Several days after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appeared before the UN General Assembly, a friend asked me what I thought of his speech. I answered that from what I had read the speech seemed problematic, but that I would have to read exactly what Abbas had said before I could express a more informed opinion.
I searched Google, and the first hit was the text of an undated speech Abbas gave before the UN, on the Palestine WAFA website.
Since the text bore no date, I assumed that I was looking at the relevant speech, whereas in fact I was looking at Abbas’ 2011 UN speech (it is not only Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who pays annual visits to New York in September/October).
I am glad that I read this speech first, because the comparison with the new speech was highly instructive. The 2011 text was relatively moderate and reasonable, presenting the Palestinian case for a state as fairly and squarely as one might expect of a Palestinian leader, without over-demonizing Israel. One might even say that it was constructive. The new speech is something else altogether, and while one might sympathize with Abbas having lost faith in negotiations with Israel leading anywhere, his accusations that Israel is perpetrating a “war of genocide” against the Palestinian people justifies the harsh reaction that the speech elicited not only from Israel, but from the US as well.
What is genocide? According to Article II of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide: “Genocide means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group as such:
(a) Killing members of the group.
(b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group.
(c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.
(d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group.
(e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group.
The main element of this definition is intent – the intent to wholly or partially destroy a human group. Israel may be accused of discriminating against and humiliating Palestinians, of doing everything in its power to prevent the Palestinians realizing their right to self-determination, and of using excessive force against Palestinian civilians, which in the recent Gaza skirmish resulted in many innocent casualties, including some 500 children.
However, wiping the Palestinian people off from the surface of the earth has never been, and is not today Israel’s intention or plan.
On the other hand, since its foundation in 1948 it has been Arab states and Palestinians who have called for Israel’s destruction.
The fact that Israel has been able to defend itself effectively, and was successful in intercepting hundreds of the thousands of the mortars and rockets indiscriminately fired by the Hamas and various other terrorist organizations from the Gaza Strip at Israeli population centers, thus keeping Israel civilian casualties to a minimum, does not belittle the genocidal intent of those who fired the rockets.
It is difficult to believe that Abbas is not aware of all this.
If the main goal of his speech was to convince the members of the UN Security Council that the only way to get around Israel’s obstructionism with regard to the establishment of a Palestinian state is by means of recognizing such a state before its parameters and permanent boundaries are determined through negotiations, then accusing Israel of genocide was equivalent to shooting himself in the leg. No matter how furious the Obama administration is with Israel these days (especially over yet another round of construction plans beyond the Green Line), there is no chance that after Abbas’ UN speech it will allow the Security Council to comply with his request – at least not at this point in time.
None of this is to say that the Palestinians are not within their right to demand a state of their own, or to deny that there are many legitimate ways to try to achieve this goal. Back in the 1940s we used all possible means: diplomacy, propaganda, military force and even terrorism (mostly against the British) to attain our state. However, the reason we succeeded was that we not only made maximal use of the cards in our hands (including the world’s guilt over the Holocaust), but had a realistic leadership that understood what was feasible and what was not, and did its best to avoid shooting itself in the leg.
Again and again the Palestinians seem to miss opportunities to realize their goal. Perhaps if they could find the courage to admit that they bear at least as much responsibility as Israel (if not more) for the fact that since 1948 a Palestinian state has not been established, they could start making progress. If the Palestinians could only get themselves to publicly admit that it was a mistake to reject the 1947 UN partition plan, and to embark on a vicious terrorist war against Israel after the Six Day War, rather than seek means for reconciliation with it, they might finally get onto a road that leads somewhere, rather than continuously get themselves into cul-de-sacs.
In the case of Abbas’ UN speech, he simply played into Netanyahu’s hands, though luckily for the Palestinians Netanyahu has also got into the habit of leading Israel, with much bravado and in immaculate American English, into diplomatic cul-de-sacs, though I suspect that at the moment the world is more pissed off with Netanyahu and Israel than with Abbas and the Palestinians.
If I were a Palestinian, and if I had lost hope of attaining a state through negotiations with Israel, what I would do is approach the UN, not with a demand for recognition of an independent Palestinian state, but with a demand that it should try to pressure Israel into annexing the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and granting their Palestinian inhabitants equal civil and political rights.
This is what Prof. Sari Nusseibeh of al-Quds University suggested that the Palestinians do in late 1980s (during the first intifada), arguing that eventually the Palestinians will constitute a majority in such a state. I have no idea what Nusseibeh thinks of this idea today, but it certainly still makes sense.
It is not that I think that the Israeli government would embrace the idea with both hands (even though the idea of annexation has some support in certain government circles), but it would finally force Netanyahu and his government to contend with the fact that the choice is one between a twostate solution and a single bi-national state, and that this will continue to be the choice that will have to be made, even if by means of some miracle the Arab states embrace the idea that Netanyahu raised in his own UN speech, of finding a regional solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
But I am not a Palestinian, views like my own do not count in the current Israeli government, and at the moment the world is more concerned with the threat posed by Islamic State and its ilk than with the Palestinian problem, which it has helped perpetuate for the past 65 years by means of UNWRA. So in all likelihood we will all continue to wallow in the current untenable status quo, and in the autumn of 2015 Abbas and Netanyahu will deliver two more fiery, infuriating, red-herring speeches.
That is what I think of Abbas’ speech, and also of Netanyahu’s speech, for that matter.
The writer is a retired Knesset employee.