Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s two-hour speech was a bitter attack on Israel’s roots, its history and the Trump administration, and an admission that the Oslo process is finally at an end. Yet, interestingly, it wasn’t a total burning of bridges.
In a speech that will likely be remembered for the 82-year-old president’s attempts to define his legacy, Mr Abbas blamed Britain and others for transporting Jews to Palestine, “for their own interests” and described Israel as a “colonialist project that has no connection to the Jews”.
But, despite the rhetoric, he stopped short of cancelling the Oslo Accords, which would have meant the end of the Palestinian Authority, and he didn’t go back on the Palestinian national movement’s recognition of Israel.
Neither did he refer to security co-ordination with Israel, which still continues, or announce a return to “armed resistance”.
He also kept the door open to future peace negotiations with Israel.
In essence, his speech was a response to Donald Trump’s Jerusalem decision and the US President’s subsequent threats to cease funding the Palestinian Authority and the UN agency for Palestinian refugees.
Three times, Mr Abbas used the colloquial Arab curse yehrab beitak (“may his house be destroyed”) and repeated that he refused to negotiate with Israel through Mr Trump or his representatives.
He did say he was willing to negotiate through other international brokers, but Mr Abbas knows this is a non-starter because Israel will refuse a different intermediary. He is effectively admitting that any negotiations are off the table — at least until a freshly-minded US administration comes to the fore.
But he gave no real clues about the alternative course the Palestinians would follow, apart from an ambiguous call on the PLO to re-examine its agreements with Israel.
This was a bitter and sarcastic speech that gave Israel’s leadership every possible reason to say he is no longer a “partner for peace”.
Mr Abbas has spent decades arguing within the Palestinian leadership that violent struggle will not bring his people any achievements.
“We will continue in a dialogue with Israelis because it is useful,” he said on Sunday. “In the Israeli public, there are those in favour of peace and those who are against.”
He reminded the committee members that he had been in favour of making peace with Israel since 1977, and that he remains so, “even if Netanyahu is not interested in peace.”
But Mr Abbas is disappointed that — aside from voting to condemn Mr Trump’s recognition at the UN – the Arab states have not been more forceful in their response and are loath to change course.
Essentially, the Palestinian President did everything but admit he had no idea how to achieve peace or a Palestinian state. Neither did he reveal any plans to vacate the presidency, which he has held for 13 years, even though no presidential election has been held since 2005.
The impression he left was that nothing would change while he, Mr Netanyahu and Mr Trump are still in office.