Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has warned that the Palestinian Authority (PA) can no longer be bound by agreements with Israel, so long as the latter refuses to commit to them.
Speaking on Wednesday at the UN General Assembly in New York, Abbas declared that “as long as Israel refuses to commit to the agreements signed with us, they leave us no choice but to insist that we will not remain the only ones committed to the implementation of these agreements”.
Calling the status quo in the occupied Palestinian territory unsustainable, he also said that Israel must assume its full responsibility as an occupying power under international law.
More of a warning than a declaration, Abbas, who has headed the PA since 2005, ostensibly left himself wiggle room by using vague wording and adding a number of caveats.
Although he did not provide a timeline for severing the PA’s many agreements with Israel, Abbas said he would start implementing by “peaceful and legal means”.
Created as a result of the 1993 Oslo Accords agreement between the Palestine Liberation Organisation and Israel, the PA will continue to function and work towards forging a unity government with the Gaza-based Hamas authority, Abbas said.
Abbas concluded with a plea for the Israelis to reach a peaceful solution, which he said would benefit both peoples.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned Abbas’ speech, claiming it “was deceitful and encourages incitement and lawlessness in the Middle East”.
“We expect and call on the [Palestinian] Authority and its leader to act responsibly and accede to the proposal of the prime minister of Israel and enter into direct negotiations with Israel without preconditions,” Netanyahu said in a statement.
Abbas’ speech was a far cry from earlier comments that he would drop a “bombshell” in his UNGA address.
Ahead of the speech, aides and local media reports speculated that he would deliver a clear and formal announcement that the Oslo Accords were to be terminated and all ties with Israel to be severed.
Though Abbas said in his speech that Palestine “is a state under occupation”, it is unclear what ramifications that statement carries.
But in the lead-up to Abbas’ UN speech, his adviser Mohammad Habash clarified that the president’s UNGA address would be “devoid of bombshells”.
In an op-ed published at the Huffington Post a day earlier, Abbas called the raising of the Palestinian flag for the first time in the rose garden at the UN headquarters a “moment of hope”. The op-ed also provided a glimpse of what he planned to speak about on Wednesday.
“A peaceful, fair and just solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict exists,” he wrote. “But the peace process must be multilateral. The same pattern of negotiations imposed for years will not work because Israel is the occupying power.”
Some observers said that previous warnings issued by Abbas reflected desperation on his part, especially in light of a new survey that found that a majority of Palestinians wanted the president to resign and dissolve the PA.
Published by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, the poll also found that 51 percent of Palestinians no longer believed in the two-state solution, which Abbas has clung on to – with the belief that only negotiations with the Israelis can yield a Palestinian state. Approximately 65 percent said the notion of two states living side-by-side was impractical as Israeli settlements continue to mushroom across the West Bank.
“The chasm between ordinary Palestinians and the president, and also [the ruling party] Fatah, has widened and that’s reflected in these polls,” Hani al-Masri, a Ramallah-based political analyst, told Al Jazeera. “This has been exacerbated by recent revelations of financial corruption within the PA, and the failure of the Palestinian National Council [the Palestinian parliament in exile] to convene.”
Three years ago, Palestinians applauded Abbas’ call at the UNGA for Palestine’s recognition as a non-member observer state. His speech on Wednesday, however, was eclipsed by growing concerns of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant’s (ISIL) growing power in parts of the Middle East and the refugee crisis in Europe.
Palestinian officials made it clear they were dismayed that US President Barack Obama failed to mention the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in his speech before the annual gathering of world leaders on Monday.
“Does Obama think he can defeat Islamic State and terrorism, or achieve security and stability in the Middle East by ignoring the continued Israeli occupation?” lead Palestinian negotiator Sa’eb Erekat said in a statement published by the official news agency WAFA.
The US’ apparent lack of interest in pushing for another round of peace talks has also left Palestinians feeling abandoned, especially at a time of increasing tension in the Holy Land, with clashes at the al-Aqsa Mosque compound in East Jerusalem taking place on a near daily basis.
The abolition of the Oslo Accords, however, would come at a price. It would mean a heavy economic penalty as the PA loses vital foreign aid, as well as a series of punitive actions by Israel.
For Israel, who also depends on the agreement, the cancellation of Oslo would spell the end of the security coordination – meaning the PA security forces would no longer ensure the safety of Israeli settlers in the West Bank or crack down on foes, such as members of their mutual rival, Hamas.
“Abolishing the Oslo Accords requires coordinating with various PLO bodies, not least the PNC,” Ahmad Azm, director of the International Studies graduate programme at Birzeit University, told Al Jazeera.
“As senior Fatah official, Nabil Sha’ath, once remarked, ‘We are heavily interconnected with the Israeli economy, water, and energy services, and to dismantle this interdependence, we at least need an action plan,’ which we don’t have.”