Analysis |

With No Hope or Vision, Mahmoud Abbas Knows His UN Speech May Be His Last

In a tired and frustrated speech at the United Nations General Assembly, Palestinian President Abbas offered a historical survey of Palestinian suffering and impatience, and sounded like a leader who knows he has run out of time to offer any game-changing solutions

Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury
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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, on Friday.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly, on Friday.Credit: Julia Nikhinson/AP
Jack Khoury
Jack Khoury

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' speech at the United Nations General Assembly last week was very emotive. The Palestinian leader, who was there at every major crossroad of Palestinian history – from the Nakba in 1948, through the defeat of 1967, to the Oslo Accords in 1993 – took to the podium at the general assembly and called upon the world again and again: end the occupation.

Abbas was lucid and focused, but his speech belied clear signs of aging like heavy breathing, alongside the agitation and cynicism typical of elderly people who have tired of repeating themselves over and over again. Anyone familiar with Abbas's speeches over the last 17 years would have easily identified the different tone in the 87-year-old's voice. His words betrayed the sense that here was a man no longer sure that he would be standing at the same podium in a year's time.

This is why he chose to present a general overview of the Palestinian issue, appealing to the hearts of Palestinians as a leader who stands up for their national interests. At the same time he was appealing to other Arab leaders and to the international community as a whole, emphasizing that the Palestinians will not take directives from anyone who offers solutions that go against those very national interests – whether their name is Yasser Arafat, Mahmoud Abbas, or anyone who takes his place.

In his speech, the Palestinian president mentioned UN resolution 181 regarding the 1947 Partition Plan, the events of the Nakba and the present day realities of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, along with the consequences of the Oslo Accords.

The historical survey covered every important aspect of the Palestinian narrative, including the refugee question, resolution 194 regarding the Palestinian right of return, the issue of Palestinian political prisoners and the obligations the PA has towards them, and of course, Jerusalem and the holy sites. Abbas didn't fail to mention the killing of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in Jenin this past May.

The Office of the President in Ramallah emphasized that mentioning the Nakba in the speech was no accident. Next year Israel will celebrate 75 years of independence and in Palestine we will commemorate the Nakba, Abbas' aides said. If you don't want to talk about 1967, then let's talk about 1948. If you don't want two states, then let there be one state.

Nonetheless, and despite sounding angry and despairing, Abbas did not deliver any game-changing statements. Beyond announcing that Palestine will seek to join international organizations as a full member, he repeated his threats to annul Palestinian recognition of Israel, but did not mention a specific timeline. Abbas also held the line regarding his commitment to non-violent struggle. "We are your partners," he said to the members present at the Assembly. "We will not resort to violence, and we will fight against terrorism". He added that Palestine will demand accountability and justice from the International Criminal Court and other UN organizations.

Abbas's speech did not contain any surprising or ground-breaking political announcements. The average Palestinian in Gaza or the West Bank – or even in a refugee camp and the diaspora – would not have heard anything they didn't already know, but rather a description of the bleak reality crystallized in the ills of the occupation and apartheid.

Admittedly, towards the end of his speech, Abbas adopted a conciliatory tone and spoke positively about U.S. President Biden and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid's statements regarding the two-state solution, but he knows all too well that the Palestinians are tired of empty statements and yearn for concrete action.

As far as Abbas is concerned, there is no need for a new peace plan or any additional pathways and road maps. Everything is already on the table, and what is required is for Israel, and the international community led by the United States, to make a strategic decision to stop merely managing the conflict and end it for good.

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