October 18, 2021 Special Dispatch No. 9591

Palestinian Public Figures, Journalists Criticize President 'Abbas' UN Speech: His Ultimatum To Israel Is Meaningless; He Must Immediately Step Down, Hold Elections

October 18, 2021
Palestinians | Special Dispatch No. 9591

In his September 24, 2021 speech at the UN General Assembly, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud 'Abbas presented Israel with an ultimatum, giving it one year to withdraw to the 1967 borders and settle the final status issues with the Palestinians. He threatened that, if this fails to happen, the PA will revoke its recognition of Israel, and the Palestinian people will have a range of options, including "returning to a solution based on the partition plan of resolution 181 (II), adopted in 1947, which gives the State of Palestine 44% of the land"; demanding "equal and full political rights for all on the land of historical Palestine, within one state," and asking the international court to rule "on the issue of the legality of the occupation of the land of the Palestinian state.”[1]

Despite its harsh tone, the speech sparked intense criticism from journalists, politicians and former officials in the PA and the PLO, who stated that 'Abbas' ultimatum was meaningless, because similar threats had been made in the past but never truly implemented – and therefore that the statements would not be taken seriously by either Israel or the world.[2] They also argued that waiting a year for Israel to withdraw to the 1967 borders constituted a passive position aimed at perpetuating the stagnation in the Palestinian arena, rather than a plan aimed at creating real change. One of the writers complained that 'Abbas had raised the one-state solution at this international forum without first bringing it to the Palestinian institutions, chiefly the PLO, for an in-depth discussion. This is wrong, he said, not only because it disregards the official Palestinian institutions, but because it accepts in advance that the cause of an independent Palestinian state is already lost. 

The writers also criticized 'Abbas's conduct in the internal Palestinian arena, noting his postponement of the Palestinian elections and accusing him of cementing his autocratic rule, usurping the will of the people and suppressing freedom of expression. They urged him to stop clinging to his seat and hold elections for the Palestinian institutions, giving the Palestinians a chance to elect a new leadership that will correctly read the political map, formulate a vision, promote the Palestinians' national interests and improve their situation. It should be mentioned that these statements reflect the public criticism against the PA, and especially against 'Abbas, that has been growing in the recent months due to the repeated postponement of the elections and the repression of free speech, as seen, for example, in the context of the Nizar Banat murder.[3]     

Mahmoud 'Abbas' UNGA speech (source:, September 24, 2021)

The following are translated excerpts from these articles:

Palestinian Journalist To 'Abbas: Instead Of Making Bombastic Speeches, Note The Situation On The Ground And Step Down

Ibrahim Du'aibas, a columnist for the Al-Quds daily, published in East Jerusalem, ridiculed 'Abbas's ultimatum and said that verbal threats against Israel will not be effective. He urged 'Abbas to leave office gracefully and let the Palestinian people elect a new leadership. He wrote: "President Abu Mazen addressed the General Assembly by video from his office in Ramallah, in a speech full of demands and reservations, saying that things have come to a head and that Israel has one year to withdraw from the territories it occupied in 1967. These are fanciful statements that evoke many questions, mainly, what if Israel fails to withdraw? What will we do then? 

"In the past, Arafat threatened [to use] 'the rifle of the revolutionary,' yet he has passed from the world, and the [Palestinian] revolutionary has not used that rifle for decades. [My] question for President ['Abbas] is the following: What will you do if Israel does not withdraw in a year?... The role of the UN has ended, and so has the role of fiery speeches. People have long been considering only the reality they see on the ground. What we see is very painful, and there is no attempt to change this reality. 

"The President touched on another important point in his speech, [saying that] he is willing to hold elections to the presidency, the [PA] Legislative Council and the  [PLO's Palestinian] National Council, if [Israel] guarantees they can be held in East Jerusalem. [But] everyone knows that Israel will not allow this, so we do not anticipate that any elections will be held. That is a tragedy in itself, and a solution must be found for it.

"Many have spoken of the importance of holding elections to the presidency and the Legislative Council. [Once we hold them,] perhaps we will have a new leadership capable of dealing with reality and all its challenges, more than the present leaders, who are obsolete and whose role has in fact already ended. We must first of all hold elections to the presidency, including in [East] Jerusalem and its suburbs, and among all the Palestinians in the occupied homeland and in the diaspora, by [permitting] online [voting] – instead of [the leaders] cleaving to their seats and finding illegitimate excuses to rule out hold elections.     

