Mahmoud Abbas got a second series of standing ovations — a week after he told his people from Ramallah on 16 September that he was going to ask the UN Security Council for full UN membership for the State of Palestine — on 23 September, when he addressed the UN General Assembly in New York.
At the same time, tens of thousands of Palestinians came together in central squares of major West Bank cities to watch the speech, despite an unexpected September rain and cool weather. They were electrified, transported, that Mahmoud Abbas actually went through with what he said he would do: apply to the UN Security Council to ask for full UN membership for the state of Palestine — because, as Mahmoud Abbas argued, it is their right, and they deserve it.
[In 1988, after the late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat, Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO] read a Declaration of Independence at a meeting of the PLO’s Palestine National Council in Algiers in November 1988. In the aftermath, the UN General Assembly took note of the Declaration, and upgraded the PLO from observer national liberation movement to observer organization. At the time, in 1988, the PLO was going to ask for a seat for Palestine in the UN General Assembly hall — even if they would have to leave it symbolically vacant. But, they backed down, in the face of certain international opposition.
The Palestinian leadership could have have asked for UN membership decades ago. But, by waiting, this “UN bid” has been made by the PLO’s Provisional Government, which is the PLO Executive Committee — not by a government in exile, which it would have been in 1988…
Contrary to two earlier indications, Abbas met the UN Secretary-General BAN Ki-Moon just before delivering his speech, and handed over the official Palestinian application — which Abbas signed as President of the State of Palestine, and Chairman of the PLO.
A few hours later, the Washington Post’s UN correspondent Colum Lynch posted the official PLO letter, plus a transmittal letter by UNSG Ban, and a distribution note from the current President [Lebanon] of the UN Security Council for the month of September, here.
Here are some excerpts:
“We aspire for and seek a greater and more effective role for the United Nations in working to achieve a just and comprehensive peace in our region that ensures the inalienable, legitimate national rights of the Palestinian people as defined by the resolutions of international legitimacy of the United Nations…
UPDATE: Though some were not happy, it is fair to say that even some of those Palestinians who have been most critical of the Palestinian Authority and its leadership were pleased. Palestinian activist Mazin Qumsiyeh [Popular Resistance, based in Bethlehem] wrote on his blog, here:
“Mahmoud Abbas gave a brilliant speech at the United Nations, getting rounds of applause from most of the representatives. I think it demonstrated clearly and unambiguously that the Palestinian leadership has been “unreasonably reasonable” and has instead seen the hopes of peace and of millions of Palestinians suffering for 63 years dashed on the rock of Israeli expansionist, colonial, and apartheid policies. He explained that Israel has been taking one unilateral action after another each resulting in more pain and suffering for our people. Going to the UN, he explained is putting things back where the problems started (he did not use the last two words but I do). He said a word that I think he should defend strongly that
no person or country with an iota of logic or conscience should reject the Palestinian state membership in the UN or its formation in the 22% of historic Palestine that is the West Bank and Gaza. I think he took a courageous step and gave a good performance”.
Israeli activist Uri Avnery [Gush Shalom, journalist and former Knesset member] issued a statement saying: ” ‘Mahmud Abbas has taken the excuses out of Netnayhau’s hands. The State of Palestine, under his leadership, is fully ready to make peace with the State of Israel on the basis of the 1967 borders, to resume negotiations if no settlement facts are created on the land subject to negotiations – but the Palestinians are not ready to continue to live under occupation … The State of Palestine will not arise tomorrow, and a long and hard road awaits all of us until this state becomes a reality and takes its rightful place as the Palestinians’ national state and Israel’s partner for peace. Still, today will be counted among the key historical dates in the history of our region. Netanyahu’s answering speech was nothing but a cheap compilation of propaganda, with rejection of the Palestinian offer and intransigent refusal to end the occupation packed in “security” rhetoric and clichés. The “Palestinian state” envisioned in Netahyhau’s speech would be “demilitarized” but have a heavy Israeli military presence in its territory. In practice, there is reason to doubt Netanyahu intends to let any kind of Palestinian state come into being or withdraw from any territory, and his speech in practice left nothing to negotiate about. By a blatant interference in American internal politics, Netanyahu has bent the US to his will. He forced the President of the United States to deliver at the UN a Zionist and cynical speech, contradicting and nullifying Obama’s own previous positions, and assured a US veto and outright opposition to Palestinian aspirations. But it was a pyrrhic victory for Netanyahu – he has been shown the entire world that the United States is not suitable to serve as an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians … If and when negotiations resume between Israel and the Palestinians, it will be necessary to find a mediator or mediators more appropriate and fair – which confirms the Palestinians in their decision to move the focus of diplomatic activity from the White House to the UN Headquarters”.
