A Wonderful Speech, Sure to be Undermined by the Man Who Gave It

Posted on September 23, 2011


Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas gave a great speech today, where he claimed to be breaking off from moribund negotiations and forging ahead with a bid for statehood at the UN. Unfortunately, the lofty rhetoric of the speech is saddled by the reality that the Palestinian Authority did not actually make a break with Oslo, or from negotiations. Indeed, nothing could be more symbolic of the inherent and deliberately empty rhetoric of the speech than Abbas’ promise to  “adhere to all agreements signed between the Palestine Liberation Organization and Israel” [and to willingly return to negotiations]. That’s a quite a small box to crawl into, because the Oslo agreement with Israel quite clearly states that:

 Article 31.7. Neither side shall initiate or take any step that will change the status of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip pending the outcome of the permanent status negotiations.

That’s right, Abbas is prohibited by those very agreements from seeking state status at the UN.  Moreover, the PLO has no control over most of the area that it seeks to establish a state on, in West Bank Areas B and C—that’s not only a consequence of being outgunned by a sophisticated and relentless army. The PLO agreed to that state of affairs pending final status negotiations. From any viewpoint, the claims that Abbas made—that the PLO seeks a state on the 1967 borders, and that they intend to honor the agreements which prohibit them from doing so—are impossible to reconcile.

Rather than break with the agreements publicly—the only legitimate way to independently seek state status at the UN—Abbas reaffirmed that his state-seeking bid at the UN was largely theater by claiming the PA would return to Oslo. Along the way, he managed to insert some pretty unbelievable hypocrisies about democracy, which anyone familiar with the revelations of the past year must find absurd. The PA does not even pretend to ensure “the preservation of security for the citizen and public order”; rather, it daily cooperates with a state and military which has the opposite goal. Just hours before the speech, IDF soldiers killed a Palestinian protester at a demonstration in the West Bank, an incident that the PA will neither take responsibility for, nor reproach Israel about. The PA does not act to entrench “the pillars of democracy”. Rather, it colluded with Israel and the US to circumvent democracy when it led to a Hamas victory, then crowned himself President for life in the aftermath. Abbas’ PA is by no metric a legitimately elected government, nor does it pretend to democracy. As Ali Abunimah noted recently, Abbas ordered West Bank mosques to sing the bid’s praises after the end of the speech, hardly the sign of a leader interested in democracy.

Abbas could have simply rejected negotiations for a variety of reasons—none more pertinent and convincing than the fact that Israel has violated agreements to such a degree that its impossible to list all of them in a brief article. He could have rejected Oslo negotiation for the same reason he argued that the UN statehood bid was necessary—that negotiations had become useless due to Israeli intransigence. He didn’t, which is telling by itself. Whatever the outcome of the sheaf of papers that Abbas handed Ban Ki Moon today, Abbas gladly returns to a gilded cage in Ramallah called the Palestinian Authority, a product of the largesse of Israel and the US.

Oh, some clown representing Israel gave a speech as well, but its hardly worth critiquing in depth. Though Abbas performance reminded me of an accountant addressing a retirement dinner, Benjamin Netanyahu was more like a belligerent drunk at the function, who gets called on to say a few words and can’t hide his contempt for the business, his competitors, his friends or himself. His long-suffering tiny cohort of friends claps for him out of embarrassment while the guests look on uncomfortably and everyone wishes it would end.

Of the many lies and distortions in Netanyahu’s speech, the most comical was his boast of having a claim to Palestine because a Netanyahu lived in the region thousands of years ago. As many noted, Bibi’s real surname is Mileikowsky, changed for political reasons by his father. But all thanks is due, regardless, Bibi: nothing else gets at the tender logic behind a Jewish state in Palestine quite like that story.

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