Palestinian President Abbas calls for renewed peace negotiations with Israel

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas speaks during the 74th United Nations General Assembly at the United Nations on September 26, 2019 in New York City. Abbas renewed his pledge to hold parliamentary elections once he returns home, though he has made similar pledges in recent years. Palestinians last held elections in 2006. (UNGA photo)
Updated 27 September 2019

Palestinian President Abbas calls for renewed peace negotiations with Israel

  • Condemns recent attacks against oil facilities in Saudi Arabia
  • ‘We stand with the Kingdom and we support its decisions and position’

NEW YORK: A defiant Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the UN General Assembly on Thursday that Palestine stands ready to negotiate for peace, despite a wave of racism and discriminatory apartheid policies from Israel’s government.

In a separate press briefing, meanwhile, Jordan’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Ayman Safadi brushed aside concerns of “a chill” between Jordan and Israel on the 25th anniversary of the peace agreement between the two countries. However, he restated his concerns about Israel’s actions and said the bilateral agreement is only one part of a comprehensive peace accord that has yet to be signed and must include Palestine.

In his address, Abbas accused Israel of grave breaches of international law and warned that unilateral actions such as the call to annex the West Bank area of the Jordan Valley could have dire consequences.

“It is our right to defend our rights by all possible means, regardless of consequences, while remaining committed to international law and combating terrorism,” Abbas said during a 26-minute speech in Arabic that was interrupted numerous times by applause from General Assembly delegates.

“Our hands will remain extended for peace through negotiations…anything else will be null and void if Israel or any Israeli government led by (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu, or any other Israeli leader, will follow this plan he announced…of annexation.”

Abbas, who was accompanied by Palestinian Ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour, negotiator Saed Erakat and advisers from Palestine’s UN mission, said that when he returns home he will seek to kick-start elections on a local level, in the West Bank, occupied Jerusalem and in the Gaza Strip, where he accused Hamas of seeking to undermine his government.

Only about 20 percent of General Assembly delegates were in the chamber on Thursday before the Palestinian president gave his speech, but many more took their seats when he was introduced and the chamber was more than half full when he spoke. Delegates from Israel and the US were present but not their ambassadors.

Abbas cited the widespread support Palestine receives from the majority of the UN General Assembly before criticizing the US indirectly for imposing unilateral decisions on the status of occupied Palestinian lands, and calling on the UN to grant Palestine “full member status.” It was granted non-member observer state status in 2012.

“Palestine is a state party to 110 international instruments and organizations,” he said. “Palestine has received the recognition of 140 states from around the world. It is chairing the Group of 77 in China.

“Palestine continues to assume its responsibilities…Palestine deserves to be a full member of the UN…After all we have suffered, we deserve to be a full member. Give me just one reason why we do not deserve to be a full member of the UN?”

Abbas gave details of Israel’s continued violations of international law, and of bullying by withholding funds collected from Palestinian workers and blocking international aid.

“In Jerusalem, the occupying power is waging a reckless, racist war against everything that is Palestinian, from the confiscation, the demolition of homes, to the assaults on clergymen, to the eviction of our citizens from their homes, to attempts to violate the sanctity of the Holy Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Church of Holy Sepulchre, to the legislation of racist laws,” he said.

“Similar laws (to Apartheid) in Israel discriminate against people based on their nationality and their race, and the world remains silent. They deny worshipers access to the holy places, which will lead to dangerous, unfathomable consequences. The results will be a religious war. We want to avoid such a war but Israel is making every effort to reach and wage such a war.”

After stating his firm support for the two-state solution, Abbas mildly ridiculed US President Donald Trump, indirectly, by mocking his much-hyped “deal of the century” for Israeli-Palestinian peace and the favoritism shown by the Trump administration toward Israel.

“It speaks to the so-called ‘deal of the century’ and peddles elusive solutions…it destroyed all possibilities to achieve is rejected,” he added to lengthy applause.

Abbas said the US president’s actions have “jeopardized” the two-state solution. The Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in December 2017 and moved the US Embassy there in May the following year. It also cut hundreds of millions of dollars in annual aid to the Palestinians, blaming the refusal of the Palestinian Authority to participate in the administration’s peace initiative

“This US policy has emboldened the government of the Israeli occupation to renege all signed agreements with us and its commitments to peace, depriving the peace process of any credibility and pushing large segments of the Palestinian people to lose hope in the possibility of a long-awaited peace. It has jeopardized the two-state solution,” Abbas said. “Now, many wonder if the two-state solution has become impossible. Can we have a one-state solution where everyone can live equally? Some are starting to wonder.”

He added: “I will not accept a one-state solution. I will not accept apartheid. We want a two-state solution based on international legitimacy.”

Abbas also renewed the call for an international peace conference.

“We have never missed an opportunity to hold serious negotiations with the Israeli side,” he said. “We have constructively engaged with all initiatives. They say Palestine does not want peace or negotiations but we say we extend our hands to peace because peace will only be able to be achieved through negotiations and negotiations alone.

“But has Netanyahu ever agreed to negotiations behind closed doors on a bilateral basis, a multilateral basis? He never accepted any negotiations. We have both received several invitations from several countries to meet and start the negotiation process. He has rejected that.”

Abbas went on to denounce terrorism and political violence, specifically referencing the recent attacks on two oil fields in Saudi Arabia that have provoked an international confrontation with Iran.

“We affirm our firm position and condemnation against terrorism,” he said. “We always say we can relinquish anything, but we will never relinquish our fight against terrorism. We have adopted a protocol alongside more than 80 countries to combat terrorism around the world.

