Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas spoke in harsh and unflinching terms about Israel and the US at the UN General Assembly in New York on Thursday, while Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used the platform to once again brand the Iran nuclear deal a “lie”.
Abbas began his address by stating that “Jerusalem is not for sale”, drawing applause from the room. He then turned to denouncing in turn Israel’s “racist” nation-state law, the Trump administration’s uncritical support of Israel, and both states’ refusal to abide by international agreements and UN resolutions.
Abbas seeks alternative to US as peace mediator
“This law will inevitably lead to the creation of one racist state, an apartheid state, and thus nullifies the two-state solution,” he said.
In his first speech to the UN since the US moved its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Abbas said Palestinians now see the US “with new eyes” and no longer as a fair mediator in the peace process.
“This administration has reneged on all previous US commitments and undermined the two state solution,” he said.
The PLO leader called on more countries to recognise the state of Palestine and for the UN to enforce the resolutions it has passed on Israel.
“It is insufficient for the general assembly to pass a reinstitution without implementation,” he said, saying that Israel had not implemented even one of the over 700 resolution passed by the assembly since 1949.
Abbas raised the issue of UNRWA, which provides relief and humanitarian assistance to over five million Palestinians, and is battling for survival since the US pulled $300m in funding for the organisation.
He accused the US of attempting to “obliterate” UNRWA, and rubbished its estimate that there are only 40,000 Palestinian refugees.
He reiterated several times that the PLO is fully committed to peace and rejects all forms of violence outright, but stressed that cooperation was a two-way street and Palestine would not be bound by agreements that are reneged on by other countries.
Concluding, Abbas paid tribute to martyrs and prisoners and said to all Palestinians that “we are soon approaching our day of freedom and independence and that the darkness of occupation will soon vanish.”
Netanyahu targets Iran
Speaking shortly after, Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used his address to publicly identify what he claims is a secret, previously unknown nuclear facility in Tehran.
Holding up a printed satellite photo with geographic coordinates, he encouraged the public to use Google Maps to locate the site for themselves as proof that Iran has been dishonest about its nuclear ambitions.
He claimed that Israeli intelligence found Iranian authorities had disposed of 15kg of nuclear material across Tehran, exposing residents to dangerous radioactivity.
Calling on the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency by name, he asked Yukiya Amano to investigate the facility “right here, right now”.
“I will never let a regime that calls for our destruction to develop nuclear weapons. Not now, not in 10 years, not ever,” he said, calling on European leaders to join the US and other in abandoning the Iran deal.
He accused EU states of “appeasement” and “rolling out the red carpet” for Iranian president Hassan Rouhani as he expands his military influence in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere.
Netanyahu praised the thousands of Iranians who have take to the streets in recent months to protest the government and its response to an economic crisis resulting in dramatic rises in inflation and unemployment.
Withdrawal of funding for Palestinian refugees key in UN talks
“The people of Iran are bravely standing up to a regime that has oppressed them for four decades and squanders their money in bloody wards across the Middle East,” said the Israeli leader.
The only positive result of the Iran deal, he claimed, was bringing Israel and several Arab states “closer together than ever before in an intimacy and friendship that I’ve not seen in my lifetime and would have been unimaginable a few years ago”.
Netanyahu then called for a brief round of applause for US president Donald Trump and US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley for their unwavering support of Israel before defending at length the nation state law from the accusations of Abbas, human rights organisations and the international community.
Claims that Israel is racist or an apartheid state are “shameful” and simply “antisemitism with a band new face,” he claimed, before branding his Palestinian counterpart a Holocaust denier.
Regardless of the new legislation, Jews and non-Jews enjoy equal individual rights in Israel, he said.”
‘Same sort of speeches’
“We have got the same sort of speeches now for quite a few years,” said Yossi Mekelberg, Professor of International Relations at Regent’s University London, referring to the speeches by the Israeli and Palestinian leaders.
“Netanyahu concentrates on Iran because that where he’s comfortable and confident about what he’s saying, and he’s comfortable with the support of the US in the region,” he told Al Jazeera.
“He tries to minimise talking about Palestinian issues because he know that he is in a very small minority in the UN.
“For Abbas, the cutting of the money to UNRWA, the moving of the American embassy to Jerusalem, it’s all going in one direction. The US can’t even be seen as an honest broker in peace negotiations… It’s obviously not something the PA can accept.”
Elizabeth Tsurkov, a Research Fellow at the Forum for Regional Thinking, said Abbas’ wish for more international mediation would likely not be forthcoming.
“European and other nations that may play a constructive role in this context are focused on their own domestic concerns or more pressing international crises, relegating the Palestinian issue to the back-burner,” she said.
“This means a continuation of military rule over the Palestinian people and the daily humiliations and human rights abuses this rule entails.”