The old political shibboleth "That may be what I said but it's not what I meant" could well apply to Mahmoud Abbas's UN appearance last month. He gave an impassioned speech from the podium, waiving the formal "Application of Palestine for admission to membership in the United Nations" and declaring his desire to live in peace with the State of Israel.
But what Abbas said in his UN speech and what he wrote in his membership application appear to be two different things, according to a close examination of the two documents by Robbie Sabel, a professor of international law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
The oration may have been "a vitriolic diatribe against Israel," but it also contained "an historic renunciation of Palestinian territorial claims beyond the June 4, 1967 borders, with Al-Quds Al-Sharif as its capital," Sabel said. Here's a sampling:
"The goal of the Palestinian people is the realization of their inalienable national rights in their independent State of Palestine, with East Jerusalem as its capital, on all the land of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, which Israel occupied in the June 1967 war."
The actual written application – signed "Mahmoud Abbas, President of the State of Palestine, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization" – said something very different. For starters, it "makes no reference whatsoever to the 1967 lines or to borders of the Palestinian state," Sabel wrote in a publication of the International Institute for National Strategic Studies of Tel Aviv University.
The application opens by declaring the submission for membership is based on two documents:
"UN General Assembly resolution 181 (II) of 29 November 1947 as well as the Declaration of Independence of the State of Palestine of 15 November 1988."
An attached annex states "the vast majority of the international community" has recognized "the State of Palestine on the basis of the 4 June 1967 borders, with East Jerusalem as its capital." But, Sabel points out, Abbas' letter "makes no statement as to what the Palestinians themselves see as their border." However, the references to Resolution 181, the 1967 Partition plan, "bear no relation to the 1967 borders," he noted, and was "rejected at the time by the Palestinians and all the Arab states."
Sabel points out that "The 1947 UN partition plan recommended borders that inter alia gave nearly the whole of the Galillee and Beer Sheba to a proposed Arab state and excluded Jerusalem from both the Arab and Jewish states."
Abbas also tied his declaration to implementation of U.N. Resolution 194, adopted in 1948, which calls for the right of refugees to "return to their homes"
Are Palestinians finally ready to accept the 1947 Partition, and what does it really mean?