicated the right of Palestinians to defend their country and people in face of the Israeli war machine. Due to the UN commission’s ongoing investigation into Hamas’s cross-border rockets into Southern Israel, Abbas was compelled to shield Hamas activity. He interpreted Hamas rockets as justified return fire. Since organization of military or vigilante forces is heavily restricted within the Palestinian Occupied Territories, Hamas primarily utilizes rocket attacks, which are easier to coordinate. Abbas then discussed the Israeli dismissal of a peaceful two state solution. He noted that prior to the summer flare of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the two parties engaged in American-led peace negotiations for eight months. Abbas claimed that Israel rejected any limitation on settlement construction or border discussions. Israel’s new plan for a 3,300 house settlement in the West Bank this past  June certainly furthered Abbas’ argument.

While the content may have been well received, the language of Abbas’ speech was somewhat more controversial. During the speech, Abbas consistently referred to the conflict in Gaza as genocide, provoking a potent image for the UN and for Israelis. He described the war as a racial attack on the Palestinian people that, without international intervention, will lead to their destruction through systematic killings, arrests, and oppression. Palestine is subjected to an Israeli apartheid, Abbas argued, fueled by manufactured religious tensions and ethnic hatred. Additionally, Abbas labeled the four Israeli settlers responsible for burning Jerusalemite teen Mohammed Khdeir to death as fascists. When specified to the Israeli experience the term genocide recalls the Holocaust, perhaps the most unifying experience among Israeli Jews. Similarly, the term fascist easily relates to Stalin and the persecution of Soviet Jews throughout his rule. The strong language and tone used in the speech conveys urgency and anger as Abbas and Palestinians renew their efforts for statehood.

The Israeli government was shocked and disturbed by the accusation of genocide and angrily rebutted the statement along with Abbas’ word choice. Netanyahu vowed to confront the allegations at his upcoming UN General Assembly address, claiming that Abbas had slandered Israel. Defense Minister Ya’alon stated that Abbas engaged in hateful speech to incite hate against Israel and to propagate lies, in turn demonstrating that Abbas has no desire to pursue peace or a two-state solution. The United States also condemned Abbas’ speech as detrimental to the peace process because of offensive charges against Israel. Nevertheless, Abbas’ address brought attention. As the conflict continues to wage on year after year, global interest wanes and eventually deserts for a new, less complicated issue. Abbas’ goal is to hold attention and stir action for Palestine as the bid for statehood approaches.

Palestine currently holds observer state status in the United Nations and is drafting a resolution to gain full status within the organization. If Palestine receives full status, it will be privy to institutions such as the International Criminal Court, where it could actively prosecute Israeli infringements on Palestinian human rights. Symbolically, if Palestine is internationally recognized as a state, Israel is forced to acknowledge its sovereignty. President Hollande of France (a permanent member of the Security Council) has signaled that he would support the resolution. The United States, having banned all funding to the World Health Organization because of Palestinian membership, will likely reject the resolution. Abbas inflated his language to amplify the Palestinian narrative. If the Gazan War of 2014 fades from memory without consequence, the hope for Palestinian statehood will similarly fade from consciousness. Abbas’ address to the UN General Assembly had its desired effect; to cause calamity and to sustain international support for the Palestinian bid for statehood.

– Ellen Heinke

Image license: Some rights reserved by thierry ehrmann

About Ellen Heinke

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