UNITED NATIONS — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said Friday that hope of peace with Israel was “waning,” as the annual gathering of world leaders at the United Nations took a brief foray from the dominating issue of the war in Ukraine.
Speaking a day after the Israeli prime minister, Abbas delivered a pessimistic assessment of diplomacy, saying a “frantic campaign to confiscate our lands” persisted in the generations-long dispute, while the military “are killing the Palestinian people in broad daylight” with impunity.
“Our confidence in achieving a peace based on justice and international law is waning, due to the Israeli occupation policies,” he said. “Do you want to kill what remains of hope in our souls?”
Israel’s military occupation of the West Bank is now in its 55th year. The last substantial round of peace talks ended in 2009, and critics say growing Israeli settlements in the West Bank and elsewhere undermine any hopes for a two-state solution. The Palestinians seek all of the West Bank, home to some 500,000 Israeli settlers, along with Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem and the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, for a future state.
Israel’s prime minister repeated Thursday that he supports a two-state solution — but there is almost no prospect for one in the near term. And Yair Lapid also said militants in Gaza must stop firing rockets into Israel.
After three days of debate in which many world leaders’ criticisms of the U.N. were focused on Russia’s seat on the Security Council and the veto power it wields, Abbas shifted the attention to the power of Israel and its allies, which he said meant no matter how many hundreds of resolutions pass, none would be implemented.
“Do you know who is protecting Israel from being held accountable? The United Nations,” he said. “Why these double standards? Why don’t they treat us equally with the others?”
Israel, in turn, has complained that it has been treated unfairly by the world body and has been held to a different standard from other member states, for example when it comes to complaints about human rights violations.
Abbas has staked his political legitimacy abroad and at home on his commitment to a negotiated peace deal with Israel. But main broker between the sides, the U.S., has opted over the past decade for conflict management over pushing for a revival of negotiations. Such a push would have required, among other things, pressure on Israel to halt settlements on occupied lands — something successive U.S. administrations have shied from.
Abbas is in the 18th year of what should have been a four-year term and does not seem to have an alternative to the idea of a negotiated peace deal. If he were to walk away, something he has threatened in the past, he might quickly lose international support at a time when he is deeply unpopular at home.
Delegates who sat through 106 speeches in the first three days of general debate girded for 35 more Friday. Besides the Palestinian leader, men representing two other geopolitical hot spots remained: Pakistan and Iraq.
They posed the potential of briefly shifting rhetoric from a week dominated by talk of war in Ukraine.
That conflict loomed over much of the diplomatic chatter as major battlefield developments buffeted the week – nuclear threats by Russian President Vladimir Putin, the activation of some military reservists and votes in Russian-held territories derided by many world leaders and seen as a prelude to annexation.
Russia and Ukraine faced off Thursday at a Security Council meeting — an extraordinary if brief encounter during which the top diplomats from nations at war were in the same room exchanging barbs and accusations, albeit not directly to each other.
Meanwhile, on Friday, a team of experts commissioned by the U.N.’s top human rights body, said its initial investigation turned up evidence of war crimes committed in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion.
Besides Ukraine, familiar refrains have resounded in U.N. speeches, with repeated mentions of climate change, economic crises, inequality. The gathering is a rare moment for many leaders to grab the spotlight on a global stage dominated by the biggest, richest and most military mighty countries.
“The obligation of each leader before history is not to overlook failings and shortcomings in favor of wishful thinking or flattery,” President Nicos Anastasiades of Cyprus said Friday in his final General Assembly speech as leader of the Mediterranean island nation.
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