Palestinian President has made his UN threats before but one thing is different this time

Mahmoud Abbas knows it is demography that will determine the future of the conflict, while there are early signs that the Palestinian Authority may collapse

Mahmoud Abbas addresses the United Nations General Assembly remotely from his office in Ramallah on 24 September 2021

Jack Khoury writes in Haaretz on 25 September 2021:

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ taped speech on Friday to the United Nations General Assembly was directed primarily at the international community and less to the Palestinians. He senses anger and frustration bubbling below the surface among the Palestinian public, as well as the erosion of confidence in his leadership as a diplomatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is nowhere on the horizon.

Abbas delivered his UN speech from his office in Ramallah against the backdrop of four maps, beginning with what the British called Palestine and Abbas called “historic Palestine,” followed by a map outlining the 1947 UN Partition Plan for Palestine; a map of the situation prior to the outbreak of the 1967 Six-Day War; and the current situation, which he described as Palestinian control of about 12 percent of the territory.

That is what the Palestinian national dream has been reduced to. In his address, Abbas demanded a return to the 1967 borders, nearly three decades after the signing of the Oslo Accords between Israel and the Palestinians on the White House lawn, when this possibility appeared near at hand.

The 85-year-old Palestinian president, who can no longer conceal a heaviness in his speech and body language, resorted to threats that he has already issued in recent years. Thus, he again threatened to turn to the International Criminal Court in The Hague for relief and to rescind Palestinian recognition of Israel, which would also mean scrapping security coordination between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. But Abbas also knows that it is doubtful that Israel’s leaders will lose sleep over such threats, or that they will jolt U.S. President Joe Biden into action.

Such warnings, even strong ones, have been heard in the past, but their diplomatic impact, both in Israel and internationally, has been minimal. Time after time, in the face of Arab and international pressure, the Palestinian leadership has backtracked on every threat to avoid going for broke.

Nevertheless, Abbas is correct on one point. Ultimately, it is demography that will determine and dictate the reality on the ground. The Palestinians have reached a crossroads. With or without him, they will have to make decisions in the near future. The Palestinian president knows that from 1948, when Israel was established, until now, Israel has been following a single strategy – reducing the territory of Palestine to the greatest extent possible.

Now the Palestinians’ goal is to convince the international community that they are present on the ground and that their numbers are only increasing. One cannot argue with a demographic reality. Abbas and a considerable part of the rest of the Palestinian leadership still advocate a two-state solution as the best possible formula, even if the Palestinian public doesn’t see it on the horizon.

In his speech, Abbas warned that scuttling such a solution based on international resolutions would open the door to “other options” dictating the reality on the ground. Ultimately, he warned, “the data and the developments on the ground will dictate a reality [in which] the Palestinian people will demand its rights in the territory of all of historic Palestine.”

Meanwhile, a different reality is being created in which the Palestinian citizenry is several steps ahead of its leadership. There is growing anger against Israel, and faith in Abbas and his ability to bring about any solution in the region is eroding.

The debate about a one-state solution stretching from the Mediterranean to the Jordan River is no longer just theoretical, and in the absence of a genuine diplomatic horizon and continued divisions among the Palestinians, the Palestinian Authority could disintegrate. Early signs of that are already surfacing. In such a situation of confrontation and chaos, a considerable number of people are beginning to ponder what they will do, and Palestinian families and clans are even beginning to arm themselves.

In Israel and in the Biden administration, they will continue to discount Abbas and his threats, offering him economic perks and projects in exchange for silence, but they are ignoring what is happening on the Palestinian street. The crossroads doesn’t involve just the future of Abbas and the Palestinian Authority – but rather what the area between the Mediterranean and the Jordan River will look like in another decade.

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