Palestinian leader urges world powers to replace US in peace talks

Mahmoud Abbas said Washington could no longer be an honest broker after the decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. (AFP)
Updated 21 February 2018
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Palestinian leader urges world powers to replace US in peace talks

UNITED NATIONS: In a highly visible snub to the Trump administration, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called for an alternative to US-mediated negotiations with Israel during a rare address to the UN Security Council on Tuesday.

Abbas urged other world powers to step in and facilitate peace talks, saying that Washington could no longer play an honest broker after President Donald Trump’s December 6 bombshell decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“The United States has contradicted itself and contradicted its own commitments and has violated international law and the relevant resolutions with its decision regarding Jerusalem,” Abbas said in an impassioned, 33-minute address to the top UN body.

“Therefore, to solve the Palestine question, it is essential to establish a multi-lateral international mechanism emanating from an international conference and in line with international law and the relevant resolutions.”

Abbas and his allies were left furious in December when US President Donald Trump reversed decades of US policy to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and set in motion the process of moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv.

He called for an international conference by mid-2018 to replace US-led mediation efforts. It would involve Palestinians, Israelis and the permanent UN Security Council members – the US, Britain, France, Russia and China – as well as the European Union and the UN, he said.  

That confab should welcome Palestine as a full UN member, with lands based on the borders prevailing before the 1967 war, when Israel captured the West Bank and Gaza. Abbas also called for a U-turn on Trump’s Jerusalem decision and “halting transfer of the US embassy” there.

Arab News approached experts for their assessment of Abbas’ speech and his bid to “internationalize” the peace process. They warned that Middle Eastern geopolitics was becoming ever-more unfavourable to the Palestinian cause.

Jonathan Cristol, a scholar at the World Policy Institute, a think tank, said Abbas likely found sympathetic ears in the chamber, but that would not change Washington’s drive for a peace deal that would likely hurt Palestinians.

“In part, Abbas came to the UN because he expected to find more support among non-regional actors than within his own region, where concerns about Iran, combined with the wars in Syria and Yemen, make the Palestinian issue a more marginal factor,” Cristol told Arab News.

In an emailed statement to Arab News, Diana Buttu, a former advisor to Abbas, warned her former boss that calls for an international conference would “never lead to Palestinian freedom” and called for a policy re-think in Ramallah.

“What Abbas should instead be doing is signing onto the grassroots, global boycott, divestment and sanctions movement to apply pressure on Israel to respect Palestinian rights and harnessing the immense untapped power of the Palestinian people to engage on widespread popular resistance to Israel’s half-century-old military rule,” Buttu said.

Abbas’ first UN Security Council address since 2009 was also his first face-off with top US officials since Trump’s announcement, with UN envoy Nikki Haley and Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in the 15-nation chamber. 

At the UN meeting, Haley brushed aside Abbas’ call for a rethink of the US embassy shift, saying “that decision will not change”. She warned that the Palestinian leader was only notching up diplomatic points rather than making life better for his people.

“You can choose to denounce the US, reject the US role in peace talks and pursue punitive measures against Israel in international forums like the UN,” Haley said. “That path will get the Palestinian people exactly nowhere towards the achievement of their aspirations.”

Israel, which often accuses both the European Union and the UN of an anti-Israel bias, says it would not accept any mediator other than Washington. Israel’s UN envoy Danny Danon said the Palestinians are not interested in peace.

“The current US administration is once again working hard to make progress towards peace,” Danon said. “Mr Abbas, however, is once again looking hard for an excuse. This time, he claims it was the American announcement about Jerusalem that drove him to reject negotiations.” 

As well as the embassy shift, the US has axed $65 million from a scheduled $125 million in UN payments for Palestinian refugees, and is poised to unveil a peace plan that is widely tipped to favour Israelis at the expense of Palestinians.

Abbas, 82, needs to plug that funding gap and rally global support to pre-emptively reject the Trump administration’s long-awaited peace proposal amid fears it will dash Palestinian hopes for a two-state solution.

Palestine is currently a non-member observer state at the UN, and would need a favorable UN Security Council vote to be upgraded to full membership. The Trump administration would be expected to veto any such upgrade.


More than 85 Houthis killed in battles across Yemen

Updated 41 min 58 sec ago
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More than 85 Houthis killed in battles across Yemen

  • More than 40 militants were killed in the southern Taiz province, and 18 others were killed on the Damt front in the southern Ad Dali province
  • Scores of militants were wounded, while the army seized military-grade equipment and ammunition.

DUBAI: More than 85 Iran-backed Houthi militants were killed and more wounded in clashes with the Yemeni army supported by the Arab Coalition across the country on Saturday, Saudi state-news agency SPA reported.

According to the reports, more than 40 militants were killed in the southern Taiz province, and 18 others were killed on the Damt front in the southern Ad Dali province, while more than 30 were killed in clashes with the Hajour tribe northwest of the country.

Scores of militants were wounded, while the army seized military-grade equipment and ammunition.

Meanwhile, Yemen’ Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad al-Hadrami said that the continued conflict stirred by the Houthis threatens the Swedish peace agreement and any progress in the political process.

In a meeting with UAE’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Dr. Anwar Gargash on the sidelines of the 55th session of the Munich Conference of Security 2019, Al-Hadrami said that the continued Houthi manipulation represents the failed opportunities for peace in Yemen.

For his part, UAE’s Gargash stressed on the need to combine efforts and send clear messages to the international community revealing the truth behind the militia’s violations on the ground.