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At UN, Abbas accuses Israel of waging 'war of genocide'

Abbas says Palestinians will not allow Israeli 'war criminals' to escape punishment just weeks after it emerged that he blocked a Palestinian application to the ICC
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas addresses the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly on Friday (AFP)

In what some commentators called his strongest speech since taking over the Palestinian leadership nearly 10 years ago, Mahmoud Abbas on Friday accused Israel of waging a "war of genocide" in Gaza and vowed to seek war crimes prosecutions.

"We will not forget and we will not forgive, and we will not allow war criminals to escape punishment," Abbas said in a speech to the UN General Assembly.

The 51-day war in Gaza - the third war in the Gaza Strip in six years - killed 2,140 Palestinians, mostly civilians.

"Israel has chosen to make it a year of a new war of genocide perpetrated against the Palestinian people," he said.

The war in Gaza was "a series of absolute war crimes carried out before the eyes and ears of the entire world," he said.

The war ended on 26 August when the two sides agreed in Cairo on a ceasefire and to hold future talks on Palestinian demands to end an eight-year blockade of Gaza.

In his speech, Abbas also said he will seek a UN resolution to set a deadline for Israel to pull out of Palestinian lands captured in the 1967 war. He included no deadline for ending the occupation.

Abbas has consistently used accession to the ICC as a bargaining chip with Israel. Senior Fatah official Nabil Shaath said in late August that Abbas would activate its application to the ICC if the UN Security Council rejected a demand to set a three year deadline for Israeli withdrawal to its 1967 borders. 

However, as MEE reported earlier this month, it has emerged that Abbas stopped a Palestinian application to join the ICC in the middle of the war in Gaza this August.

Reports of Abbas holding up the application followed a recording leaked in June in which Saeb Erekat, the Palestinian Chief negotiator who was in the UN audience in New York on Friday, claimed that Abbas has promised Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he would not make an application. 

Erekat allegedly said: “Abu Mazen [Abbas], if you want to move Netanyahu, work on the [application] documents for international institutions. He said: I made a commitment’ [not to apply to international institutions]. What commitment have you made? This isn’t your daddy’s farm! This is a nation, this is Palestine. This is bigger than individuals. He didn’t listen to me. I swear, I submitted my resignation twice.”

Further pressure was applied on Abbas, when Hamas declared it was prepared to incur the risk of prosecution from the ICC for the rockets they fired at Israel. News of the decision, first published by MEE, prevented Abbas from claiming that he needed the consent of all Palestinian factions before signing up himself.

Sam Bahour, a Palestinian-American business consultant in Ramallah and a policy adviser to Al-Shabaka, the Palestinian Policy Network, said although Abbas used much stronger language than before, his speech was "politically confusing."

"He confirmed what the youngest Palestinian already knows, that bilateral negotiations is a failed model for progress. This was long overdue," Bahour said. "Then he spoke of a resolution to be submitted to the Security Council that will evoke bilateral negotiations as a way to end this tragedy. George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four was the first image that came to mind."

Earlier this year, Bahour and Tony Klug, a special advisor on the Middle East for the Oxford Research Group, proposed that Palestinians set an end date for Israeli occupation and, if Israel failed to yield, then the Palestinians would drop their bid for statehood and transform their endeavour into a civil rights struggle over all of historic Palestine. Bahour said he wished Abbas had put forward a more strategic proposal like his and Klug's on Friday.

"I'll wait to read the text of the proposed Security Council resolution, but I'm not holding my breath," Bahour said. "I'm buckling my seat belt to be able to sustain the next round of Israeli occupation which will only be more devastating than the last."