The Israel Project called the speech hate-filled. Israeli Foreign Minister Lieberman said it was provocation. And hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of Palestinians felt that it was an accurate, concise, restrained description of their suffering.
The Abbas speech continued:
the Israeli government refuses to commit to terms of reference for the negotiations that are based on international law and United Nations resolutions, and…frantically continues to intensify building of settlements on the territory of the State of Palestine. Settlement activities embody the core of the policy of colonial military occupation of the land of the Palestinian people and all of the brutality of aggression and racial discrimination against our people that this policy entails. This policy, which constitutes a breach of international humanitarian law and United Nations resolutions, is the primary cause for the failure of the peace process, the collapse of dozens of opportunities, and the burial of the great hopes that arose from the signing of the Declaration of Principles in 1993 between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel to achieve a just peace that would begin a new era for our region.
The occupation is racing against time to redraw the borders on our land according to what it wants and to impose a fait accompli on the ground that changes the realities and that is undermining the realistic potential for the existence of the State of Palestine.
This policy will destroy the chances of achieving a two-State solution upon which there is an international consensus, and here I caution aloud: This settlement policy threatens to also undermine the structure of the Palestinian National Authority and even its existence.
In addition, we now face the imposition new conditions not previously raised, conditions that will transform the raging conflict in our inflamed region into a religious conflict and a threat to the future of a million and a half Christian and Muslim Palestinians, citizens of Israel, a matter which we reject and which is impossible for us to accept being dragged into.
All of these actions taken by Israel in our country are unilateral actions and are not based on any earlier agreements. Indeed, what we witness is a selective application of the agreements aimed at perpetuating the occupation. Israel reoccupied the cities of the West Bank by a unilateral action, and reestablished the civil and military occupation by a unilateral action, and it is the one that determines whether or not a Palestinian citizen has the right to reside in any part of the Palestinian Territory. And it is confiscating our land and our water and obstructing our movement as well as the movement of goods. And it is the one obstructing our whole destiny. All of this is unilateral.
In 1988, President Arafat again addressed the General Assembly, which convened in Geneva to hear him, where he submitted the Palestinian peace program adopted by the Palestine National Council at its session held that year in Algeria.
When we adopted this program, we were taking a painful and very difficult step for all of us, especially those, including myself, who were forced to leave their homes and their towns and villages, carrying only some of our belongings and our grief and our memories and the keys of our homes to the camps of exile and the Diaspora in the 1948 Al-Nakba, one of the worst operations of uprooting, destruction and removal of a vibrant and cohesive society that had been contributing in a pioneering and leading way in the cultural, educational and economic renaissance of the Arab Middle East.
Yet, because we believe in peace and because of our conviction in international legitimacy, and because we had the courage to make difficult decisions for our people, and in the absence of absolute justice, we decided to adopt the path of relative justice – justice that is possible and could correct part of the grave historical injustice committed against our people. Thus, we agreed to establish the State of Palestine on only 22% of the territory of historical Palestine – on all the Palestinian Territory occupied by Israel in 1967.
I confirm, on behalf of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people, which will remain so until the end of the conflict in all its aspects and until the resolution of all final status issues, the following:
1. The goal of the Palestinian people is the realization of their inalienable national rights in their independent State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, on all the land of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, which Israel occupied in the June 1967 war, in conformity with the resolutions of international legitimacy and with the achievement of a just and agreed upon solution to the Palestine refugee issue in accordance with resolution 194, as stipulated in the Arab Peace Initiative which presented the consensus Arab vision to resolve the core the Arab-Israeli conflict and to achieve a just and comprehensive peace. To this we adhere and this is what we are working to achieve. Achieving this desired peace also requires the release of political prisoners and detainees in Israeli prisons without delay.
