Middle East

Abbas demands end to Israeli occupation

Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas waves to the audience after addressing the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly on September 26, 2014 in New York. AFP PHOTO / Timothy A. CLARY

UNITED NATIONS: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas demanded Friday an end to Israeli occupation, telling the United Nations that the time for Palestinian independence had come.

Abbas also vowed to seek war crimes prosecutions against Israel over what he called the 50-day “war of genocide” in Gaza that killed 2,140 Palestinians, mostly civilians, and left the enclave in ruins.

“There is an occupation that must end now. There is a people that must be freed immediately,” Abbas said in an address to the U.N. General Assembly in New York.

“The hour of independence of the state of Palestine has arrived.”

Abbas, however, did not set a deadline for fast-tracking to Palestinian statehood, after aides suggested they were eyeing 2017 as a possible date.

Denouncing Israel’s attacks on the Gaza Strip as a “genocidal crime,” Abbas pledged: “We will not forget and we will not forgive, and we will not allow war criminals to escape punishment.”

The war in Gaza was “a series of absolute war crimes carried out before the eyes and ears of the entire world,” he said, citing the destruction left behind and the deaths of children.

More than 460 children were killed in the violence, according to UNICEF, including in the Israeli shelling of U.N.-run shelters that Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has described as a violation of international humanitarian law.

A source in Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s entourage described the speech as “one inciting hate, and riddled with lies.”

“A man of peace doesn’t speak like that,” the source said.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman criticized the “false accusations” made by Abbas and accused him of “diplomatic terrorism.”

The Palestinians have threatened to join the Hague-based International Criminal Court to allow legal action to be taken against Israel, but Abbas did not specify in his address whether he would resort to the ICC.

In 2012, the Palestinians won the status of observer state in the United Nations, which gives them the ability to become a party to the ICC, where they could sue Israeli officials over war crimes.

The United Nations agreed in July to open an investigation of alleged Israeli war crimes in Gaza, led by Canadian international law expert William Schabas.

Abbas spoke after rival Palestinian factions reached a unity deal that will pave the way for the return of the Palestinian Authority to Gaza and for a massive internationally funded reconstruction effort to begin.

In his address to the 193-nation General Assembly, Abbas asserted that years of negotiations had failed, accusing Israel of forging ahead with settlements and maintaining a blockade of Gaza despite formal pledges of peace.

“The future proposed by the Israeli government for the Palestinian people is at best isolated ghettos for Palestinians on fragmented lands,” Abbas said.

“At worst it will be a most abhorrent form of apartheid,” he warned, referring to the racist regime that ruled South Africa until free elections in 1994.

Abbas said a resolution backed by Arab countries would be presented to the U.N. Security Council to relaunch talks with a view to reaching a final settlement with Israel on the two-state solution.

It remained unlikely that such a resolution would garner support within the 15-member council, notably from the United States, which has repeatedly vetoed resolutions seen as undermining Israel.

The council has been trying for weeks to unite behind a draft resolution seeking to shore up a cease-fire accord in Gaza, riven by divisions over the terms for a sustainable peace.

Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the leadership of the Palestine Liberation Organization, earlier this month said the Palestinians would be seeking a three-year deadline for achieving statehood.

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

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on September 27, 2014, on page 1.

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