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  September 30, 2015

Abbas UN Speech: "Bombshell" or Wet Firecracker?

Ali Abunimah, co-founder of the Electronic Intifada, says Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas remains dismally uncourageous
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Ali Abunimah is co-founder of the award-winning online publication The Electronic Intifada and author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. His latest book is titled The Battle for Justice in Palestine. Based in Chicago, he has written hundreds of articles on the question of Palestine in major publications including The New York Times, The Guardian and for Al Jazeera.


SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN; Welcome to the Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore.

During his speech at the United Nations General Assembly, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said because of Israel's continued settlement construction and violation of numerous agreements Palestine is no longer required to abide by the Oslo Accords and subsequent economic arrangements with Israel. Here's what he had to say.

PRESIDENT MAHMOUD ABBAS: Here we declare that as long as Israel refuses to commit to the agreement signed with us, which renders us in a pro forma authority without real powers, and as long as Israel refuses to cease settlement activities, and to release of the Palestinian presence in accordance with our agreements with Israel, Israel has thus left us no choice but to insist that we will not remain the only ones committed to the implementation of those agreements while Israel continuously violates them. We therefore declare that we cannot continue to be bound by these signed agreements with Israel, and Israel must assume fully all its responsibilities as an occupying power.

PERIES: The speech was delivered on the same day as the United Nations raised the Palestinian flag for the first time at its headquarters in New York City. Joining us now to discuss all of this is Ali Abunimah. Ali is the co-founder of the Electronic Intifada and author of the book The Battle for Justice in Palestine. Ali, thank you so much for joining us.

ALI ABUNIMAH: Thank you, Sharmini.

PERIES: So Ali Abbas dropped what most media in the mainstream is calling a bombshell in his speech to the United Nations General Assembly. What do you make of his comments?

ABUNIMAH: Well, there was no bombshell. There had been promises of such a bombshell, but there was nothing more than a wet firecracker. Contrary to what mainstream media are reporting, Abbas did not repudiate the Oslo Accords, he did not say that the Palestinian Authority would end its commitment to them. He said that at some point in the future we may get tired of all this and stop cooperating. But if he had been serious then he would have announced that this very day the Palestinian Authority would stop its collaboration with the Israeli army, which he called murderers of his own people, stop its so-called security coordination, stop its repression of Palestinians resisting and protesting the occupation. But he did none of that.

This was really a massive missed opportunity to call for real concrete and effective action against Israel, and he just did none of that.

PERIES: And Ali, what's the significance of raising the Palestinian flag at the UN this year?

ABUNIMAH: No significance at all. It's a feel-good moment for some people. But it is a substitute for real and concrete action. What do I mean by that? Abbas, although his term of office expired many years ago, is still recognized by much of the world as the leader of the Palestinian Authority. Abbas could have called, he could have used these minutes when the whole world was paying attention to him to call for an arms embargo on Israel. To call for Israeli leaders to be pursued and arrested as war criminals for the crimes they committed in Gaza last summer killing more than 200 people. Notice Abbas barely mentioned Gaza. He talked about the siege of Gaza but he did not mention the massacre of 551 children in Gaza last summer.

He could have--he, he actually did call Israel's regime against Palestinians apartheid. Abbas used that word. But why didn't he call for the world to isolate Israel the same way it isolated the apartheid regime in South Africa. He did not call for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. This was an empty speech where he called for more of the same. No pressure on Israel, just more empty talk about a Palestinian state and a two-state solution, and he did absolutely nothing to rally and mobilize effective pressure against Israel that could actually end the apartheid regime that he called out at the UN.

PERIES: Ali, among all of this hoopla at the UN another very important question lingers, and that's the future leadership of Palestine and of course the status of Abbas himself and the PA. Your thoughts on that?

ABUNIMAH: The PA exists for the convenience and service of Israel, to keep the Palestinian population under occupation, under control, to meet its very basic needs. And Israel allows it to continue because it suits Israel. Israel will only ever allow a PA leader that continues to serve those purposes as Abbas has so faithfully and effectively for the past decade or so.

So you know, the Palestinian Authority cannot be the vehicle of Palestinian liberation. It is one of the means of Palestinian occupation and oppression. In fact, you know, every time Palestinians go out to protest in the areas where the Palestinian Authority has control, the Palestinian Authority security forces go out and repress them. The Palestinian Authority security forces are busy working with the army of occupation, the army of apartheid, as Abbas called it, to suppress Palestinian resistance, to dismantle Palestinian resistance organizations.

So the Palestinian Authority cannot be the vehicle of Palestinian liberation. It is one of the means of Palestinian oppression. What is needed is a massive, global mobilization in support of Palestinians who are struggling for their rights. The best thing that people around the world can do is to heed the call from Palestinian civil society to isolate Israel using Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, as they did with apartheid South Africa. It's not going to come from speeches at the UN. It's not going to come from more states giving symbolic recognition to an imaginary Palestinian state that doesn't exist on the ground. It's not going to come from raising or waving the Palestinian flag at the UN.

PERIES: And my final question to you, Ali, what kind of leadership actually needs to evolve in the context and leadership of Palestine?

ABUNIMAH: Well, there is a crisis of Palestinian leadership, but Palestinians have never been freely given the right to choose their own leaders. When they voted in 2006 in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, the so-called international community didn't like the result and overturned it. So really it's not for us here to pick the Palestinian leaders or to anoint someone, say this will be the real leader. But Palestinians need to be allowed to choose their own leaders. They need to be allowed to develop a strong national movement free from the pressure and manipulation of outside powers. And that's something that they've been denied. But in the meantime there is a lot of grassroots leadership among Palestinians. There is a, a growing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement around the world which is led and directed by Palestinians, and there's plenty for people to be getting on with.

I do think that Abbas represents a form of leadership and a form of politics whose day has come and gone, and Palestinians really are not struggling now for a state and all the symbols of statehood, but for real liberation from occupation, real liberation from apartheid. And let's remember that the Israeli apartheid regime that Palestinians experience isn't just in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, but it's within present-day Israel, which is increasingly extreme, increasingly far right, increasingly racist and intolerant. And Palestinians there have to be supportive in their struggle for their rights as well. It's not just about the West Bank and Gaza Strip as Abbas tried to make it in his UN speech.

PERIES: Ali, thank you very much for joining us today.

ABUNIMAH: You're welcome. Thank you.

PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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