UNITED NATIONS — Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said at the United Nations General Assembly on Wednesday that the Palestinian National Authority (PA) is no longer bound by the Oslo Accord and called on Israel to “assume all its responsibilities as an occupying power.”
“The transitional Oslo agreement and its annexes and the subsequent agreements signed with Israel stipulated that the agreements would be implemented within five years, ending in 1999 with full independence for the state of Palestine and the termination of the Israeli occupation,” he said.
Since the 1993 signing, Abbas said, Israel has failed to uphold security and economic obligations and “intensified its settlement activities.”
“We therefore declare that we cannot continue to be bound by these agreements and that Israel must assume all of its responsibilities as an occupying power, because the status quo cannot continue,” he added.
The speech came before a ceremony during which Abbas raised the Palestinian flag at the U.N. headquarters in New York — the first time since the General Assembly voted in 2012 to accord Palestine nonmember observer status. The assembly voted on Sept. 10 to allow Palestine and the Vatican, which has similar status, to fly their flags alongside those of member states.
According to the International Committee of the Red Cross, the duties of an occupying power include maintaining public order, providing food and medical supplies, ensuring public health and facilitating the work of educational institutions, among other tasks. Settlements are explicitly banned.
Nadia Hijab, a senior fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies, said the move may have implications for states that could be legally bound to sanction Israel for not meeting those commitments — in particular European Union members.
“The EU would have to take a much further stand in labeling products that emerge from settlements. They could have to ban settlement products altogether and be even legally inclined to sanction Israel,” she said.
Abbas’ move could have implications for his efforts to get the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel’s military actions and the legality of Israeli settlements.
The PA has requested an International Criminal Court inquiry into alleged Israeli war crimes and submitted its first evidence to the court in June. Rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, have said both Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups committed war crimes during the 2014 war in Gaza.
It’s unclear, however, what Abbas’ next steps will be. Diana Buttu, a Ramallah-based analyst and former adviser to Abbas, said in a press statement that the speech “will mean little in practical terms” unless he “disbands the PA, stops cooperating with the Israeli army, abandons the two-state framework and/or pushes for Israel's international isolation.”
He did not hint at plans to disband the PA or cease security cooperation with the Israeli military. He reiterated his belief in a two-state solution but said that facts on the ground were untenable.
“The current situation is unsustainable,” Abbas told the gathering of world leaders on Wednesday. “Our people need genuine hope and need to see credible efforts for ending this conflict, ending their misery and achieving their rights.”
“Either the Palestinian National Authority will be the conduit of the Palestinian people from occupation to independence or Israel, the occupying power, must bear all of its responsibilities,” he said.
Marwan Bishara, senior political analyst for Al Jazeera, also said that Abbas' speech lacked clarity. However, the ambiguity surrounding Abbas' next steps "does not diminish" the importance of his statement.
"Abbas is an aggravated, humiliated leader who is a president with all the trappings, but lacks the authority of a head of state," Bishara said. "It's important that he underlined problems with the [peace] process over the last 22 years."
"The reality of the situation is that Palestine itself as a potential sovereign, independent, contiguous state over the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem has been diminishing." With member states distracted by events in neighboring countries, it was necessary that Abbas do something to "shake it up."
Palestine’s flag is expected to be raised in the coming days at other U.N. agencies around the world, including in Geneva and Vienna, Palestinian diplomats said.
Diplomats from Israel and the United States, who have condemned Abbas’ attempts at U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood, were not immediately available for comment and were not expected to attend the flag-raising ceremony. Palestinian diplomats say Palestine is recognized by 137 nations worldwide.
Bishara, however, dismissed the flag raising as having little significance.
"While Palestinians may be gaining things on the symbolic, diplomatic level, they're definitely losing on the ground. That's the problem," he said.
Abbas’ speech was heavily anticipated after he hinted earlier that he would drop a bombshell, leading some to believe he would resign. He has come under increasing criticism at home amid a stagnant peace process and mounting frustration with the Israeli occupation. According to a recent poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, two-thirds of Palestinians surveyed said they want Abbas, 80, to resign, and a majority favored a return to armed uprising.
Tensions between Israeli forces and Palestinians have escalated in the past month, particularly at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound, the third-holiest site for Muslims, leading Abbas to warn of the “risk of a new intifada.”
“I think it was his last chance to keep any form of trust and support from the Palestinian people, and he took that chance,” said Hijab. “This is new. The promised bombshell has come true.”
She said that while “all of this will be a welcome change to Palestinian ears ... there have been so many letdowns and deceptions previously, so people would need to see what the formal next steps are.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to address the General Assembly on Thursday.