In his annual speech to the U.N. General Assembly, Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas warned that if Israel annexed the Jordan Valley, the Palestinians would cancel all agreements with it. He failed to elaborate on the practical significance of such a step—for example, the P.A.’s very existence is the result of such an agreement.
The Palestinian leader further cautioned that the continued treading of water in efforts to forge peace on the basis of a two-state solution based upon the 1967 borders would exacerbate the sense of desperation among the Palestinian public and increase its willingness to support a one-state solution. Abbas again rejected the as-yet unreleased U.S. peace plan, as well as the possibility of Washington serving as a mediator in talks between Israel and the Palestinians.
The Palestinian leader attacked recent moves by both Israel and the United States, and promised his people would continue its fight against the occupation with all means at its disposal, including popular struggle.
Yet Abbas also reiterated his call to hold an international peace conference, and his unwavering commitment to fighting terrorism. In an attempt to challenge Hamas and deal with criticism over the lack of democracy in the Palestinian territories, Abbas promised to work towards holding elections in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and eastern Jerusalem. The initiative’s chances are slim, to say the least.
Abbas’s remarks, which were less acerbic in tone than those he made in previous addresses to the General Assembly, reflected a concern over the ineffectiveness of his policies and the sidelining of the Palestinian issue from the international, regional and Israeli agendas.
It is also nevertheless evident from such remarks that he does not intend to bend as far as his fundamental positions on the conflict are concerned. This was given clear expression in Abbas’s stated enthusiastic commitment to continue paying salaries to Palestinian terrorists and their families, despite the fact that Israel has deducted this amount from the tax revenues it transfers to Ramallah.
While there’s nothing new about this declaration, Abbas’s decision to repeat it in a major international forum is indicative of his commitment to the expectations of the Palestinian street, as he perceives and shapes it.
In practice, despite the cuts in the transferred funds, the P.A. continues to pay these terrorist salaries as usual. According to the P.A. budget implementation report for 2019, the P.A. transferred $79 million in payments—i.e., salaries—and another $22 million in “social” payments to families, family expenses, medical-insurance coverage and legal expenses, among other things. In total, the P.A. Prisoner Affairs Ministry spent some $105 million on these terrorist payments.
These numbers reveal that the P.A.’s payments to terrorists in 2019 were similar in scope to those made the previous year. The significance of this is that despite increasing pressure, the Palestinians are sticking to their guns, as it were, and as a result, the chances of the P.A. becoming a partner for peace under Abbas’s leadership continue to be slim to none.
Brig. Gen. (res.) Yossi Kuperwasser is director of the Project on Regional Middle East Developments at the Jerusalem Center. He formerly served as director general of the Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs and head of the research division of IDF Military Intelligence.
This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.