Forward Thinking

Abbas vs. Netanyahu

By Jonathan Cummings

Getty Images
Mahmoud Abbas at the UN General Assembly on September 27.

Mahmoud Abbas and Benjamin Netanyahu once again avoided speaking to each other yesterday, as they have done for the past three years. Despite both claiming that they want to restart conflict-ending talks, there was little evidence of that in either leader’s speech to the United Nations’ General Assembly.

Abbas was on the attack from the outset. Speaking as the representative of an “angry people,” he leveled a familiar list of charges against Israel. Ethnic cleansing, settler violence, unlawful detention and the closure of the borders with Gaza all got a mention. Most were met with applause. So too, the call for Israel to be “condemned, punished and boycotted.” He noted that the Palestinian population is young and frustrated, hinting that violence could once again return. Yet, he claimed, Israeli policy and an aggressive brand of Israeli political discourse means that the Palestinian Authority, the guardian of Palestinian political and security relations with Israel, is under threat of collapse. There is only one way to understand this and only one conclusion to be drawn, he said. The Israeli government rejects a two-state solution.

Not so the Palestinians. Although time is running out, there is a chance — “maybe the last” — to return to talks. And he reassured the General Assembly that there is no need for marathon negotiations or to solve an “intractable riddle.” The solution already exists. All it needs is a return to the UN’s own terms of reference and the Arab Peace Initiative.

But even whilst calling for a “new approach,” Abbas actually drove peace efforts further up last year’s cul-de-sac. His announcement that he would be seeking a General Assembly resolution to grant non-member status to the Palestinians is anathema to Israel. It is also a pale echo of last year’s thwarted application for full UN membership. Abbas wants the support of the UN to draw the 1967 green line on the maps ahead of any negotiations, and for talks to then discuss changes to that line. Israel’s precondition for talks is that there are no preconditions, and thus rejects this approach. So, we can assume, will the next U.S. president.

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