Competing speeches at the UN: Abbas and Netanyahu, September 23, 2011

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas gave his long anticipated speech at the UN on Friday calling for the UN to recognize an independent Palestinian state in the 1967 borders. Iraeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu gave his anticipated rebuttal. Now the UN will debate for weeks or months before bringing the matter to the Security Council for a vote.

I am not going to bother to try and predict what will happen. The level of diplomatic wrangling going on is extremely high. Surprises are possible. But I will comment on the speeches. I’m disappointed with both.

At the close of his speech, Netanyahu said “Let’s talk “doogri”. That means straightforward.”

Well, neither of them spoke “doogri.” Both engaged in distortions to support their point. Neither man is stupid. Both have studied this conflict in far more depth than I have. Surely they both also realize when they are making distortions to support their case. I hope neither is so stupid as to be unable to recognize reality.

What follows is my interpretation. If you have the time, read the full text of both speeches and make your own:

Click here to read Abbas’s speech.

Click here to Netanyahu’s speech.

Things Abbas is right about:



  1. It’s time to end the occupation. Let us “urgently build together a future for our children where they can enjoy freedom, security and prosperity. Let us build the bridges of dialogue instead of checkpoints and walls of separation.” Amen.
  2. Continued settlement building is a huge problem and a breach of international law and UN resolutions; true, but I’m not sure it’s the “primary cause for the failure of the peace process.”
  3. Israel does deny building permits to Palestinians in East Jerusalem, and has been supporting “ethnic cleansing,” i.e., “Judaizing” of neighborhoods in East Jerusalem.
  4. Israel is attempting to create “facts on the ground” to redraw the borders the way it wants them.
  5. The Palestinians have made great progress in the last few years in building the infrastructure required to have a state.



Things he’s wrong about:



  1. He claimed Israel (aka “the Occupying Power”) continues excavations that threaten their holy places. Nonsense. The Palestinians don’t like archeological excavations that show a strong Jewish connection to the Temple Mount.
  2. He condemns the blockade of Gaza and the occasional IDF action in the West Bank, while neglecting to mention the rocket and terrorist attacks that make those actions a sad necessity.
  3. The “settler militias” do NOT enjoy the protection of the Army. To the contrary, the Army is trying to stop them because they also attack the IDF.
  4. He invokes the 1948 “Nakba” (War of Independence to Israelis) and claims it was one of the “worst operations of uprooting,” etc. Many more were uprooted in WW II, and in many other civil wars since. He also failed to mention that the only reason there was a “Nakba” is because the Palestinians and Arab states refused to honor the UN resolution calling for two states: they were not willing to accept a Jewish state at all.
  5. He called the occupation “colonial.” It’s many things, including wrong, but it’s not colonial. This isn’t like Belgians descending on the Belgian Congo. The Jewish people do also have deep and long claims in Judea and Samaria.
  6. He mentions Jerusalem as holy to Christians and Muslims; forgetting something, Mr. Abbas?



Now for Netanyahu’s speech. Things he’s right about:



  1. The UN unfairly singles out Israel for condemnation
  2. It is absurd that Gadhafi’s Libya chaired the UN Commission on Human Rights, Saddam’s Iraq headed the UN Committee on Disarmament, and Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon now presides over the UN Security Council.
  3. We had hoped that evacuating Gaza would be a positive step; instead the terrorist organization Hamas kicked out the PA and started shooting rockets at Israel, instead of getting busy building a country.



Things he’s wrong about:



  1. He said “critics continue to press Israel to make far-reaching concessions without first assuring Israel’s security.” Expecting Israel to obey international law by stopping building settlements is not really such a far reaching concession. Even our best friend, America, calls on us to stop building settlements.
  2. He invokes how small Israel is as a reason we cannot return to the 1967 borders. Will it really make that big a difference if we have a border that takes four minutes to cross by jet instead of three minutes? Everyone has also already agreed in principle that the borders would not be exactly the 1967 borders, there would be land swaps.
  3. He invoked 9/11 and militant Islam, which isn’t terribly relevant in the context of the PA, which also has been fighting militant Islam.
  4. He said the Palestinian state won’t allow any Jews in it. This was a statement from minister, which was quickly repudiated by the PA. That would be like holding some of Avigdor Lieberman’s crazy statements about things like expelling Israeli Arabs up as Israel policy.
  5. Pushing the “Jewish state” thing. It’s enough that they recognize us as a state. Do we explicitly “recognize” Saudi Arabia as a “Muslim state?” Or China as a “Communist state?”
  6. He claims to have worked hard to advance peace. I believe most Israelis (and probably virtually all Palestinians) would say “not very.”



I can’t predict what will happen. But in a way, this Palestinian bid represents tremendous progress, for them, and for Israel as well, although most Israelis won’t admit it. Because it may be 63 years late, but the Palestinians are finally coming back to the UN and saying “OK, we agree to the two state solution that we rejected back then.” Even though Netanyahu tried to twist Abbas’s remarks into a rejection of Israel even in Tel Aviv, with this motion, asking for a state on the 1967 lines, the Palestinians are de facto recognizing Israel’s right to Tel Aviv and the rest of pre-67 Israel. Which is huge progress from where we were forty years ago.

I really wish Obama would apply pressure to both sides.  Tell Netanyahu there’s a price for a veto: a settlement freeze.  Tell Abbas to shelve the motion during the freeze and be serious about negotiating a deal, or risk a veto and loss of financial aid.  He needs to tell the kids to behave…

We are certainly living in “interesting times.” Of course, they say “may you live in interesting times” is a Chinese curse.

Meanwhile, we’ll keep praying for peace and working for peace in whatever ways we can.

Rav Barry

Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

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