"Our people are calling and screaming [for help]. The present reality pains them, and the disregard of their demands and desires pains them even more. Oh honorable President Abu Mazen, who has served the [Palestinian] cause for decades, on various levels. What is required of you today is to end [your term in office] by holding historic elections, which can be crucial for the future of our cause. You must do this!"[4]

Former PA Minister: Nobody Took 'Abbas' Ultimatum Seriously; Our Main Problem Is That Autocracy Is Becoming Entrenched

Al-Quds columnist and former PA minister for Jerusalem affairs  Ziad Abu Zayyad noted that 'Abbas has already threatened in the past to revoke the agreements with Israel, but never implemented this in practice, and therefore his threats will not be taken seriously. The main problem, he added, is that 'Abbas' one-man rule is becoming entrenched. He therefore called on the Palestinian leadership to hold elections and prepare to implement the one-state solution, for the two-state solution is no longer feasible, He wrote: "…It can be said that the major and central problem we are facing is the absence of constitutional institutions, and the fact that autocracy has become entrenched and decision-making is confined to a very small group of people who do not deal with the circumstances but rather act out of private considerations, trying mainly to procrastinate…

"In his speech at the UN General Assembly, President Mahmoud 'Abbas repeated points he already made in [other] speeches in the last few years, in which he presented the suffering of our people, the arrogance of the occupation and the latter's refusal to heed the desire of the international community to [achieve] a just peace. The President has already announced to the General Assembly that he would suspend the agreements signed with Israel because it was not honoring or implementing them, yet nothing happened… Therefore, the ultimatum he issued this time for Israel to end the occupation within a year… [i.e., by September 24, 2022]  was not taken seriously and will not be taken seriously, either by Israel or by the world. September 2022 will arrive and the situation will be the same.     

"The issue will not [be resolved through] international resolutions or appeals to the international court. The entire world knows that Israel was never committed to UN resolutions, especially not to Security Council resolutions… The world will take us seriously, as we want it to, only when we respect the intelligence of our people and take ourselves seriously. The widening rift between the leadership and the people; the ongoing paralysis of democratic life, as reflected by the canceling of the elections, the dominance and entrenchment of cronyism, and the corruption all increase our isolation in the world and take us farther away from [the goal of] ending the occupation and achieving freedom and dignity…

"The two-state solution is no longer viable, for it cannot be realized or implemented. The leadership must see the facts on the ground and propose a new vision and solution suitable for these circumstances. As a matter of fact, there is only one solution: the one-state solution, which can be reached through several [potential] scenarios, some of which we will be able to realize."[5]

Former Palestinian Official: To Motivate The People To Fight Against Israel, The Palestinian Leadership Must Stop Usurping Their Will And Revive Democracy

Jamal Zaqout, a former official in the Palestinian Democratic Union (FIDA), who was an advisor to former PA prime minister Salam Fayyad, likewise argued that 'Abbas' ultimatum would not change Israel's policy, given the Palestinian leadership's passivity and its endless postponement of the elections. Only reviving democracy in the PA, he said, will motivate the people to keep fighting Israel. He wrote: “…Do the decision-makers close [to ‘Abbas], who drafted the speech, [really] believe that what was said in it is feasible, and can be translated into a national political day-by-day workplan, on the domestic level and on the level of relations with the occupation, [after] the President gave [the occupation] an ultimatum, demanding its withdrawal [within one year]?  Will the relations with the occupation in the course of that year be based on further waiting, [in hopes that] the policy of appeasing the enemy, which has been ongoing for years, will [finally] bear fruit and it will do us the favor of complying with our demands?

“The circle of national decision-makers surely understands that a change in the positions of the expansionist Israeli government will not be achieved by means of statements, when [this government] can clearly see the fragmentation of the Palestinian arena… Whoever wants to present the occupation with a choice – to either withdraw or [accept that] the Palestinians will be given free rein [to act against it] – should have started [implementing this policy] yesterday, not a year from now. [Whoever wants this] should have started by taking a long, hard look at his policy, which brought the land and its people to their present state, and by restoring the people’s faith [in him] – not with words and promises but through action to address [the people’s] problems…  

