Abbas warns Security Council, Palestinians could become ‘refugees or terrorists in Europe’

Written by Allison Deger | Published on: February 22, 2018
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas said yesterday at the United Nations Security Council that President Donald Trump had harmed prospects for peacemaking when he made the “dangerous” and “unlawful” decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December. It was Abbas’ first speech with senior White House officials in attendance since communication with U.S. negotiators abruptly ended nearly three months ago, although both sides have disparaged the other in that period.
Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Observer State of Palestine, addresses the Security Council on the situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian situation, February 20, 2018. (Photo: UN Photo/Manuel Elias)

Abbas told the UN ambassadors he met with the Trump “four times in 2017” and “repeatedly reaffirmed” his commitment to a two-state solution. “Yet this administration has not clarified its position. Is it for the two-State solution, or for one-State?” Abbas questioned.

Yet Abbas, however frustrated with the U.S., told the Security Council he is not ready to part ways.

The Palestinian leadership has sought in recent years an international team of negotiators in which the U.S. is but one of many foreign government brokering a deal with Israel. Palestinians hope international involvement will give them a better agreement than working with the U.S. alone.

Abbas then called for an international conference taking place “mid-2018” in Moscow. He outlined principles tied to previous UN resolutions and commitments signed by both Israel and the Palestinians: mutual recognition between Israel and a state of Palestine based on 1967 lines with East Jerusalem as a Palestinian capital, a halt to settlement growth, “minimal land swaps, in equal value and ratio,” a “just and agreed solution for the Palestine refugees,” and “halting transfer of the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.”

Abbas included an off-the-cuff warning for Europe on the issue of honoring international law, guaranteeing Palestinian refugees the right to return. Abbas said, “It’s either that or they will become refugees and terrorists in Europe.”

The conference will be a second of its kind. A similar summit was held in France in January 2017. The U.S. and Israel boycotted the meeting.

While speeches were still on-going in New York, Palestinian commentators in Ramallah began criticizing Abbas for re-playing his strategy. Abbas’ former advisor Diana Buttu said his “address was yet another iteration of speeches long ago, in which he once again implored the world to convene an international conference to address Palestinian rights.”

In Washington, Zaha Hassan, an attorney and fellow at New America who was a legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team from 2010 to 2012 said, “The best Abbas can hope for is that the world will not break ranks and join the U.S. in twisting international law and principles to Israel’s will.”

“The help Abbas seeks will have to be led from Palestinians themselves, not from outside,” she added.

After Abbas spoke, UN ambassador Nikki Haley addressed the Security Council, saying: “The Palestinian leadership has a choice to make between two different paths.” Abbas can resume pre-talks with the Trump administration, or choose a “path of absolutist demands, hateful rhetoric, and incitement to violence.”
She went on: “Our negotiators are sitting right behind me, ready to talk. But we will not chase after you. The choice, Mr. President, is yours.”

The White House envoys Jason Greenblatt and Jared Kushner, who is Donald Trump’s son-in-law, do not usually attend this forum, but they were seated nearby.

Haley also took a moment to address Palestinian official Saeb Erekat, who a month earlier told her to “shut up” in an interview.

“I will not shut up,” she emphatically stated, “Rather, I will respectfully speak some hard truths.”

When Israel’s ambassador to the UN Danny Danon took the microphone to speak, Abbas got up and walked out the exit. “I expected Mr. Abbas to stay with us and have a dialogue unfortunately he is once again running away,” Danon said, later affirming, “The only way to move forward is with direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians.” 

Later in the day White House spokesperson Josh Raffel who deals with the Middle East portfolio issued a statement that the Trump administration “will continue working on our plan which is designed to benefit both the Israeli and Palestinian people. We will present it when it is done and the time is right.”
Raffel noticeably had a few positive words on Abbas. “[H]is recognition that Jerusalem is holy to Jews in addition to Muslims and Christians is a step in the right direction.”

A veteran peace processor also praised the speech.