Declaring that “our patience has come to its end,” Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday said at the U.N. General Assembly that he is no longer bound to agreements signed with Israel, including the 1995 Oslo Accords that laid out the two-state solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But he stopped short of describing exactly how and when this would change existing policy.
Abbas’ advisers had raised expectations Wednesday morning by promising a “bombshell” in today’s speech, which prompted speculation that he might resign. Abbas’ remarks came on the day that the Palestinian flag was raised outside the United Nations for the first time, over U.S. and Israeli objections. Despite that symbolism and the generally receptive audience for Palestine in the General Assembly, Haaretz reported that Abbas was irritated that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict had been absent from the remarks of world leaders at this year’s meeting, including U.S. President Barack Obama’s.
Abbas preceded his announcement with an op-ed in the Huffington Post on Tuesday declaring that the Palestinians “cannot directly negotiate with a power that has this level of control and exhibits such contempt for the rights and existence of our people.” In his speech to the U.N., Abbas ran through a litany of grievances against Israel that stretched back to the 1948 Deir Yassin massacre and included recent controversies over access to the al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and “price tag” attacks by Jewish extremists on the West Bank. Abbas accused Israel of “continuing its destruction of the two-state solution,” and then declared: “We cannot continue to be bound by the signed agreements with Israel. Israel must assume fully all its responsibilities as an occupying power.”
This could mean either a lot—or not all that much. “We shall not resort to violence,” Abbas promised, vowing to pursue “peaceful and legal means.” The move is an escalation of some recent proposals from Palestinian leaders to upset the conflict’s status quo. The Palestine Liberation Organization, the political organization separate from the Palestinian Authority that Abbas also chairs, has called for cutting off security cooperation with Israel. This coordination, which began after Oslo, includes intelligence sharing and cooperation on policing the West Bank. This cooperation has also allowed Abbas to suppress rival Hamas. The PLO left implementing the plan up to Abbas’ discretion.
Abbas has also threatened in the past to dissolve the Palestinian Authority, which practices limited self-rule over the West Bank in cooperation with Israel and “hand the keys back to Israel” if the peace process continues to stall. This would be a drastic move—the PA is the largest employer on the West Bank, a major recipient of foreign aid, and a source of prestige, legitimacy, and income for Abbas and his allies.
Abbas didn’t say what it would take for him to take measures like these. The only concrete steps he discussed in his speech on Wednesday was pursuing charges against Israel at the International Criminal Court, which is already in the works, and continuing to seek recognition from international organizations and foreign governments.
For now, it’s not clear whether Abbas’ declaration is just the start of a new phase in the conflict or just more brinkmanship. We’ll hear what Benjamin Netanyahu has to say about it on Thursday.