2. 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, and adhere to all agreements signed between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel.
3. We adhere to the option of negotiating a lasting solution to the conflict in accordance with resolutions of international legitimacy. Here, I declare that the Palestine Liberation Organization is ready to return immediately to the negotiating table on the basis of the adopted terms of reference based on international legitimacy and a complete cessation of settlement activities.
4. Our people will continue their popular peaceful resistance to the Israeli occupation and its settlement and apartheid policies and its construction of the racist annexation Wall, and they receive support for their resistance, which is consistent with international humanitarian law and international conventions and has the support of peace activists from Israel and around the world, reflecting an impressive, inspiring and courageous example of the strength of this defenseless people, armed only with their dreams, courage, hope and slogans in the face of bullets, tanks, tear gas and bulldozers.
5. When we bring our plight and our case to this international podium, it is a confirmation of our reliance on the political and diplomatic option and is a confirmation that we do not undertake unilateral steps. Our efforts are not aimed at isolating Israel or de-legitimizing it; rather we want to gain legitimacy for the cause of the people of Palestine. We only aim to de-legitimize the settlement activities and the occupation and apartheid and the logic of ruthless force, and we believe that all the countries of the world stand with us in this regard.
I am here to say on behalf of the Palestinian people and the Palestine Liberation Organization: We extend our hands to the Israeli government and the Israeli people for peace-making. I say to them: Let us urgently build together a future for our children where they can enjoy freedom, security and prosperity. 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.
It is no longer possible to redress the issue of the blockage of the horizon of the peace talks with the same means and methods that have been repeatedly tried and proven unsuccessful over the past years. The crisis is far too deep to be neglected, and what is more dangerous are attempts to simply circumvent it or postpone its explosion.
It is neither possible, nor practical, nor acceptable to return to conducting business as usual, as if everything is fine. It is futile to go into negotiations without clear parameters and in the absence of credibility and a specific timetable. Negotiations will be meaningless as long as the occupation army on the ground continues to entrench its occupation, instead of rolling it back, and continues to change the demography of our country in order to create a new basis on which to alter the borders.
It is a moment of truth and my people are waiting to hear the answer of the world. Will it allow Israel to continue its occupation, the only occupation in the world? Will it allow Israel to remain a State above the law and accountability? Will it allow Israel to continue rejecting the resolutions of the Security Council and the General Assembly of the United Nations and the International Court of Justice and the positions of the overwhelming majority of countries in the world?
I come before you today from the Holy Land, the land of Palestine, the land of divine messages, ascension of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the birthplace of Jesus Christ (peace be upon him), to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people in the homeland and in the the Diaspora, to say, after 63 years of suffering of the ongoing Nakba: Enough. It is time for the Palestinian people to gain their freedom and independence.
The time has come to end the suffering and the plight of millions of Palestine refugees in the homeland and the Diaspora, to end their displacement and to realize their rights, some of them forced to take refuge more than once in different places of the world.
At a time when the Arab peoples affirm their quest for democracy – the Arab Spring – the time is now for the Palestinian Spring, the time for independence.
The time has come for our men, women and children to live normal lives, for them to be able to sleep without waiting for the worst that the next day will bring; for mothers to be assured that their children will return home without fear of suffering killing, arrest or humiliation; for students to be able to go to their schools and universities without checkpoints obstructing them. The time has come for sick people to be able to reach hospitals normally, and for our farmers to be able to take care of their good land without fear of the occupation seizing the land and its water, which the wall prevents access to, or fear of the settlers, for whom settlements are being built on our land and who are uprooting and burning the olive trees that have existed for hundreds of years. The time has come for the thousands of prisoners to be released from the prisons to return to their families and their children to become a part of building their homeland, for the freedom of which they have sacrificed.