“It is impossible to motivate the people when their natural right to participate in politics and elect their leaders depends on the will of the occupation. Nor can this be done by continuing to usurp the will of the people, who rose up and are still rising up against the occupation, and by replacing [their will] with that of a small circle [of leaders] who determine their future, instead of allowing this future to be determined by a democratic national coalition. This role used to be fulfilled by PLO, throughout its long years of struggle, when it was considered to be not only the sole legitimate representative [of the Palestinian people] but the body that led the struggles of this people towards freedom and self-determination. There is a vital need to heed the will of the people, who demand to restore [national] unity in the framework of the PLO, with the participation of all the [Palestinian] forces, to seriously prepare for free and fair general elections, and to refrain from making this national right dependent upon the decision of the occupation… 

“Restoring the people’s faith [in the Palestinian leadership] will not be achieved by maintaining contacts with a few representatives of civil society and human rights organizations. It is more likely to be achieved by listening to the public – including those circles [i.e., civil society and human rights organizations] – and by heeding its demand for every kind of justice: first of all [its demand to address] the murder of Nizar Banat and the oppressive attacks on [anti-PA] demonstrations and demonstrators … to cancel all the moves and [presidential] decrees undermining the freedom of speech, protest and assembly, but most of all to [revoke] the decisions that violated the independence and honor of the judicial authorities…”[6]

Palestinian Politician: The One-State Solution Should Have Been Discussed In The Palestinian Institutions Before Being Raised At The UN

Yet another Al-Quds columnist, Palestinian National Council member and Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) official Nihad Abu Ghosh, complained that 'Abbas had raised the one-state option at the UN without first bringing it up for discussion in the Palestinian institutions, which are the ones authorized to decide on this issue. He wrote: “From time to time we hear writers, analysts, and political and other officials make definite pronouncements about the death of the two-state solution, and say that we have only one option, which is the one-state solution… There is nothing wrong with [saying] that, as long as it is [said] as part of freedom of speech, thought, belief and personal opinion, which is guaranteed to everyone in a pluralistic regime…

“However, it is odd when such proposals are made by high-ranking officials, [without any preliminary discussion]. It would have been better if they had been presented [first] to the bodies and organizations that appointed [these figures] to their senior positions and roles. It is inappropriate for [a leader] to voice an idea of this importance with abandon, as though thinking out loud or [just] hectoring Israel… It should be discussed in depth and be decided on by the top institutions [of the PA and PLO] after hearing convincing answers to all the relevant questions. It should be noted that no leading PLO institution has held a discussion or issued a decision on the one-state option: neither the [Palestinian] National Council nor the Central Council nor the Executive Committee…

“The main problem with raising the one-state option is [that it means] recognizing in advance the victory of the occupation’s colonialist settlement enterprise, even before this defeat has actually happened, and before the Palestinians have mobilized all their weapons, means and hidden energy [reserves] and tapped all their unused sources of strength, which can be utilized based on national unity and a unified national strategy. In fact, this option [of the one-state solution] is raised in light of the disputes and differences between the [various] options, when each faction has its own plan and strategy…

“The second problem is the future legal and political standing of the State of Palestine, which was recognized [in 2012] as a non-member state by the UN and by some 140 countries. What will be the fate of the UN resolutions which recognize the right to establish a Palestinian state? Should we forgo all these resolutions, which still serve the Palestinians as a political, legal, cultural and moral weapon, and step out into empty space?...

“Clearly, the discourse about the one-state [solution] will not automatically lead to a state [in which Palestinians have] equal rights and duties or a state where citizens live in a single homeland without distinctions of religion, nationality and ethnicity. In practice, it will lead to an apartheid state of racial discrimination, for the state of Israel regards the Palestinian people as a demographic and security problem, not as a neighboring or rival people and an equal [partner] in the peace process… The one-state solution is not on the global agenda, nor will Israel voluntarily accept it before its historic enterprise is defeated and vanquished. Therefore, presenting it as an alternative to the plan of a fully sovereign Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital is nothing but a leap into the unknown.”[7]


[1], September 24, 2021.

[2] The argument that the ultimatum is baseless is strengthened by the outcomes of the PA's previous attempt, in May 2020, to suspend the agreements with Israel, which soon led to a severe budgetary deficit the PA could not handle. The advent of the Biden administration in the U.S. provided the PA with an opportunity to roll back this measure. See MEMRI Inquiry & Analysis No. 1544 - Shift In Palestinian Authority's Policy Towards Israel Following Biden Electoral Win, Arab Peace Agreements With Israel – December 22, 2020. 

[4] Al-Quds (East Jerusalem), September 26, 2021.

[5] Al-Quds (East Jerusalem), September 26, 2021.

[6] Al-Quds (East Jerusalem), September 28, 2021.

[7] Al-Quds (East Jerusalem), October 3, 2021.

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