Palestinian leader goes to the UN but has to live without a resolution

Abbas was critical of Trump but seemed to be looking for excuses for the US president.
Friday 14/02/2020
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L) and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert after a news conference in New York, February 11. (AFP)
Split vision. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (L) and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert after a news conference in New York, February 11. (AFP)

LONDON - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged the UN Security Council to reject US President Donald Trump's Middle East peace proposal but, contrary to plans, dropped calls for a resolution backing Palestinian demands.

The draft resolution, which faced a near-certain US veto, did not go forward because it did not provide the Palestinians with enough support to isolate the United States, diplomats at the United Nations said.

One diplomat told Agence France-Presse (AFP) the draft had 11 or 12 votes in favour on the 15-member council. A second diplomat said it would have required too many compromises to achieve the 14-1 vote the Palestinians may have sought.

The draft resolution circulated by Tunisia and Indonesia would have criticised Trump's plan, including Israel's retention of Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Abbas said the US peace plan did not offer a viable Palestinian state. "This is the state that they will give us," he said. "It's like Swiss cheese, really. Who among you will accept a similar state and similar conditions?"

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu rejected the criticism saying: "This is not Swiss cheese. This is the best plan that exists for the Middle East and for the state of Israel and for the Palestinians, too."

Abbas urged Trump to disavow the plan and return to negotiations that consider existing UN resolutions calling for a two-state solution based on pre-1967 borderlines. He described the US plan as an attempt to impose US and Israeli conditions for a settlement. "If you impose peace it will not last, it cannot last," Abbas said.

The Palestinians won support from the Arab League, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and the African Union.

The four EU members of the Security Council -- France, Germany, Belgium and Estonia -- along with Poland, which left the council at the end of last year, said any Middle East solution needed to be based on lines before 1967, when Israel seized the West Bank in the Six-Day War. Trump's plan "departs from these internationally agreed parameters," they said.

The European Union did not issue a statement among all members because of resistance from a handful of countries, including Hungary, led by right-wing populist Viktor Orban.

In New York, Abbas appeared beside Netanyahu's predecessor Ehud Olmert to assail the US peace plan. The joint appearance weakened the arguments of hardliners in the Middle East who sought to use the criticism of the peace plan to buttress rejectionist stances.

Olmert said any negotiations needed to involve the Palestinian leader.

"It will take some time but these negotiations will take place and the partner of Israel to these negotiations will be Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority," Olmert said.

Olmert is close to Benny Gantz who went neck and neck with Netanyahu in two inconclusive elections last year. A third vote is scheduled for March 2. Olmert, however, said he was not speaking for Gantz.

Abbas was critical of Trump but seemed to be looking for excuses for the US president. "I do not know who gave him this advice. The President Trump I met was not like that," Abbas said.

Although careful not to offend the US administration by pressing for immediate annexation of settlements, Netanyahu said preparations for implementation of parts of the US plan green-lighting annexation required more work.

Experts said the next stage in any talks about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict will have to wait until after Israeli elections and probably also after Abbas is replaced as Palestinian leader.

The plan "is not something that was channelled towards Abu Mazen (Abbas’s nom de guerre) but towards his successor who we don't know yet who he is," Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Centre for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University, told AFP.

Yair Lapid, a partner of Gantz in the Blue and White alliance, told AFP he agreed the plan may only win Palestinian acceptance once Abbas is gone. "We may have to wait for the post-Abu Mazen era," said Lapid, tipped as a possible foreign minister if Gantz forms the next government.

On the Palestinian side, the "post-Abu Mazen era" will have to reckon with shifting public opinion and with the ability of any new Palestinian leader to fashion a convincing vision that could serve as a basis for negotiations.

A poll in the Palestinian territories indicated support for a two-state solution with Israel has dropped to its lowest level in nearly three decades, with 39% of respondents saying they were in favour and 59% stating opposition.

Support for a one-state solution, long rejected by both Israeli and Palestinian leaders, jumped from 28% in December to 37%, the poll said. Poll results said 64% of Palestinians favour a return to armed struggle in response to the plan.

(With news agencies)