Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday used a keynote speech at the United Nations in New York to assert that Israel was an “obstruction” to the “cohesive development of all peoples” in the Middle East, drawing a sharp rebuke from the Jewish state’s ambassador to the world body.
Abbas was speaking as the “State of Palestine” — officially a “non-member observer state” at the UN since 2012 — assumed the chairmanship from Egypt of a bloc of 134 states at the UN that purports to represent the “collective economic interests ” of the world’s developing nations. Still known as the “Group of 77 (G-77)” after the number of states that originally founded it in 1964, the bloc includes several nations that do not recognize Israel’s right to exist, including Iran, Syria and Iraq.
In remarks in which he addressed the G-77’s main concerns in only the most general terms, Abbas took care to attack Israel whenever he found the right opening to do so.
“Palestine cannot be an exception,” Abbas stated, during a passage of his speech that discussed sustainable development goals. “We also suffer under the yoke of a foreign occupation.”
Abbas went on to condemn Israel’s “colonization and occupation of the ‘State of Palestine,'” accusing the Jewish state of “obstructing cohesive development for all peoples of the region.”
Abbas’s latter observation drew a swift reaction from Israeli Ambassador to the UN Danny Danon.
“As the United Nations very well knows from all of the development work Israel does, Israel is not what undermines development but actually helps it,” Danon told The Algemeiner following Abbas’ speech.
The ambassador continued: “Instead, it is the Palestinian Authority that undermines its own capacity and development. The PA should stop spending 7 percent of its annual budget on inciting and paying terrorist salaries, and instead use it to develop its infrastructure and help its people.”
The PA spent $355 million of international donors’ money in 2017 on paying salaries and other benefits to convicted or “martyred” terrorists and their families. The US Congress passed legislation in 2018 suspending US aid to the PA until there was a verifiable end to the practice, which critics argue both incentivizes and legitimizes Palestinian terrorism against Israelis.
While Abbas touched on several critical human rights issues during his speech — including child labor, slavery and human trafficking — he was at his most detailed when specifying the PA’s demands of Israel. Advocating the creation of a Palestinian state with its capital in eastern Jerusalem, Abbas emphasized that this outcome would necessarily involve “the just resolution of final status issues, including our refugees and prisoners.” At no point did the Palestinian leader discuss any of the other challenges to sustainable development in the Middle East, such as the unprecedented refugee crisis generated by the displacement of over 13 million Syrians — among them 400,000 Palestinians — during a civil war that has raged since 2011.
While it is difficult to detect the influence of the G-77 beyond the halls of the UN, the pivotal role entrusted to the “State of Palestine” with its 2019 chairmanship will likely be presented by the PA as another milestone in its bid to gain full membership of the UN, irrespective of the progress of peace negotiations with Israel. Full membership in the UN for any prospective state requires a vote of the UN Security Council, where any Palestinian bid would almost certainly encounter a US veto.