Mahmoud Abbas in the European Parliament: Demands end to occupation but fails to reach out to Israel
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Mahmoud Abbas in the European Parliament: Demands end to occupation but fails to reach out to Israel

photo credit: European Parliament
photo credit: European Parliament

Palestine’s president Mahmoud Abbas made a passionate speech for ending the occupation and establishing an independent Palestinian state when he addressed the European Parliament (23 June).

His speech in the European Parliament followed the speech on the previous day by the Israeli president Reuven Rivlin. Like Rivlin, Abbas was greeted with applause and received a standing ovation after finishing his speech, given in Arabic.

However, if there had been a faint hope for a direct meeting in Brussels between the two presidents, as a first step in building trust between the two parties to the conflict – that hope wasn’t fulfilled. Abbas’ office reportedly stated that there was no need for another photo-op.

In his speech Abbas levelled harsh criticism against Israel. He claimed that Israel was guilty of unprecedented massacres in 1948, which had forced hundreds of thousands of people to flee, and of the longest occupation in contemporary history.

“We thought that the partition of Palestine was more or less fair,” he said, “but Israel took 78 % of the land and has since then occupied the rest of our country. Israel has turned our country to an open-air prison.”

“It’s time for our people to live in freedom, without walls and checkpoints,” Abbas urged and thanked the EU for supporting peace and justice and for helping to create an embryo Palestinian state.

“Since the Madrid conference (1991) and the Oslo agreements (1993), Israelis and Palestinians have not made much progress,” Abbas said correctly. “We are going around in circles in negotiations, which is negotiating for negotiating sake at the moment.”

The Oslo process failed, according to observers, because it dragged on in time and delayed the negotiation on the final-status issues to the end of the process. The process was repeatedly interrupted because of changes in governments, continued settlement building, violence and terror.

Are the lessons learned from recent failures to revive the peace process an “internationalization” of the peace efforts and a “quick fix” to the problems? That is apparently what Abbas hopes when he puts his faith in the recent French peace initiative launched on 3 June in Paris.

“We are grateful for their noble effort which should lead to an international peace conference by the end of this year with clear deadlines and monitoring arrangements,” Abbas said.

It’s understandable that Abbas and the Palestinians are yearning for a state of their own, with permanent borders, and that as soon as possible. He described a Palestinians state, with control of its own resources, limited as they are, that very quickly would develop its economy on its own.

Abbas might imagine that an international conference, if it indeed would take place against Israel’s protests, would release him from the need to negotiate directly with Israel. But that is not exactly what the Joint Communiqué after the ministerial Paris meeting in June said.

“The participants reaffirmed that a negotiated two-state solution is the only way to achieve an enduring peace, with two states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security.” The French ministry of foreign affairs explains that an “international conference will enable us to lay the foundations for relaunching the peace process.”

Abbas was unequivocal in his condemnation of terror. “We are on the same page as regards terrorism. We are against terrorism; let me make this clear, whatever form it may take and whoever carries it out,” he said and was applauded by the Parliament.

“The beginning of the problem of terrorism is the problems which exist in Palestine, and if this is solved, terrorism will end,” he promised. He is no doubt right that the root cause of terrorism in Israel/Palestine will disappear once the occupation ends and “there will be no pretexts for terrorism”.

However, telling the Parliament that “there will be no more terror in the Middle East and in the world” is unfounded, considering the rise of radical Islam and the sectarian wars in a number of Arab countries, without any link to the Israel – Palestinian conflict.

Abbas proposed a concrete idea – to revive the tripartite anti-incitement committee from 1998 (with Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the US), and to include the EU as member, to arbitrate between the two sides. The committee stopped working when the second intifada broke out in 2000.

After having lashed out against Israel, Abbas sent a brief message of peace to Israel: “Our hands are extended to peace. Do you have the same political will for peace?” He referred to known Israeli politicians and journalists who have warned of fascist tendencies in Israel.

Whether his hand will be taken remains to be seen. He has been more convincing in the past. One of the Israelis he referred to, former defense minister Ya’alon, who has announced his intention to run for the leadership of Israel in next elections, dismissed Abbas´ speech as manipulative – something he said he was used to in Israel as well.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s bureau released a brief statement saying that someone who refuses to meet the Israeli leaders for direct negotiations and spreads a blood libel in the European Parliament hardly is extending his hand in peace.  

In his speech Abbas, talking off the cuff, alleged that certain rabbis in Israel wanted to poison Palestinian water. According to Israeli opposition paper Haaretz (24 June), the allegation is a fabricated news item.

Perhaps the most positive outcome of the speeches in the European Parliament could be a common understanding for improving the situation on the ground to prevent more violence and pave the way for a permanent solution. Rivlin listed constructive measures “that can be done today” and Abbas outlined the blessings of an independent Palestinian state.

Of course this would require the unbiased support of the European Union.

M. Apelblat

The Brussels Times

Note: According to EU spokespersons no written English translation of Mahmoud Abbas’ speech is available – only a draft in Arabic. The speech was recorded and interpreted in the plenary. He did not take any questions at the press briefing with EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

Correction: Haaretz reported on 26 June that the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has retracted his allegation. According to a statement by the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, the claims of poisoning water, which were “reported by various media outlets, are “baseless.”