What happened: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas again rejected the Trump administration’s plan for Israel and the Palestinians during a speech at the UN Security Council yesterday, and called for the resumption of negotiations between the two parties under international auspices. The speech was more circumspect than recent public statements by Abbas, with no direct attacks on US officials or threats to sever ties with Israel.
- Describing the Palestinian state envisioned under the US plan as a “swiss cheese,” Abbas said: “This deal carries within it dictates, reinforcements of the occupation, annexation by military force and anchoring of an apartheid system.”
- Abbas said future talks must be based on prior UN resolutions and the reactivation of the Quartet – US, Russia, UN, and European Union – adding: “I affirm, here, that it is necessary that this [Trump] deal or any part of it not be considered an international reference for negotiations.”
- The Israeli ambassador to the UN, Danny Danon, speaking after Abbas, blasted the Palestinian leader, saying: “Abbas refuses to be pragmatic [and] refuses to negotiate… Only when he steps down can Israel and the Palestinians step forward. He will never be a partner for real peace.”
- The British Ambassador to the UN, Karen Pierce, reaffirmed the UK’s longstanding policy vis-à-vis the Middle East Peace Process, including past UN Security Council resolutions, but described the US proposals as a potential “first step” back to negotiations, adding: “Both Israeli and Palestinian leaders owe it to their people to give them due consideration.” Pierce said the Palestinian leadership should “offer it own vision for a settlement” and re-engage with the negotiation process. She also warned that: “Unilateral action by either party is unacceptable. The UK government… has made clear our serious concern about reports of possible moves towards annexation of parts of the West Bank by Israel.”
Context: The special session of the UN Security Council took place after the Palestinian delegation pulled a draft resolution condemning the Trump plan, amid major US pressure on other Security Council members.
- Four European Union members of the Security Council – Belgium, Estonia, France and Germany – along with Poland, issued a joint statement saying the US initiative “depart[ed] from internationally agreed parameters.” The statement added that the members did not recognise ‘Israel’s sovereignty over the Occupied Territories’ and said any annexation in the West Bank ‘constitutes a breach of international law.’
- Abbas met with former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert yesterday in New York. During a joint press conference, they called each other “men of peace,” with Abbas adding: The negotiations with Olmert [in 2008] were promising. We didn’t reach a resolution but we were very close. Now we are ready to renew the talks at the point at which the negotiations with him ended.”
- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, at a campaign event last night, blasted the meeting as “a low point in the history of the State of Israel.” Netanyahu also defended the Trump effort as “the best plan” for all parties and addressed Abbas directly: “The plan recognises the reality and rights of the people of Israel, which you consistently refuse to recognise.”
- Tens of thousands of Palestinians – mostly Fatah party activists and Palestinian Authority civil servants – were bussed into Ramallah yesterday for a mass demonstration in support of Abbas. The demonstration was thought to be the largest official mobilisation of the Fatah party in at least six years.
Looking ahead: After the high diplomacy and UN speeches, it is unlikely anything will change.
- The Trump administration has made clear it opposes any move by Israeli to apply Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank before the 2 March election.
- Abbas, despite threats, has not severed security coordination with Israel.
- The prospect of an international forum or conference, similar to that proposed by France in the past, convening to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is remote.