Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the Palestinian Authority, sticks to his well-known grievances. While Danny Danon, the Israeli ambassador to the United Nations, finger-points; Nikki Haley, the American envoy to the UN, warns everyone to stay off the topic of Jerusalem.
In the latest showdown on Palestine in the UN Security Council, which welcomed Abbas and other higher-ups to join in, some of the most powerful parties in the room pushed the two-state solution to the Palestine-Israeli conflict further into the abyss.
Yet outside the Council, reporters threw questions at ambassadors as they trickled out of the meeting about a possible peace plan announcement. The Russian ambassador, Vassily Nebenzia, paused to say that something was “cooking,” without elaborating.
Jared Kushner, who has been tasked by his father-in-law, President Trump, to broker a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians, attended the Council event with Jason Greenblatt, the White House envoy to the Middle East. When they exited the Council after spending hours in open and closed meetings, Kushner was asked if an announcement was imminent.
“Oh, yeah,” Kushner said, smiling and touching this reporter’s arm as if he were offering a condolence. When will it be announced, he was asked, responding, “When the time is right!”
It turns out that Kushner and Greenblatt told Council members in the closed session that they had a peace plan but provided no hints of what it entailed, according to a diplomat who was at the meeting. That did not stop the Americans from requesting that the Council agree to approve the plan when it comes out.
Abbas, who spoke at the open session before Israel and the United States took their turns, proposed to hold talks in an international forum, away from Washington, in mid-2018.
“We met with the President of the United States, Donald Trump, four times in 2017, and we have expressed our absolute readiness to reach a historic peace agreement,” Abbas said, after a history digression, starting with the Balfour Declaration of 1917.
“We repeatedly reaffirmed our position in accordance with international law, the relevant UN resolutions and the two-state solution on the basis of the 1967 borders. Yet this administration has not clarified its position.” (Abbas did not reveal what Trump said in the four meetings.)
Expressing more frustration, Abbas echoed what has confounded many people who track the Israeli-Palestinian conflict: Trump’s endorsement of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
The decision, announced in early December by Trump, not only contravenes international law under Security Council resolutions, but it has also shut down negotiations for a two-state solution to begin to mend the Middle East.
Indeed, despite hundreds of UN resolutions incorporating the goal of two independent states, for Palestine and for Israel, the opportunity is now unattainable, said a Middle East diplomat after the Council session, noting scant mention of a two-state solution by the US in its speech.
“Is it for the two-state solution or for one-state?” Abbas continued, regarding the US position.
If there were answers to Abbas’s question, they were not ironed out at the Council. It was crowded with pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian advocates as well as many ambassadors of UN member nations, everyone eager to grasp at straws.
Danon took a low road, using his speech to castigate Abbas personally for the standoff in the conflict, pointing his arm at the Palestinian delegation several times, as Riyad Mansour, the ambassador of Palestine to the UN, sat across from Danon at the Council’s horseshoe table, not looking at him. (Abbas had left the room by then.)
“You have made it clear, with your words and with your actions, that you are no longer part of the solution,” Danon began. “You are the problem. You just addressed the members of the Security Council and spoke of your commitments to peace. This is what you often do when speaking to international forums, but, when you address your people, you convey a very different message.”
Haley spoke after Danon, tossing out a barbed remark: “We are joined here today by Palestinian Authority President Abbas. I’m sorry he declined to stay in the chamber to hear the remarks of others. Even though he has left the room, I will address the balance of my remarks to him.”
Abbas had left the room to participate in a scheduled “meet and greet” with ambassadors at the UN, but his departure could have been timed to coincide with Danon reading his speech next.
“I sit here today offering the outstretched hand of the United States to the Palestinian people in the cause of peace,” Haley said, after reciting a laundry list of problems in the Middle East.
“The Palestinian leadership has a choice to make between two different paths” — “the path of absolutist demands, hateful rhetoric and incitement to violence. . . . Or, there is the path of negotiation and compromise.”
Then, veering to the hypersensitive topic of Jerusalem, Haley said: “The United States knows the Palestinian leadership was very unhappy with the decision to move our embassy to Jerusalem. You don’t have to like that decision. You don’t have to praise it. You don’t even have to accept it. But know this: that decision will not change.”
This is the first time the Council has publicly discussed the controversial Jerusalem announcement by the US since December. Jerusalem has always been hotly contested by the Israelis and the Palestinians, who both claim the city as their spiritual and historical home.
On Dec. 8, Britain and France called for an emergency meeting of the Council to voice its concerns over the decision by the US on Jerusalem. Later in December, a Security Council resolution, submitted by Egypt, called on Washington to reverse itself on Jerusalem. Fourteen of the 15 Council members supported the resolution, forcing US to cast its first veto in six years. On Dec. 21, the General Assembly passed a resolution to negate the American endorsement of Jerusalem, forcing another US veto. The resolution — more symbolic than actionable — passed with 128 yes votes, 9 against, 35 abstentions and 21 absences.
Since Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, some members of the US administration have sought to temper the change. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the move would take years to be accomplished, but Vice President Mike Pence, visiting the region in January, said it would be done by the end of 2019. Trump said this month that Jerusalem remained off the negotiating table.
[The US State Department said in response to Abbas’s speech that “he kept his remarks constructive.”]
In her speech, Haley noted that US negotiators who were ready to talk peace with the Palestinians happened to be sitting behind her, as Kushner and Greenblatt responded motionless. She did not mention the phrase “two-state solution” — what Palestine and its supporters in the Council wanted to hear.
It was António Guterres, the UN secretary-general, who, speaking first at the Council session, confirmed what was to become clear in the speechifying ahead. “After decades of support, the global consensus for a two-state solution could be eroding,” he said.
[This article was updated to reflect that Abbas left the Council session just before Danon spoke.]