Abbas drops a sound bomb at the UN

Abbas drops a sound bomb at the UN
Analysis: Abbas declared that Palestinians were no longer bound by the Oslo accords, in what many described as an anticlimactic speech.
4 min read
01 October, 2015
Mahmoud Abbas' popularity has been waning in recent months [AFP]
Mahmoud Abbas had threatened to drop a "bomb" during his United Nations speech on Wednesday.

Many speculated that he could be formally announcing the end of the Oslo accords and security coordination with Israel.

The bomb, however, was Abbas' statement that he was no longer bound by agreements that have defined relations with Israel for the past two decades and are meant to form the basis for a two-state solution to the Middle East conflict.

But what sounded like a potentially explosive declaration was blunted by the lack of any detail on how he plans to move forward.

In a show of rare agreement, both Israeli and Palestinian media mocked Abbas' speech, saying that his bomb had failed to explode.

Addressing the United Nations General Assembly, Abbas said Israel had repeatedly violated its commitments, most notably by expanding settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, on lands the Palestinians seek for a future state.

However, the Palestinian leader stopped short of specific threats that would irrevocably put him on a collision course with Israel, such as suspending security cooperation. Instead, he closed on a conciliatory note, saying that eventual peace between Israelis and Palestinians is "in the interest of our future generations".

The Palestinians "will not remain the only ones committed to the implementation of these agreements, while Israel continuously violates them", Abbas said. "We therefore declare that we cannot continue to be bound by these agreements and that Israel must assume all of its responsibilities as an occupying power."

Israel's actions "render us an authority without real powers", he said.

If Abbas were to go through with his demand that Israel assumes responsibility for Palestinians as the occupying power in the territories - in line with international law - this would liekly require dissolving the Palestinian Authority and for Abbas to hand in his resignation.

He didn't mention any of that.

Palestinian analyst Hani al-Masri said Abbas was trying to attract attention and pressure Israel.

"This is a threat, not a plan," he said, speaking in Ramallah. "Abbas has no plan, otherwise he could have spelled it out in his speech."

With Israeli-Palestinian negotiations frozen, Abbas has failed to come up with a political alternative and, in his address, he seemed to be asking for a new international process to replace the existing stalemate.

"It is no longer useful to waste time in negotiations for the sake of negotiations; what is required is to mobilise international efforts to oversee an end to the occupation in line with the resolutions of international legitimacy," he said.

Thousands of Abbas supporters gathered in city centres across the West Bank to listen to his speech. They cheered when he said he was no longer bound by the signed agreements with Israel, waving Palestinian flags.

In a symbolic moment on Wednesday, Abbas raised the flag of Palestine at the United Nations for the first time, with a promise that it would be raised soon in Jerusalem, "the capital of our Palestinian state".

"Palestine was accepted [into the UN] a year ago," said one Palestinian activist. "Why celebrate the flag-raising now?"

Another Twitter drew on pop culture to make their point: "Mohammad Assaf's bombshell is more powerful that Abu Mazen's," referring to the Gazan heart-throb's engagement announcement.

Other Twitter users said that the bomb was a "sound bomb" making only noise, and causing no damage or long-lasting disruption. 

One Facebook user, meanwhile, pointed out that Abbas was going to need Israeli security cooperation - just to return to Ramallah.

"Is it not time… for the Israeli blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip to be lifted, and for our people to move in freedom and dignity in their own homeland and outside?" Abbas said.

However, many pointed out that this was a little hypocritical, as footage has been circulated of Abbas bragging that a "moat" currently being dug around Gaza to flood the tunnels was "his idea".

Many have said that the moat project threatens to turn Gaza into a blockaded island.

Abbas' UN remarks come at a time when the 80-year-old Palestinian leader appears to be losing the backing of much of the Palestinian public. A poll last week indicated that two-thirds want him to resign and that a majority no longer believe negotiations with Israel and a two-state solution are realistic.