My people desire to exercise their right to enjoy a normal life like the rest of humanity. They believe what the great poet Mahmoud Darwish said: Standing here, staying here, permanent here, eternal here, and we have one goal, one, one: to be.
We profoundly appreciate and value the positions of all States that have supported our struggle and our rights and recognized the State of Palestine following the Declaration of Independence in 1988, as well as the countries that have recently recognized the State of Palestine and those that have upgraded the level of Palestine’s representation in their capitals. I also salute the Secretary-General, who said a few days ago that the Palestinian State should have been established years ago.
Be assured that this support for our people is more valuable to them than you can imagine, for it makes them feel that someone is listening to their narrative and that their tragedy and the horrors of Al-Nakba and the occupation, from which they have so suffered, are not being ignored. And, it reinforces their hope that stems from the belief that justice is possible in this in this world. The loss of hope is the most ferocious enemy of peace and despair is the strongest ally of extremism.
I say: The time has come for my courageous and proud people, after decades of displacement and colonial occupation and ceaseless suffering, to live like other peoples of the earth, free in a sovereign and independent homeland”…
Israel’s Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu addressed the same UNGA session, within the hour. The full text of his speech can be found here.
Here are some excerpts from the Netanyahu speech:
“We withdrew from Lebanon in 2000 and from every square inch of Gaza in 2005. That didn’t calm the Islamic storm, the militant Islamic storm that threatens us. It only brought the storm closer and make it stronger. Hezbollah and Hamas fired thousands of rockets against our cities from the very territories we vacated. See, when Israel left Lebanon and Gaza, the moderates didn’t defeat the radicals, the moderates were devoured by the radicals. And I regret to say that international troops like UNIFIL in Lebanon and UBAM (ph) [sic – this should be EUBAM, the European Union Border Assistance Mission, which was not a peacekeeping mission, but a bunch of customs inspectors who were supposed to help train the Gaza border officials] in Gaza didn’t stop the radicals from attacking Israel.
We left Gaza hoping for peace. We didn’t freeze the settlements in Gaza, we uprooted them. We did exactly what the theory says: Get out, go back to the 1967 borders, dismantle the settlements.
And I don’t think people remember how far we went to achieve this. We uprooted thousands of people from their homes. We pulled children out of — out of their schools and their kindergartens. We bulldozed synagogues. We even — we even moved loved ones from their graves. And then, having done all that, we gave the keys of Gaza to President Abbas.
Now the theory says it should all work out, and President Abbas and the Palestinian Authority now could build a peaceful state in Gaza. You can remember that the entire world applauded. They applauded our withdrawal as an act of great statesmanship. It was a bold act of peace.
But ladies and gentlemen, we didn’t get peace. We got war. We got Iran, which through its proxy Hamas promptly kicked out the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority collapsed in a day — in one day.
President Abbas just said on this podium that the Palestinians are armed only with their hopes and dreams. Yeah, hopes, dreams and 10,000 missiles and Grad rockets supplied by Iran, not to mention the river of lethal weapons now flowing into Gaza from the Sinai, from Libya, and from elsewhere.
Thousands of missiles have already rained down on our cities. So you might understand that, given all this, Israelis rightly ask: What’s to prevent this from happening again in the West Bank?
Israelis remember the bitter lessons of Gaza. Many of Israel’s critics ignore them. They irresponsibly advise Israel to go down this same perilous path again. Your read what these people say and it’s as if nothing happened — just repeating the same advice, the same formulas as though none of this happened.
And these critics continue to press Israel to make far-reaching concessions without first assuring Israel’s security. They praise those who unwittingly feed the insatiable crocodile of militant Islam as bold statesmen. They cast as enemies of peace those of us who insist that we must first erect a sturdy barrier to keep the crocodile out, or at the very least jam an iron bar between its gaping jaws.
So in the face of the labels and the libels, Israel must heed better advice. Better a bad press than a good eulogy, and better still would be a fair press whose sense of history extends beyond breakfast, and which recognizes Israel’s legitimate security concerns.
I believe that in serious peace negotiations, these needs and concerns can be properly addressed, but they will not be addressed without negotiations. And the needs are many, because Israel is such a tiny country. Without Judea and Samaria, the West Bank, Israel is all of 9 miles wide.
