New York – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Wednesday that the Palestinians are no longer bound by the 1993 Oslo interim peace accords with Israel.
Israel was continuously violating the transitional peace deal and could no longer expect the Palestinians to be the only ones to abide by it, he said in New York.
The Oslo accords created the Palestinian Authority and gave Palestinians partial autonomous rule over the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Negotiations on a final peace deal were to eventually lead to an independent state. But these negotiations collapsed in April 2014.
Stopping short of announcing that he would dismantle the Palestinian Authority, Abbas hinted that the Palestine Liberation Organisation would take up a bigger role instead, reiterating that decisions of its institutions were binding for the Palestinians.
The address to the United Nations General Assembly was a sign of the deep frustration felt by Palestinians over the lack of progress toward any final peace deal while Israeli settlement expansion continues.
“We declare that as long as Israel refuses to commit to the agreements signed with us… (they) leave us no choice but to insist that we will not remain the only ones committed to the implementation of these agreements, while Israel continuously violates them,” Abbas said.
“We therefore declare that we cannot continue to be bound by these signed agreements with Israel, and that Israel must assume all of its responsibilities as an occupying power, because the status quo cannot continue.”
It remained unclear whether the speech would lead to any real changes on the ground.
‘The status quo is completely unacceptable’
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused Abbas of refusing to hold direct negotiations.
Abbas’ speech to the General Assembly “is false and encourages incitement and unrest in the Middle East”, Netanyahu’s office said.
“We expect and call on the (Palestinian) Authority and the one who heads it to act responsibly and to accept the Israeli prime minister’s proposal for direct negotiations without preconditions.”
Abbas has conditioned a return to peace talks on a settlement freeze.
Netanyahu rejected accusations that Israel was planning to change the status quo on a highly sensitive Jerusalem holy site, sacred to both Jews and Muslims.
Such false rumours, Netanyahu said, encouraged Muslim youths to hurl rocks and firecrackers on the Temple Mount/Noble Sanctuary, to which police have responded with stun grenades and arrests.
Abbas warned that Israel’s “brutal force” on the site would “convert the conflict from a political to a religious one” and create an explosive situation in Jerusalem and all over occupied Palestinian territory.
“The status quo is completely unacceptable,” Abbas said.
A senior PLO official, explaining the speech, said that “what the president said is that the Palestinian Authority was created to lead, in a clear time frame, our people from occupation to independence”.
“There is no way that we could continue to abide by our obligations if Israel continues to violate all of its obligations,” the official told dpa on condition of anonymity.
He said that Abbas “was clear that we have taken decisions… to redefine our relation with the occupying power… I don’t think that things will be done in 24 hours”.
Asked if a redefinition of relations could mean an end to Israeli-Palestinian security coordination, he called it “one of the options.”
Observers said the speech was an attempt to draw attention back to the Palestinian problem, at a time when the world is focused on issues including the refugee crisis, the Syrian civil war, the Islamic State terrorist militia and the Iranian nuclear deal.
‘There is an urgency’
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said she understood Abbas’ speech as an alarm calling for the international community to engage and promote the peace process.
“I interpreted his words as a scenario that is going to happen if – there is an ‘if’,” she said. “Now on that ‘if’, we will have to work.”
Mogherini spoke to reporters in New York after a meeting of the international quartet overseeing efforts to broker a peace deal in the Middle East and announced that the group would revitalize its work.
In addition to the quartet’s principal members – the United States, the European Union, Russia and the United Nations – foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia and the Arab League’s secretary general were present at the meeting in an effort to widen international cooperation on the issue.
Mogherini said the quartet will continue to work with regional key actors with the aim of urging the Israelis and the Palestinians to start implementing already signed agreements on the ground as “maybe the only viable way” to move ahead.
“There is an urgency, and there is an international effort to encourage, to support, to invite the parties and to accompany also the parties to start from what has been already agreed,” she said.