What comes after the speech?
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas returned to a hero's welcome after his speech to the United Nations petitioning for a recognition of statehood. In a speech on Sunday in the West Bank, Abbas proclaimed a "Palestinian Spring," one that would match the Arab Spring that has swept autocratic governments throughout the region, and in this case would mean finally achieving his long-delayed goal of a unified Palestinian state.
The actual state of peace negotiations was far less clear, though not entirely bleak. On the same day that Abbas was returning home in triumphant fashion, Israel foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman announced his approval of efforts by the U.S. and European officials to begin renewed peace talks, without preconditions. That proposal was a last effort to persuade Palestinian leaders to drop their push for a vote on statehood by the membership of the U.N, and instead to restart the long-stalled peace talks brokered by Americans, European Union leaders, and Russia.
Dropping preconditions would not be as easy as it might sound. For Palestinians, that would mean coming back to the table without an Israeli move to stop construction of new settlements in the West Bank. For Israel, it would mean resuming talks without a preliminary guarantee about the possible borders of a future Palestinian state, and with the U.N. recognition request still sitting provocatively on the table.
Lieberman was skeptical of the push for new talks put together by the Middle East Quartet of the U.S., U.N., European Union and Russia, but said he was willing to embrace it in an interview on Israel Radio. He also jabbed at Abbas, the Jerusalem Post reported, for jetting back to the West Bank to rally supporters rather than attempting to resume negotiation in New York, where foreign leaders had gathered last week for the U.N.'s General Assembly session.
"We must be grateful to the United States for their assistance in events surrounding the embassy in Cairo and [Obama's] General Assembly speech, and we should therefore accept the International Quartet's proposal, despite reservations," Lieberman said.
"Mahmoud Abbas fled immediately after his speech, so that we could not, God forbid, negotiate," the foreign minister said. "The Palestinians make up excuses not to negotiate all the time. Those who want excuses will find them. Mahmoud Abbas continues to demand the right of return, and if a Palestinian state is established in Judea and Samaria, he will still want to send the refugees to Israeli territory."
Abbas, meanwhile, sounded less interested in coming back to U.S.-mediated peace negotiations, and more determined to continue on the path toward a U.N. vote on Palestinian statehood.
"Our international diplomatic resistance has begun and we have a long road ahead," he said. "We must know with certainty that there are those who will punish us. There are those who will deny us justice and deny what is right but we will stand up to them!"
He added, "The world has watched us and knows we are a civilized people that simply calls for its rights."