I want to put it for you in perspective, because you’re all in the city. That’s about two-thirds the length of Manhattan. It’s the distance between Battery Park and Columbia University. And don’t forget that the people who live in Brooklyn and New Jersey are considerably nicer than some of Israel’s neighbors.
So how do you — how do you protect such a tiny country, surrounded by people sworn to its destruction and armed to the teeth by Iran? Obviously you can’t defend it from within that narrow space alone. Israel needs greater strategic depth, and that’s exactly why Security Council Resolution 242 didn’t require Israel to leave all the territories it captured in the Six-Day War. It talked about withdrawal from territories, to secure and defensible boundaries. And to defend itself, Israel must therefore maintain a long-term Israeli military presence in critical strategic areas in the West Bank.
All these potential cracks in Israel’s security have to be sealed in a peace agreement before a Palestinian state is declared, not afterwards, because if you leave it afterwards, they won’t be sealed. And these problems will explode in our face and explode the peace.
The Palestinians should first make peace with Israel and then get their state. But I also want to tell you this. After such a peace agreement is signed, Israel will not be the last country to welcome a Palestinian state as a new member of the United Nations. We will be the first. (Applause.)
And there’s one more thing. Hamas has been violating international law by holding our soldier Gilad Shalit captive for five years.
Ladies and gentlemen, last year in Israel in Bar-Ilan University, this year in the Knesset and in the U.S. Congress, I laid out my vision for peace in which a demilitarized Palestinian state recognizes the Jewish state. Yes, the Jewish state. After all, this is the body that recognized the Jewish state 64 years ago. Now, don’t you think it’s about time that Palestinians did the same?
The Jewish state of Israel will always protect the rights of all its minorities, including the more than 1 million Arab citizens of Israel. I wish I could say the same thing about a future Palestinian state, for as Palestinian officials made clear the other day — in fact, I think they made it right here in New York — they said the Palestinian state won’t allow any Jews in it. They’ll be Jew-free — Judenrein. That’s ethnic cleansing. There are laws today in Ramallah that make the selling of land to Jews punishable by death. That’s racism. And you know which laws this evokes.
Israel has no intention whatsoever to change the democratic character of our state. We just don’t want the Palestinians to try to change the Jewish character of our state. (Applause.) We want to give up — we want them to give up the fantasy of flooding Israel with millions of Palestinians.
President Abbas just stood here, and he said that the core of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the settlements. Well, that’s odd. Our conflict has been raging for — was raging for nearly half a century before there was a single Israeli settlement in the West Bank. So if what President Abbas is saying was true, then the — I guess that the settlements he’s talking about are Tel Aviv, Haifa, Jaffa, Be’er Sheva. Maybe that’s what he meant the other day when he said that Israel has been occupying Palestinian land for 63 years. He didn’t say from 1967; he said from 1948. I hope somebody will bother to ask him this question because it illustrates a simple truth: The core of the conflict is not the settlements. The settlements are a result of the conflict. (Applause.)
The settlements have to be — it’s an issue that has to be addressed and resolved in the course of negotiations. But the core of the conflict has always been and unfortunately remains the refusal of the Palestinians to recognize a Jewish state in any border.
I think it’s time that the Palestinian leadership recognizes what every serious international leader has recognized, from Lord Balfour and Lloyd George in 1917, to President Truman in 1948, to President Obama just two days ago right here: Israel is the Jewish state. (Applause.) President Abbas, stop walking around this issue. Recognize the Jewish state, and make peace with us. In such a genuine peace, Israel is prepared to make painful compromises. We believe that the Palestinians should be neither the citizens of Israel nor its subjects. They should live in a free state of their own. But they should be ready, like us, for compromise. And we will know that they’re ready for compromise and for peace when they start taking Israel’s security requirements seriously and when they stop denying our historical connection to our ancient homeland.
I often hear them accuse Israel of Judaizing Jerusalem. That’s like accusing America of Americanizing Washington, or the British of Anglicizing London. You know why we’re called “Jews”? Because we come from Judea”…