UNITED NATIONS — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday said his government no longer considers itself bound by the Oslo agreements in effect for two decades, charging that Israel has failed to live up to its obligations.
In an address to the U.N. General Assembly, where the Palestinians have observer status, Abbas said Israel has not followed through on its commitments in the Oslo Accords to accept a Palestinian state and to curtail settlement growth on the West Bank and in East Jerusalem.
“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,” said the 80-year-old leader.
In the weeks leading up to his speech, Abbas promised to drop a “bombshell” at the U.N. meeting. By Israeli, Palestinian and U.S. measurements, a bombshell would have been his resignation as Palestinian leader, the dissolution of the Palestinian Authority or an end to security coordination with the Israelis.
Abbas did not go that far. Instead, he threatened.
Abbas said the Israeli government has undermined efforts to negotiate a two-state solution, and he asked the United Nations to provide international protection for Palestinians living in the occupied territories “before it is too late.”
Israel’s policies, Abbas charged, have severely weakened the Palestinian Authority and caused last year’s U.S.-brokered peace talks to collapse.
Abbas said that because Israel has violated the Oslo accords, the Palestinians no longer would be obliged to honor their agreements.
The Oslo Accords of 1993 created limited self-rule for the Palestinians and began what is known today as “the peace process,” which the Palestinians hoped would lead to the creation of a sovereign state.
“The transitional Oslo Agreement and its annexes, and 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,” Abbas said.
“We declare that as long as Israel refuses to commit to the agreements signed with us, which render us an authority without real powers, and as long as Israel refuses to cease settlement activities and to release of the fourth group of Palestinian prisoners in accordance with our agreements, they leave us no choice but to insist that we will not remain the only ones committed to the implementation of these agreements.”
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is due to address the General Assembly on Thursday.
In the meantime, a senior official in the prime minister’s office called the Abbas speech “false propaganda” that “will encourage a disaster in the Middle East.”
“We expect the Palestinian Authority and its leader to act responsibly and accept the offer of the Israeli prime minister to hold direct negotiations with Israel without preconditions,” the official said. “The fact that he repeatedly does not respond is the best proof that there is no partner for peace.”
Abbas’s address coincided with soaring tensions in Jerusalem around what Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary and Jews refer to as the Temple Mount, the holiest site in Judaism.
Israel’s right-wing government recently passed new regulations imposing a four-year minimum sentence for rock-throwing and instituted more permissive rules of engagement that allow Israeli forces to use live fire against those throwing rocks, fireworks and gasoline bombs.
Abbas said Israel’s use of “brutal force” at the al-Aqsa Mosque, built on the spot where Muslims believe the prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven, could “convert the conflict from a political to religious one, creating an explosive situation in Jerusalem and in the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”
Abbas is increasingly unpopular among his own people. Two-thirds want him to resign, polls show. Less than half of Palestinians polled say they believe in a two-state solution, while a growing number support a return to “armed resistance.”
Abbas accused the Israelis of effectively sabotaging peace negotiations, promoted most recently by Secretary of State John F. Kerry before they collapsed in 2014. He praised the French for trying to revive the talks and called for a national unity government to unite Palestinian factions.
Palestinian Finance Minister Shukri Bishara, who attended the speech, said people are becoming increasingly dispirited as they see their dreams of an independent Palestinian state slip away amid continued settlement expansion.
The number of Jewish settlers in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, has about doubled in the two decades since the Oslo Accords, according to U.N. counts. There are now more than 350,000 Jewish Israelis in the West Bank and more than 150,000 in East Jerusalem.
Most of the international community considers the settlements illegal. The U.S. government calls the housing units illegitimate and unhelpful to the peace process. Israel disputes this.
After Abbas spoke, the Middle East Quartet of nations and groups involved in Middle East peacemaking issued a statement expressing concern that the violence, settlement activity and demolitions of Palestinian houses are imperiling the viability of a two-state solution.
The United Nations is marking its 70th anniversary this year, and Abbas noted that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been before the world body for all but the first three years of its existence.
“Is it not time to end this injustice?” he asked. “Is it not time to stop the suffering? Is it not time for the longest occupation in history, that is suffocating our people, to come to an end?”
Abbas concluded his speech with a plea to Israelis.
“My hands remain outstretched for the just peace that will guarantee my people’s rights, freedom and human dignity,” he said. “I say to our neighbors, the Israeli people, that peace is in your interest, in our interest, and in the interest of our future generations.”
Immediately after his speech, Abbas left the Assembly Hall, went to the U.N. rose garden overlooking the East River and watched as the Palestinian flag was raised outside the U.N. headquarters for the first time, a controversial act opposed by Israel and the United States.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon attended, and he called for meaningful negotiations leading to a two-state solution.
Abbas declared that from now on, Sept. 30 would be known as Flag Day in Palestine.
“The dawn is coming, no doubt,” he said. “The day we raise this flag will come soon in Jerusalem, the capital of our Palestinian state.”
Booth reported from Jerusalem.