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Abbas' dismal failure at the United Nations

By Alon Ben-Meir - posted Friday, 3 October 2014


As someone who has consistently advocated a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians based on a two-state solution, I was appalled to hear the speech delivered by Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas at the United Nations General Assembly. Instead of using the occasion to provide constructive proposals and use reconciliatory language to advance the cause of peace, he engaged in acrimonious and discordant statements against Israel that did nothing but further embitter and alienate the Israeli public, whose support he needs the most to realize Palestinian aspirations.

I wonder if Abbas has any clue how his irresponsible public utterances reinforce the negative perceptions between the Israelis and Palestinians and perpetuate the endemic hostility which has and remains the core evil that has thwarted all peace efforts in the past.

He gave a campaign-style speech, appealing to his own public in an effort to salvage his sagging popularity, while being completely oblivious to the fact that he was addressing the international community to further cement its support of the Palestinian cause.

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To be sure, as the late Israeli Foreign Minister Abba Eban once said, "The Arabs [Palestinians] never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity." Abbas' performance was a classic case of a missed opportunity.

His failure to strike a balance between his justifiable resistance to the occupation and the need to rally the support of the Israeli public was a major blunder, deeply injurious to the Palestinian cause.

For someone who seems genuine in seeking peace, he shattered the trust of many Israelis, who view him as a reliable partner that deserves their support.

In his polarizing speech, Abbas spared no deprecating characterization of Israel, the very country with which he must negotiate to end the occupation and establish a Palestinian state-a dim prospect made dimmer by his desperate need to maintain his position.

He accused Israel of committing genocide three times, a horrifying term that enraged every Israeli. They know the real meaning of genocide, when the Jews were led like sheep to the slaughter. They also know that their army took every precaution to protect the lives of innocent Palestinian civilians during the Israel-Hamas war.

Abbas invoked the word Nakba (the "catastrophe" of 1948) five times, which does nothing but enflame emotional outbursts anew, making it ever more difficult for him to make and for the Palestinians to accept any concessions to facilitate a peace agreement with Israel.

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In his wisdom, he referred to Israel as a racist state seven times without thinking that such maligning attribution only undermines the negotiating process and intensifies the distrust, which will make the conflict ever more intractable.

He recklessly used the word fascist twice, but however cruel the Israeli occupation may be, ascribing such a revolting word reminds the Israelis of their own victimhood, which hardens rather than lessens their antagonism and enmity toward the Palestinians.

As if the above charges are insufficient to paint the "true face" of Israel, Abbas throws in, for good measure, another vile characterization of Israel as an apartheid state twice and as a terrorist state, well, only once.

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About the Author

Dr. Alon Ben-Meir is a professor of international relations at the Center for Global Affairs at NYU. He teaches courses on international negotiation and Middle Eastern studies.

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