UNITED NATIONS -- Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday declared that he will no longer be bound by the 1993 Oslo Accords between Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories, citing Israel's failure to uphold its obligations under the peace agreement.
"Our patience for a long time has come to an end," Abbas told the U.N. General Assembly. "Israel has left us no choice but to insist that we will not remain the only ones committed to the implementation of those agreements while Israel continuously violates them."
Abbas wrote in a blog post for The WorldPost on Tuesday that he had held "high hopes" after the signing of the Oslo Accords, which facilitated Israeli-Palestinian security cooperation and laid out a road map for a complete Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank by 1998.
Far from withdrawing, however, Israel has exponentially expanded settlements in Area C, the portion of the West Bank controlled by the Israeli government. At the U.N. on Wednesday, Abbas slammed the settlements as a key obstacle to peace.
"Is it not time to end the racist, terrorist, colonialist settlement of our land, which is destroying the two-state solution?" he asked. "Is it not time for the longest occupation in history, suffocating our people, to come to an end?"
The implications of Abbas’ announcement are not yet clear. In a sense, the Oslo Accords have been lapsed since the Israeli government's failure to withdraw its citizens by 1998, and both parties have recognized there will ultimately need to be a new agreement to achieve a two-state solution.
The news likely represents a desperate attempt by Abbas to force action on an increasingly intractable conflict. “Basically, this was an ultimatum [to Israel]," said Grant Rumley, a research analyst who focuses on Palestinian affairs at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “Honor your agreements and change the status quo, or we’ll consider more drastic steps.”
Diana Buttu, a former advisor to Abbas who is now a Ramallah-based analyst, described the speech as an acknowledgement by the aging leader that his once-celebrated peace agreement was a failure. "He is, after all, one of the architects of the Oslo Accords and he finally admitted that he has not only failed, but that the Oslo accords brought disaster upon the Palestinian people," she said.
"Abbas's awakening that Oslo has failed comes 20 years too late. For decades, Palestinians have lived under an apartheid regime that was cemented by Oslo," Buttu added.
Abbas called on the Israeli government to “assume full responsibility as an occupying power” in his remarks on Wednesday, suggesting he is considering halting security cooperation with the Israelis and potentially disbanding the Palestinian Authority.
More broadly, the nullification of the Oslo Accords is an indication that Abbas has given up on working towards statehood through direct talks with the Israeli government. “It is no longer useful to waste time in negotiations for the sake of negotiations,” he said at the U.N. “What is required is to mobilize international efforts to oversee an end to the occupation in line with the resolutions of international legitimacy.”
Since Palestine gained non-member observer status in the United Nations in 2012, the Palestinian president's strategy in the campaign for statehood has transitioned from direct negotiations with the Israelis to seeking recognition and legitimacy from international organizations.
Immediately after the collapse of the most recent round of peace talks in 2014, Abbas filed paperwork to join 15 international conventions. Months later, he made a bid to join the International Criminal Court. The Palestinians have asked the court to investigate alleged Israeli war crimes committed during last summer’s Gaza War and in its expansion of settlements.
The latest bid for international recognition occurred Tuesday, just after Abbas’ speech, when the Palestinian flag was raised at the U.N. headquarters for the first time. Hundreds of reporters and attendees at the General Assembly crowded around a flagpole in the U.N.’s Rose Garden, just a few feet away from a piece of the Berlin Wall. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon lauded the ceremony as “a day of pride for Palestinians around the world,” and a reminder that “symbols can lead to action in the right situation.”
The ceremony was the result of a General Assembly vote earlier this month, which granted non-member observer states the right to fly their flags at the U.N. But some in the crowd noted that the vote had limited tangible effects.
“When I heard that the United Nations was going to raise the flag, I was like, so what does that mean? It’s long overdue. It’s something that was supposed to happen six decades ago,” said Luma Diab, a 26-year-old Palestinian who traveled to the U.N. as part of a group representing the Qatari foundation Education Above All. “But, I have to acknowledge that this is a step forward,” she said, adding that she hopes to see the U.N. take action to restrict the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
But 19-year-old Anas Ghanim, also a member of the Qatari group, said seeing the flag gave him hope. “It’s a step closer to peace in Palestine and it’s a victory for those who lost their lives for this moment," he said.
The U.S. was one of just eight of the 193 U.N. member states to vote against the resolution that allowed the Palestinians to raise their flag.
In explaining her vote to reporters, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Samantha Power acknowledged that the status quo in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories is unsustainable, but suggested that the Palestinian efforts at the U.N. are an attempt to "shortcut" a two-state solution.
Israel, which also voted against the resolution, slammed the Palestinian move as a disingenuous public relations stunt. "The Palestinians managed to take cynicism to a whole new level. The goal of this resolution is a photo op,” Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Ron Prosor told Israeli reporters after the vote. "The Palestinians want to bring together world dignitaries and the media to gather around and watch as [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas] Abu Mazen raises a flag. They plan to use the prestige of the U.N. as a backdrop for this charade.”
In what may be of some comfort to Prosor, the ceremony occurred during a windless moment in the afternoon, causing the flag to initially rest limply against the pole. “A little wind would be nice,” remarked one of several photographers in the crowd, vying for a dramatic shot of the flag.