Mahmoud Abbas calls on UN to back deadline for Israeli withdrawal

Palestinian president accuses Israel of genocide in Gaza conflict and declares US-brokered peace process dead.

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has called on the United Nations security council to support a resolution setting a clear deadline for Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied territories as he in effect declared the US-sponsored Oslo peace process over.

In a hard-hitting speech to the UN general assembly in New York, he also accused Israel of “war crimes carried out before the eyes of the world” during the recent 50-day Gaza war that ended in a ceasefire on 26 August, adding that Israel had “perpetrated genocide”.

“We will not forget and we will not forgive, and we will not allow war criminals to escape punishment,” Abbas declared. Palestinian officials were expected to start working with members of the security council to seek backing for a resolution setting a timeframe for the ending of what he called the “racist and colonial” occupation – a resolution certain to be opposed by the US.

According to diplomatic sources, the proposed resolution has caused a rift with the US, which had been working for some months on another resolution with the Israelis, Jordanians and Qataris aimed at bolstering the Gaza ceasefire with an exchange of Palestinian security guarantees for some loosening of Israel’s economic stranglehold.

The official US reaction described the was comments as “offensive and deeply disappointing”.

State department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said: “Such provocative statements are counterproductive and undermine efforts to create a positive atmosphere and restore trust between the parties.”

Abbas’s speech drew a furious response from senior Israeli officials, with foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman describing it as “diplomatic terrorism”.

“Abu Mazen’s [a nickname for Abbas] statements to the UN general assembly clearly illustrate that he doesn’t want to be – and cannot be – a partner to a diplomatic settlement,” Lieberman said. “There’s a reason that Abu Mazen entered into a joint government with Hamas.”

He added: “Abu Mazen complements Hamas in that he is preoccupied with diplomatic terrorism and slanderous claims against Israel.”

Aides to Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu were also harsh in their condemnation. “Abbas’s speech was full of lies and incitement. This is not the way a man who wants peace speaks,” said one.

The White House later said that Barack Obama would host Netanyahu for a meeting on Wednesday to discuss Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians, the situation in Gaza, Iran nuclear talks, and the fight against Islamic State militants.

Even though the US holds the presidency of the security council, diplomats said the Abbas resolution would most probably find support from the nine council members necessary to pass. Only Britain, Australia and Lithuania would be expected to abstain, forcing the US to use its veto.

Although Abbas insisted Palestine was committed to “a just peace through a negotiated solution”, the moves underlined the frustration among Palestinians over US proprietorship of the peace process amid a new desire to internationalise efforts to secure a two-state solution.

Faced with a veto of the resolution, Palestinian sources say Abbas will accelerate moves to join UN and international bodies, including accession to the international criminal court.

In some of his strongest language to date, Abbas declared that the American-backed Israel-Palestinian peace process, which has dragged on for two decades, was dead, saying it was “impossible to return to negotiations”.

He said: “It is impossible, and I repeat – it is impossible – to return to the whirlwind cycle of negotiations that failed to deal with the substance of the matter and the fundamental question.

“There is neither credibility nor seriousness in negotiations in which Israel predetermines the results via its settlement activities and the occupation’s brutality.

“ There is no meaning or value in negotiations for which the agreed objective is not ending the Israeli occupation and achieving the independence of the state of Palestine with East Jerusalem as its capital on the entire Palestinian territory occupied in the 1967 war.

“And, there is no value in negotiations which are not linked to a firm timetable for the implementation of this goal.”

Instead, he accused Israel of planning “ghettos for Palestinians on fragmented land, without borders and without sovereignty over its airspace, water and natural resources, which will be under the subjugation of the racist settlers and army of occupation, and at worst will be a most abhorrent form of apartheid”.

Some observers had expected Abbas to go further and set a deadline of three years in his speech to the general assembly, a timeframe senior Palestinian sources say was never on the cards.

“We discussed different timeframes in our internal discussions from six months to three years, but without acceptance by the security council for the need for a deadline any time frame is meaningless.”

Abbas’s speech follows several weeks of intense diplomacy with Arab states that also saw him travel to France for bilateral talks. It also follows remarks by President Barack Obama in his own speech to the general assembly criticising the “too many Israelis ready to abandon the hard work of peace”.

The other main theme of his speech was the recent war in Gaza and his call for the long Israeli blockade of the coastal strip.

“This last war against Gaza was a series of absolute war crimes carried out before the eyes and ears of the entire world, moment by moment, in a manner that makes it inconceivable that anyone today can claim that they did not realise the magnitude and horror of the crime.

Putting the blame for the failure of the peace process squarely on Israel, Abbas continued: “Throughout the months of negotiations, settlement construction, land confiscations, home demolitions, killing and arrest campaigns, and forced displacement in the West Bank continued unabated and the unjust blockade on the Gaza Strip was tightened.

“The occupation’s campaign specifically targeted the City of Jerusalem and its inhabitants, attempting to artificially alter the spirit, identity and character of the Holy City, focusing on Al-Aqsa Mosque, threatening grave consequences. At the same time, racist and armed gangs of settlers persisted with their crimes against the Palestinian people, the land, mosques, churches, properties and olive trees.”