Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority President, Says He’s No Longer Bound by Oslo Accords – Rick Gladstone and Jodi Rudoren/The New York Times

by Newsstand

Demonstrating a new level of tension with Israel, President Mahmoud Abbas of the Palestinian Authority declared Wednesday that it was no longer bound by the Oslo Peace Accords and subsequent agreements that formed the basis for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In his annual General Assembly speech, Mr. Abbas accused Israel of having violated these pacts, which date back two decades and outline security, economic and other arrangements in the Palestinian territories occupied by Israel during and after the 1967 war. He asserted that there was no reason that the Palestinians should remain faithful to them as long as the Israelis were not.

Therefore, Mr. Abbas said, “we cannot continue to be bound by these signed agreements with Israel and Israel must assume fully all its responsibility as an occupying power.”

The office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said in a statement that Mr. Abbas’s speech was “deceitful and encourages incitement and lawlessness in the Middle East.”

Mr. Abbas delivered the speech — punctuated later by the ceremonial raising of the Palestinian flag at the United Nations for the first time — against a backdrop of growing frustration among many Palestinians over the paralysis in peace negotiations with Israel. It is the most protracted conflict vexing the United Nations since the organization’s founding 70 years ago.

The popularity of Mr. Abbas within the Palestinian diaspora has suffered as a result.

There had been speculation fed by Mr. Abbas’s aides that he would drop a “bombshell” announcement in his speech. While the announcement sounded serious, the practical effects were not immediately clear.

Khalil Shikaki, a leading Palestinian political analyst, said Mr. Abbas’s declaration was “a big deal, no doubt” but would mean “absolutely nothing” on the ground “until he starts taking the steps he mentioned” to curtail security, economic, and civil coordination between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He said Mr. Abbas would be under tremendous pressure from Palestinians to cut these ties but would probably take weeks or months to follow through, if at all.

Others expressed skepticism that Mr. Abbas’s announcement would change anything.

Nathan Thrall, a Jerusalem-based analyst for the International Crisis Group, said that what sounded like a bold declaration was actually “a years-old talking point.” He called it “old, old, old, old news,” and “definitely not a bombshell.”

“That is the minimum he could have said,” Mr. Thrall said. “They’ve been saying it for weeks and years: we fulfill our obligations and they don’t fulfill theirs, and we’re not bound by it if they don’t fulfill theirs and the whole thing.”

Mr. Thrall added, “I really doubt that there’s something you could really point to that’s novel here, and more important than that, I’m certain that it does not mean any changes practically on the ground.”

Aaron David Miller, a Middle East expert and scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Institute in Washington, said that as long as Mr. Abbas stopped short of dismantling the Palestinian Authority and ending security coordination with Israel, “this is an expression of frustration and an effort to create a new point of political departure for his international drive for recognition.”

“The paradox,” Mr. Miller said, “is that the essence of his claim to statehood is anchored in the realities on the ground Oslo created.”

Mr. Abbas has demonstrated his frustration by moving over the past three years to seek international recognition of Palestinian statehood in a strategy to pressure Israel.

At the United Nations, members voted overwhelmingly to upgrade the Palestinian delegation to nonmember observer state status in 2012.

Since then the Palestinians have used that status to attain voting rights in other United Nations agencies and to join the International Criminal Court, where they have threatened to seek war-crimes prosecutions against Israel as the occupying power on Palestinian lands.

Less than three weeks ago the General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to allow the Palestinians to fly their national flag at the United Nations headquarters — a symbolic step that nonetheless angered the Israelis, who called it a cynical gesture that would do nothing to advance the peace process.

After his speech, attending the official flag-raising ceremony at the United Nations Rose Garden, packed by dignitaries on a rainy day, Mr. Abbas declared: “In this historical moment I say to my people everywhere: Raise the flag of Palestinians very high because it is the symbol of our identity.”

Among the diplomats watching were the foreign ministers of Russia, France and Saudi Arabia, the prime minister of Turkey and Secretary General Ban Ki-moon of the United Nations, who was more measured in his remarks and urged a return to peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

“We can be under no illusion that this ceremony represents the end goal,” Mr. Ban said.

In Ramallah, the Palestinian Authority headquarters in the West Bank, several thousand people gathered in a square to watch a broadcast of Mr. Abbas’ speech, wildly cheering as he announced that his government no longer considered itself bound to agreements with Israel. A few dozen youths waved Palestinian flags in the square, named after Yasir Arafat, the Palestinian revolutionary leader who signed the first of the Oslo accords in 1993.

Yet the mood in Ramallah was far from exuberant. Some Palestinians said they believed that little would change after Mr. Abbas’ speech, or the raising of the national flag at the United Nations — which had been promoted as a historic event throughout the Palestinian territories.

“It was expected that the president would say he isn’t going to abide by the agreements,” said Mohammad Jamil, a 23-year-old librarian, who watched the speech in a Ramallah cafe.

“We’ve reached a blocked path with Israel,” Mr. Jamil said. “But I doubt this will be a solution.”

Last year Mr. Abbas used his General Assembly speech to push for a Security Council resolution that would demand an end to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory by a certain date, and define a Palestinian state roughly along the pre-1967 lines with East Jerusalem as its capital.

But the momentum for such a resolution has faded with the world’s increasing focus on fighting the Islamic State and grappling with the world refugee crisis.

Mr. Abbas had given a foretaste of his General Assembly speech in an opinion piece published Tuesday on The Huffington Post website, in which Mr. Abbas placed responsibility for the failure of negotiations entirely with the Israelis.

“While the Israeli government pays lip service to the two-state solution internationally, domestically it employs policies aimed at destroying what’s left of Palestine,” he wrote.

The Israeli government has long contended that it willing to re-engage in peace talks with the Palestinians and has argued that Mr. Abbas has poisoned the atmosphere by inciting Palestinian attacks against Israel.