Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks following a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Istanbul.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In a long and rambling speech on Sunday night in Ramallah to the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Central Council, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas made news for all the wrong reasons, blasting Israel, US President Donald Trump’s administration and Arab states. Yet for all the bluster and anger on display, the Palestinian president did not indicate a real change from his long-standing moderate policies.
Abbas decided to convene the Central Council, the PLO’s second-highest decision-making body, in response to Trump’s decisions to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and initiate the relocation of the US Embassy in Tel Aviv to the holy city.
The PA president is known to give lengthy and informal speeches to major Fatah and PLO meetings, and this one was no exception. In between calls out to his deputies in attendance and joking banter, Abbas took the opportunity to lay forth a highly suspect history lesson about Jewish immigration to Palestine, citing Oliver Cromwell, Theodore Herzl and Napoleon, among others.
A number of his comments about Zionism and Jewish history were quite controversial. “[Israel] is a colonial project with no relationship to Judaism,” Abbas said at one point, quoting Abdul Wahab al-Messiri, an Egyptian writer who authored an encyclopedia titled Encyclopedia of Jews, Judaism and Zionism.
In terms of current policy, the PA president expressed his frustration with Trump, saying he would not accept the US president’s forthcoming peace plan and using harsh and direct language toward him and some of his senior aides. Speaking about a tweet the American president published in early January, which suggested the US would cut aid to the Palestinians if they do not return to the negotiations table, he said: “May God destroy your house. When did we refuse?” employing an Arabic saying equivalent to “damn you” in English.
On Monday, many Israeli politicians reacted to Abbas’s speech, with some officials accusing him of making antisemitic remarks and a minister calling him “unbecoming” of a leader.
However, beyond Abbas’s contentious comments about Zionism and Trump, the PA president made a number of policy statements that indicate he is unlikely, in the coming period, to shift his positions on core issues relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
At least three times in his speech, Abbas voiced support for “popular, peaceful resistance” to Israel’s military rule, eschewing violence.
“I am not bashful about repeating this 100 or 1,000 times,” he said. “I only support popular, peaceful resistance. Believe me, its stronger and more effective than other ways.”
Abbas, for his part, has long supported nonviolence and has reportedly ordered the PA security forces to prevent attacks against Israelis. According to a PA security official who spoke to The Jerusalem Post
over the weekend, the security forces “are constantly trying to prevent” attacks against Israelis and working closely with Israeli security forces to foil them.
In his speech Sunday night, the PA president also reiterated his support for the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders alongside Israel.
“I’m with the two states… according to international legitimacy and the Arab Peace Initiative, the State of Palestine along 1967 borders,” Abbas said, adding that he expected east Jerusalem to serve as this state’s “eternal capital.”
Since the signing of the Oslo Accords in the early 1990s, Abbas has supported a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. However, at the UN General Assembly in September, he suggested he may shift his support to a one-state solution if two states were no longer possible. But in his speech on Sunday, the PA president did not even mention the term “one state.”
Moreover, Abbas suggested that while the Palestinians will not work with a US-sponsored peace process, they do not have plans to abandon the peace process altogether.
“We accept UN sponsorship for any political process that aims to end the occupation and achieve peace,” he said, adding that the Palestinians would be open to a similar negotiations format to the P5+1 and Iran nuclear negotiations.
Abbas has clearly chosen to take a hard-line approach, rhetorically, to Trump’s policy changes regarding Jerusalem. But if his recent speech is any indication, actual shifts in policy do not seem to be on the horizon.