“We condemn the recent attacks against the oil facilities in Saudi Arabia. We stand with the Kingdom and we support its decisions and position.”

Jordanian Foreign Minister Safadi echoed many of points made by Abbas and said Jordan has been encouraged by the announcement by many UN members that they will recommit to funding the UN Relief and Works Agency, which provides assistance to Palestinian refugees. He added that political rhetoric from candidates during the recent Israeli campaign that they will annex the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank has caused great concern in Jordan.

“The path to a solution is clear,” he said. “Comprehensive peace is a strategic Arab choice. We want a peace to be lasting and to be comprehensive and it has to address the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people.

“We have a peace treaty with Israel…but statements about plans to annex a third of the West Bank will affect the treaty. We are committed to our peace treaty. We are committed to peace. Our region does not need more conflict and more crisis. We remain committed but what we need to look at is the overall picture. The overall picture has not been very promising.

“How do we go forward? How do we create hope? How do we create credible and serious negotiations for the two-state solution? … Lack of progress on the Palestinian front affects all of this. We are committed to peace but peace has to be comprehensive.”

Several heads of state talked at the UN about the need to recognize Palestine and pursue a two-state solution, including Bulgarian President Rumen Radev. He also denounced the rise in antisemitism and proudly described how his country resisted the Nazi persecution of Jews during World War II.

Dick Cheney: Upcoming decade bleak if US adopts ‘disengagement’ policy

Updated 10 December 2019

Dick Cheney: Upcoming decade bleak if US adopts ‘disengagement’ policy

  • Former US vice president sounds warning during panel discussion on ‘The global order 2030’
  • Remarks seen as indirect criticism of President Trump’s pledge to pull forces out of Syria

DUBAI: Dick Cheney, one of the most influential vice presidents in US history, has warned that “American disengagement” from the Middle East would only benefit Iran and Russia.

The 78-year-old politician’s warning came during a speech at the Arab Strategy Forum (ASF) in Dubai, an annual event in which the world’s leading decision-makers address global challenges and opportunities in “a precise, balanced and politically scientific manner.”

Cheney’s remarks could be seen as indirect criticism of US President Donald Trump’s pledges to pull forces out of northern Syria.

Addressing conference delegates, he cited the withdrawal of US troops from Syria and the 2015 lifting of sanctions against Iran during Barack Obama’s presidency, as events that amplified instability in the region.

“Our allies were left abandoned, and no one wants to feel that way again,” said Cheney, who was chief executive of Halliburton between 1995 and 2000 and held high posts in several Republican administrations.

The former VP’s remarks came during the forum’s concluding session titled, “The global order 2030: The Unites States and China,” which was attended by Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum.

Joined by Li Zhaoxing, a former Chinese foreign minister, in a candid panel discussion, Cheney offered his views on the world order in the next decade within the context of Iran’s regional ascendancy, China’s rise and Russian ambitions in the Middle East.

“I am not here to speak on behalf of the US government, or to speak to it,” Cheney said, adding that his talking points reflected concerns he suspected everyone shared.

“For decades, there’s been a consensus of America’s influence in the world and how to use it,” he said, citing instances where US disengagement had caused the political situation in the Middle East to implode.

“Humanity has benefited from America’s protectionism of the world and its relationship with its allies in the region.”

According to him, the upcoming decade would be bleak should the US adopt a disengagement policy, with the pressures most felt by supporters and partners in the Middle East.

Turning to the role that the US and China would play in the global status quo by 2030, Cheney said there were still concerns over China’s reputation.

“We had hoped that there would be a political evolution in China, but that hasn’t happened yet,” he added.

Li said: “China will never learn from a world superpower and will never try to be hegemonic,” citing as examples China’s strong relations with the UAE and the wider Arab world, and the impact of the Belt and Road Initiative (a global development strategy) on Chinese foreign policy.

“History is the best teacher, but the US has forgotten its own history. You don’t keep your promises,” added Li, directing his statement at Cheney.

Cheney said that since the end of the Cold War, the US had expected that its policy toward China would have had a beneficial effect on its behavior and helped to deepen bilateral relations.

“It was disappointing to see that these expectations were not borne out – China has only grown richer, the regime has become more oppressive, and instead of evolving, it became more assertive,” he said.

In a separate ASF meeting at the Ritz-Carlton, Dubai International Financial Center, Karim Sadjadpour, senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank, discussed Iran’s policies in a session titled, “The race for relevance and influence in the region: GCC, Iran, Turkey and Russia.”

Sadjadpour said he expected in the next 10 years to see the arrival of “an Iranian Putin” with a military background as the country’s next leader.

“After 40 years of a clerical regime and a military autocracy, there is now a rise of Persian nationalism. This is a shift from the sheer revolution ideology,” he said.

Sadjadpour said there had been an evolution of “Shiite Arab” identity during the past two decades, with the focus more on religion than nationality.

Under the circumstances, he noted that Sunni Arab powers had an important role to play in welcoming Shiite Arabs into their fold “and luring them away from Iran.”

The analyst added that the future of the Arab world could not be explored and forecast without considering a growing mental health crisis. “Today, hundreds of millions of people in the region suffer from PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and the effects of this will be with us for decades to come, resulting in issues like radicalism.”

He said there was a need for training thousands of counselors in the field of mental health in order to reach out to those whose lives had been robbed by extreme violence and conflicts.