Middle East

‘Biased’ US can’t mediate Mideast conflict on its own, Abbas says

Palestinian leader uses UN address to blast Trump administration’s policy on Israel

PUBLISHED : Friday, 28 September, 2018, 11:34am
UPDATED : Friday, 28 September, 2018, 10:56pm

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas tore into the Trump administration on Thursday, refusing to accept the United States as the sole mediator in the Middle East conflict, a day after Donald Trump promised a “very fair” peace plan.

The 82-year-old Palestinian Authority president used his address to the UN General Assembly to lambast the United States for closing the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington, recognising Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, moving its embassy and slashing Palestinian aid money.

Speaking a day after the US president said he favoured a two-state solution to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and vowed to unveil a new peace plan within months, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed Trump for his “unwavering support”.

Abbas, however, said Trump had forfeited his right to be regarded as a neutral broker.

“We will also not accept sole American mediation in the peace process,” he said, accusing the former real estate tycoon of being “biased” towards Israel since taking office in January 2017.

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“With all of these decisions, this administration has reneged on all previous US commitments, and even undermined the two-state solution,” Abbas told the world body in a nearly 40-minute speech.

“It’s really ironic that the American administration still talks about what they call the ‘deal of the century.’”

Palestinian leaders have long seen Trump’s administration as blatantly biased in favour of Israel and seeking to blackmail them into accepting their terms.

The Palestinian leadership cut off contact with the White House after Trump recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last December and the United States has also cut more than $500 million in Palestinian aid.

“From this august platform, I renew my call to President Trump to rescind his decisions and decrees … in order to salvage the prospects for peace,” Abbas said.

Last February, Abbas called for an international conference to relaunch the peace process under a new mediator to replace the United States, in an address to the UN Security Council.

On Thursday, he said there could be no peace without an independent Palestinian state with east Jerusalem as its capital, calling on countries to recognise the state of Palestine.

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“We are not against negotiations,” he added. “We will continue to extend our hands for peace.”

Trump pledged Wednesday to unveil a new peace plan by the end of the year, turning heads by supporting for the first time a two-state solution.

His son-in-law Jared Kushner is part of a team working on the plan, whose efforts have been met with derision by Palestinians who note that Israel has not been asked publicly for any concessions in return for the Jerusalem recognition.

When meeting Netanyahu on the sidelines of the General Assembly, Trump said he backed a two-state solution since “that’s what I think works best.”

His endorsement of the goal of a Palestinian state, long the focus of US peace efforts before he came into office, was decidedly lukewarm -- and he slightly backtracked from it later.

“If the Israelis and the Palestinians want one state, that’s OK with me,” he said. “If they want two states, that’s OK with me. I’m happy if they’re happy.”

While Trump’s comments sparked concern among some Israeli right-wingers who hoped he would bury the idea of Palestinian statehood once and for all, Netanyahu had warm words for the president.

“I look forward to working with President Trump and his peace deal,” said Netanyahu in his speech in which he also praised Trump and the American ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley, for their “unwavering support” at the world body.

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Israel has long argued that the UN’s Palestinian refugee agency, known as UNRWA, has perpetuated the Middle East conflict by maintaining the idea that millions of Palestinians are refugees with a right to return to homes in what is now Israel.

The announcement last month that the US -- which had been UNRWA’s biggest contributor -- would no longer fund the agency raised a question mark about the future of a range or social and welfare programmes as well as fears that many schools would have to close.

UNRWA received pledges of $118 million Thursday from donor countries to help plug some of the gap. Kuwait and the European Union were among the biggest contributors, UNRWA chief Pierre Kraehenbuehl told reporters.

Aside from cutting funds to UNRWA, the Trump administration has also cut $200 million in bilateral aid to the Palestinians for projects in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.