At U.N., Palestinian leader Abbas criticizes Israel, but pledges good faith in peace talks

September 26, 2013

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday endorsed European restrictions on assistance to Israeli organizations in the occupied Palestinian territories, saying in a United Nations address that the European Union approach is a model for others to follow.

Abbas welcomed the resumption of peace talks with Israel and pledged to negotiate in good faith, but also roundly criticized Israel for settlement-building and restrictions on the way Palestinians use the land they claim for a future state.

“The start of a new round of negotiations is good news, but it cannot be sufficient grounds for relaxing vigilance,” Abbas told the U.N. General Assembly.

The rest of the world should “remain alert to condemn and stop any actions on the ground that would undermine negotiations,” he added. “I refer here, above all, to the continuation of settlement construction on our Palestinian land.”

“The position of the European Union with regard to settlement products is a positive model of what is possible to be done in order to ensure an environment supportive of the negotiations and the peace process,” Abbas said.

The guidelines approved by the E.U. in July directed the bloc’s member nations not to award any funding, grants, scholarships or prizes to entities in Jewish settlements in the Golan Heights, the West Bank or East Jerusalem. This has angered and worried Israeli leaders, who see the move as a possible gateway to wider international punishment of Israel for occupying and expanding housing on West Bank land claimed by the Palestinians.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry has made little obvious headway in lobbying the E.U. and member nations to consider postponing action on the ban. Separately, there are calls in Europe to ban import of products produced by Israelis on occupied land, or to restrict other business dealings with Israeli firms operating from settlements.

The E.U. considers the Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem to be illegal under international law and has long sought to steer its money away from them.

The new measures also require that all future financial agreements between the E.U. and Israel include a clause stipulating that the settlements are not a part of the state of Israel and, therefore, not party to any contracts.

The rules replaced a more informal approach to the settlements with a firm, binding policy, and came just as Kerry was finalizing an agreement to resume Israeli-Palestinian peace talks after a long lapse.

Abbas's speech on Thursday was a slightly toned-down version of some past addresses that were heavily critical of Israel. He hit several familiar themes, including complaints about Israel’s “exaggerated security pretexts and obsessions.”

The Israeli delegation was not in the U.N. hall to hear Abbas, because the speech came during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, when the faithful commemorate the Israelites’ 40-year sojourn in the desert with Moses. On Thursday in Israel, government offices were closed, newspapers suspended publication and there were no official announcements from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office.

Netanyahu will address the U.N. as the annual General Assembly’s closing speaker Tuesday.

Israeli and Palestinian negotiators have met seven times since resuming talks under U.S. auspices this summer, Kerry told a U.N. audience Wednesday.

He said the talks are serious and sincere, with a mutual goal of a final deal to draw borders for an independent Palestinian state and resolve other longstanding issues. Kerry has set an unofficial deadline of next spring for a deal.

William Booth contributed to this report from Jerusalem.

Anne Gearan is a national politics correspondent for The Washington Post.
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