Palestinian President Abbas to deliver 'bombshell' speech at UN

Palestinian President Abbas to deliver 'bombshell' speech at UN
4 min read
29 September, 2015
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has threatened to drop a "bombshell" in a speech to the United Nations this week prompting speculation that he may sever ties with Israel.
Mahmoud Abbas has come under fire from disillusioned Palestinians [AFP]

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is set to deliver a long-waited speech before the UN General Assembly at the orgnisation's headquarters in New York.

The speech on Wednesday will be closely watched for clues of his intentions at a time of growing despair among Palestinians, moribund peace talks and volatility in Jerusalem. 

Abbas has threatened to drop a "bombshell" in the speech, prompting speculation that he will sever ties with Israel over its settlement expansion and other hard-line policies. 

The warning reflects desperation, but may not signal action.

Abbas' hopes of setting up a Palestinian state through negotiations with Israel have been derailed, and a new poll shows that a majority of Palestinians want the 80-year-old to resign and dissolve his self-rule government, the Palestinian Authority. Many no longer believe a two-state solution is realistic and support political violence.

The Palestinian leader could try to align himself with a frustrated public by shifting to a more confrontational policy, including ending security cooperation with Israeli troops against a shared foe, Hamas.  

It's a risky move that could cost him vital foreign aid, trigger chaos and end his 10-year rule. Abbas aides have suggested in recent days that despite his threats, he will make do with a general warning to Israel at the UN.

Yet more indecision could further turn Palestinians against him. The mood in the West Bank is explosive, with anger mounting over Palestinian Authority mismanagement, perceived Israeli threats to a major holy site in Jerusalem and a sense of having been abandoned by the Arab world, said veteran pollster Khalil Shikaki.

"If a spark comes along, there is absolutely no doubt that the Palestinian situation today is very, very fertile for a major eruption," he said.   

Clashes in recent weeks between Israeli police and Palestinians at the sensitive Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem have raised tensions further and prompted Abbas to warn of the risk of a third intifada if the volatility worsens.

If that were not enough, the Palestinian president's speech to the UN General Assembly comes with much of the world's attention having drifted toward other concerns, such as combating Islamic State militants.

"Mahmoud Abbas is going to tell everyone that the current situation is no longer tenable, that the Authority has authority in name only while Israel is destroying any idea of a two-state solution," a Palestinian official told AFP, declining to provide further details.

'Who will make concessions?' 

Some speculate that suggestions ahead of the speech may have been in the hope of gaining concessions from those in the international community who would not want him to take those steps.

"I think he would like everyone to pressure him not to do it, then see what he will get out of it," said Yossi Mekelberg of the London-based Chatham House think tank's Middle East programme.

"Even in the corridors of the United Nations, use it as effectively as he can to get some concessions. But the question is, who will make these concessions?"

The Palestinian Authority was intended to be a temporary arrangement to serve as a governing administration over five years before negotiations leading to a final status, two-state settlement.

That of course did not happen, and peace talks between Israelis and Palestinians have been stalled for more than a year.
     Two decades after the Oslo accords, the Palestinian public sees the political process as having failed.  George Giacaman.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has sent mixed signals, ruling out the establishment of a Palestinian state while campaigning for March elections before later backtracking.

There is also a lack of trust between the two sides with the formation of one of Israel's most right-wing governments in its history after the March vote, and Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank has continued.

Polls reflect disillusion 

Organisers of a recent poll by the respected Palestinian Centre for Policy and Survey Research said for the first time in its surveys a majority called for the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority.

It also showed 57 percent of Palestinians support a return to an armed intifada in the absence of peace negotiations, up from 49 percent three months ago.

The poll organisers said the figure was similar to numbers seen ahead of the second Palestinian intifada in 2000.

A recent leak of documents alleging corruption among Palestinian officials has not helped matters.

Two decades after the Oslo accords, the Palestinian public sees the political process as having "failed," with statehood far from being achieved, said Palestinian political scientist George Giacaman.

"For them, Oslo promised the delivery of a two-state solution," he said.

Abbas's Fatah, which dominates the Palestinian Authority based in the occupied West Bank, also remains deeply divided from Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip, the coastal enclave still badly reeling from last summer's war with Israel.

Amid the turbulence, Abbas has raised the possibility of resigning as chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organisation while remaining Palestinian Authority president.

Abbas's allies say such moves are part of efforts to inject new blood into the Palestinian leadership.

Critics however argue that Abbas is manoeuvring to empower his allies and marginalise opponents ahead of his eventual retirement.