First published by TRT World on 28/9/2018
Between Donald Trump touting a two-state solution and Benjamin Netanyahu preoccupied with Israel – the plight of the Palestinians was once again largely ignored at the UN.
All eyes were on US President Trump during the UN General Assembly this year as he made his second address to the world body.
His speech will be remembered for the outburst of laughter when he tried to laud his administration’s achievements which he claimed “accomplished more than almost any…in the history of our country”.
Trump went on to claim that world leaders were laughing with him and not at him,” which simply is not supported by images from the whole, the whole world saw.
In a press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump was again on-form recounting his achievements in relation to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
He affirmed his belief that he “had taken Jerusalem off the table,” defunded the Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA, closed the PLO Mission in Washington DC and ceased all funding to the Palestinian Authority because the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas had broken off all contact with the US Administration following its recognition of Jerusalem as the capital and the US Embassy move.
Sitting next to Trump, Netanyahu seemed pleased.
But he certainly wasn’t expecting what came next and perhaps even Trump’s advisors didn’t either, judging by some of the images of his son-in-law and Special Advisor, Jared Kushner.
Trump suddenly announced “I like the two-state solution”, a position he had not taken when the two leaders first met in 2017 and indeed one that Netanyahu has major problems with as he does not believe in a two-state solution.
“That’s what I think works best. I don’t even have to speak to anybody, that’s my feeling,” he continued.
Looking at the Israeli PM, Trump acknowledged Netanyahu’s rejection saying “You may have a different feeling. I don’t think so, but that’s mine.”
Netanyahu did not respond.
While reporters were picking their jaws off the floor at the remarks, Trump then qualified his remarks saying “I’m looking at two-state and one-state, and I like the one that both parties like,” he concluded, “I can live with either one.”
The Trump Administration had given Netanyahu so much that he must have felt that the issue of a Palestinian state was also off the table as far as Trump was concerned.
However, the US president continues to remind the world that he is a property tycoon who sees everything as a business deal wher historic Palestine is a piece of real estate to be negotiated, detached from history and rights.
Both Palestinians and Israelis sit atop sixty years of conflict which amply shows that this is much more than just a piece of real estate – and Trump has so far failed to convince either side to see it his way: if you don’t get the contract, you simply move onto the next potential deal.
For both sides, history shows that it is a matter of survival, of life and death.
Netanyahu, props, and little substance
With both Netanyahu and Abbas yet to speak to the UN General Assembly, analysts and commentators were wondering how the respective speeches would be rewritten following Trump’s comments.
Netanyahu did not wait and told reporters that “everyone defines the term ‘state’ differently.”
He had in the past questioned what sovereignty means and talked of a Palestinian state ‘minus’. He defined this by saying “I am willing for the Palestinians to have the authority to rule themselves without the authority to harm us”.
Netanyahu expects Trump to accept the Israeli approach where any possible peace scenario would leave security control of territories west of Jordan, in Israel’s hands. He also added that he assumed any American plan would reflect this principle.
When it came, Netanyahu’s speech made little reference to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He restricted his comments to the demonisation of the Palestinians and accused the Palestinian Authority of paying families of Palestinian prisoners and ‘terrorists’ as he called them.
Netanyahu hoped “the day will soon arrive when Israel will be able to expand peace, a formal peace, beyond Egypt and Jordan to other Arab neighbours, including the Palestinians.”
Netanyahu defended the Israeli Knesset’s passing of the Nation State Bill—which many commentators claim cements Israel’s status as an Apartheid state—that gives only Jewish people in Israel the right to self-determination.
He claimed that condemnation of Israel for racism is “the same old antisemitism with a brand new face.”
The main focus of Netanyahu’s speech, as it frequently is, was Iran. He had his usual prop, maps and images of what he claimed was the location and entrance to an Iranian nuclear site.
A weak representative
Abbas spoke before Netanyahu, and it was billed to be historic, but it failed to live up to its billing and it was noticeable that the hall was not as full as it normally is.
Certainly not as full as when Abbas applied, and was granted, an upgrade to Palestine’s status to a non-member state in 2012.
Abbas told the GA that there would be no peace without “an independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital” and stressed the capital would be East Jerusalem, not in East Jerusalem, countering leaks from the ‘deal of the century’ suggesting Abu Dis as the future capital. He opened his speech with “Jerusalem is not for sale, and the Palestinian people’s rights are not up for bargaining”.
Abbas referred to the Palestine National Council, which instructed him “to suspend the Palestinian recognition of the State of Israel until Israel recognises in its turn the State of Palestine on the fourth of June, 1967 borders.”
Parliament had also instructed him “to approach international courts, including the International Criminal Court (the ICC) to investigate Israel’s breaches of treaties and the aggressions by the Israeli occupying forces and settlers against our people, on our land and our holy sites.”
Abbas referred to Israel’s Nation State Law, explaining that “this law will inevitably lead to the creation of one racist state, an apartheid state, and thus nullifies the two-state solution.”
He reminded the GA that “the United Nations had condemned the apartheid South African state in several resolutions in the past,” and then challenged anyone to define Israel’s borders.
Abbas reserved some of his strongest criticism for the American Administration which he claimed had reneged on all the commitments between the two sides.
He said, “it’s really ironic that the American administration still talks about what they call the deal of the century, but what is left for this administration to give to the Palestinian people? Only humanitarian solutions, because when they remove off the negotiation table, Jerusalem, refugees and security – what is left?”
Abbas called on countries that do not recognise Palestine to do so, especially those that support a two-state solution and recognise Israel but not Palestine.
“No. You have to recognize both states. Ladies and gentlemen, I would like to remind you again that Israel has not implemented any one of the hundreds of General Assembly resolutions. There are 705 resolutions issued by the General Assembly since 1947 to date and Security Council resolutions since 1948 to date not a single resolution has been implemented by Israel.”
Abbas warned that Israeli aggression, supported by its legal system, is now threatening the status of Al Aqsa mosque claiming, “now we are told that the Israeli Supreme Court will issue a decision to divide Al-Aqsa, spatially and time-wise.”
The Palestinian president also criticised Hamas for failing to agree to the recent efforts by Egypt to secure reconciliation between Abbas’s Fatah and Hams, laying the blame at Hamas’s door.
He called on the Palestinians to “remain patient, steadfast and to continue to sacrifice until we achieve independence and self-determination and to establish an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital and not in Jerusalem”.
Fend for yourselves
And so the annual UN pilgrimage ends with the Palestinians weak and divided, pleading for protection for innocent civilians losing their lives at the hands of their brutal occupiers. Their Arab and Muslim allies continue to be cajoled into believing improving relations with Israel would endear them to Trump’s America and will bring protection from the Iranian threat.
Trump’s ‘deal of the century’ has turned into the ‘slap of the century’ for Palestinians left with little to negotiate for.
A strong and emboldened Israel can continue expanding and entrenching its hold on Israel-occupied territories. Abbas’s hopes for an international peace conference that broadens and better reflects the international community’s interests in resolving the conflict did not gain any traction.
It is only through their numbers—nearly 13 million strong—and their steadfastness and resistance, that Palestinians can keep their cause alive. They are in this for the long term and they will not allow Israel to complete the Zionist project.
They will outlast Trump and his administration, which while giving Israel quick wins now, will in the long term bring harm not only to Palestinians, but to peace for everyone in the region.