By ramping up the incendiary rhetoric with accusations of Israeli racism, ethnic cleansing, targeted assassinations, waging a war of aggression, apartheid and threatening Islamic holy places, Mahmoud Abbas was fanning the flames of a Third Intifada he claims he doesn’t want.
The Palestinian president spoke of "Al Naqba," the catastrophe, the Palestinian term for the creation of the state of Israel. And he spoke of ending 63 years of occupation. Since Israel has occupied the West Bank for only the past 44 years, Abbas appears to be saying, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu observed, that he considers all of pre-1967 Israel to be occupied Palestine as well.
There was very little conciliatory in his United Nations speech or in statements, as when he said any changes in borders is "totally unacceptable." He had earlier declared, "We shall not recognize a Jewish state," and "we won’t agree to the presence of one Israeli" in Palestine.
He declared he would not return to the peace table without a "complete cessation of all settlement activity" and as long as the occupation army is on the ground.
That puts him in conflict with the Middle East Quartet– the United States, United Nations, European Union and Russia – which just hours later called for the immediate resumption of unconditional talks.
The Quartet announced late Friday afternoon its members had agreed among themselves on terms for restarting the negotiations. It issued an "urgent appeal" to the Israelis and Palestinians to "overcome the current obstacles and resume direct bilateral" talks "without delay or preconditions."
Netanyahu earlier told the General Assembly he was ready for unconditional talks and offered to begin right way since both leaders were already in New York.
As of late Friday afternoon there was no word from either the Israelis or the Palestinians about the Quartet statement.
In his speech to the UN, Abbas stated he would he drop his power-sharing agreement with Hamas, which the United States and Israel consider a major obstacle to peace. Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organization by many countries, controls Gaza and has told the PLO leader that it would not be safe for him to visit there.
Abbas billed his address as an effort to advance the peace process, but if so, he is advancing to the rear. It was a serious setback in the stridency of his rhetoric, the hardening of his preconditions for talks and his vow of no more compromises. He has flatly refused any recognition of Israel as the Jewish state.
He endorsed the two-state solution, renounced violence and said he is committed to peace, but that seemed overshadowed by the harsh rhetoric of most of his speech. Even when he condemned terrorism, he did so in reference to Israeli settlers not Palestinian extremists.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice conspicuously refused to applaud when Abbas finished speaking.
Read JTA’s analysis of the Abbas and Netanyahu speeches.
Abbas’ most enthusiastic applause came when he held aloft a copy of the formal request for Palestinian membership in the UN, declaring, "The time has come."
An hour or so later, Netanyahu described the U.N. as "a theater of the absurd" when it came to dealing with Israel, and told the General Assembly, "The truth is the Palestinians want a state without peace."
Thousands of Palestinians rallied across the West Bank Friday as Abbas called on the UN to admit Palestine as its 195th member state. Abbas had urged that demonstrations be kept peaceful, but with passions and tensions running high, television cameras fully deployed and the Palestinian leader’s inflammatory rhetoric being broadcast on loudspeakers, the danger of extremists on both sides turning the gatherings violent was very real.