Abbas requests UN membership despite US veto threat

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu addresses the UN on Friday. (UN/Marco Castro)

UNITED NATIONS (JWN and agencies) – Ignoring US President Barack Obama’s veto threat, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas formally applied for Palestinian membership in the UN on Friday. His move came as a blatant rejection of appeals by the United States and Israel that the only way to achieve peace bases on two states for two peoples is by direct negotiations.

Abbas handed a letter requesting membership to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon shortly before delivering his speech to the General Assembly. Ban said he would submit the request to the Security Council, where debate on it would start on Monday.

Intensive efforts are ongoing by the US and Israel to achieve a majority vote of nine countries on the council against Abbas’s request. Should this not be forthcoming, Obama has promised to veto the measure. In any event, the council may consider the measure for a matter of months before it comes to a vote.

In his address, which was followed by a speech by Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Abbas took a belligerent stance, accusing Israel of “ethnic cleansing,” targeting Palestinians for assassination, strengthening its “racist annexation wall” and carrying out excavations that threaten Islamic holy places.

He reiterated his precondition to negotiations that Israel freeze all settlement building; a concession that Israel already made once before for a 10-month freeze that did not coax Abbas back to the negotiating table.

To tumultuous applause, Abbas made a revealing reference to the address by his late predecessor, Yasser Arafat, to the General Assembly in 1974, when he raised a real olive branch and waved it before the gathering. Abbas declared that an olive branch is still being held out by the Palestinians—but ominously did not mention that Arafat had worn a pistol at his side, and threatened to use it if the olive branch failed to work.

At least two members of the Israeli delegation, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Minister of Public Affairs and the Diaspora Yuli Edelstein, walked out during Abbas’s speech. US Ambassador Susan Rice conspicuously refused to applaud it.

Abbas repeatedly invoked the theme of “63 years of Nakba,” a Palestinian term meaning catastrophe and used solely in reference to the creation of the State of Israel. Despite protesting his desire for peace—“Our efforts are not aimed at isolating Israel or delegitimizing it, we only aim to delegitimize the settlement activity”—Abbas asserted his commitment to a unity government with Hamas, a terrorist entity committed to Israel’s destruction.

The Palestinian leader made reference to Muslim and Christian ties to the Holy Land—where Jesus was born and where Muslims believe Muhammad ascended to heaven—but conspicuously left out any reference to the Jewish connection to the land where it gave the world the Bible.

Netanyahu presented a vision of the two-state solution that was so different from Abbas’s rhetoric, that it seemed unlikely the two sides would resume direct peace negotiations in the near future.

Sparing no punches in his reply to Abbas, Netanyahu accused the Palestinians of racism and ethnic cleansing in their call for a state with no Jewish settlers. He pointedly used the term the Nazis applied to such a situation: “Judenrein.”

Netanyahu said the Palestinians want statehood, but are not prepared to negotiate in a spirit of compromise to achieve true peace. “The truth is, so far the Palestinians have refused to negotiate,” he said. “The truth is, the Palestinians want a state without peace.”

“I extend my hand, the hand of Israel in peace,” Netanyahu addressed the Palestinians. “I hope you will grasp it…If we genuinely want peace, let us meet in this building today.” His offer was not taken.