In their speeches to the UN General Assembly Friday, Sept. 23, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas agreed only on the importance of reviving peace talks. Otherwise they were daggers drawn. But first, the Palestinian leader submitted to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon a formal request for Palestinian membership in the name of "President of the State of Palestinian and head of the PLO."
The Middle East Quartet (US, EU, Russia and the UN), later issued a call for both to start peace talks in a month to end within a year and avoid provocative steps meantime.
The speeches the two leaders delivered conveyed the impression of unbridgeable differences and animosity.
Abbas, who spoke first, issued a stream of anti-Israel venom and distortions of Palestinian-Israel history from 1948 up to the present, omitting key chapters like the two years of suicidal terror led by Yasser Arafat whom Abbas depicted as a hero. Israeli was portrayed as a ruthless occupation force, guilty of terrorism, suppression, theft of Palestinian land and water and the destruction of the infrastructures for their state. Israeli archeological digs were carried out to bring Temple Mount mosques tumbling down, he said.
Some of his Israeli listeners described him in dismay as "Arafat in a suit."
The Palestinian leader held Israel and its "apartheid settlements" wholely responsible for the failure of every past peace effort and branded its settlements the core of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In his black-and-white presentation of the conflict, Israelis were the villains and the Palestinians their helpless victims.
Netanyahu in a speech designed for Israeli and American ears, commented that the conflict began fifty years before a single settlement existed and asked sarcastically if by settlements, Abbas meant Tel Aviv.
Abbas demanded a halt to all settlement activity, trotting out the routine Palestinian propaganda about thousands of deaths and hardships meted out by the savage Israeli occupiers.
For talks to take place, he said, Israel must accept the Palestinian right to all the lands it captured in 1967 on the West Bank and Jerusalem. For his part, Abbas said he would never recognize Israel as a Jewish state. Turning to the Palestinian religious and historical affinity to Jerusalem, he called it the city of two Koranic prophets, Muhammad and Jesus, obliterating any Jewish ties to the city. He then accused Israel of restricting freedom of faith.
Netanyahu outlined the historic Jewish ties to the Land of Israel to explain why it was so important for the Palestinians to accept this history, which they have consistently refused to do. In fact, Palestinian leaders have declared that their state would never accept any Jewish presence.
Netanyahu said because Israel was so small, peace must be anchored in security. But the Palestinians, he said, refuse to recognize this truth, which is why they are going after a state instead of peace.
In peace negotiations, Israel would seek defensible borders and a long-term military presence in a demilitarized Palestine, said the prime minister – especially after the uprooting of settlements in – and Israel's disengagement from – the Gaza Strip resulted in years of missile attacks on southern Israel.
"The West Bank will not be another Gaza," he vowed.
In addition to Gaza, Israel evacuated land for two peace treaties, Netanyahu noted, and is willing to make painful compromises for peace. But so must the Palestinians.
Secretary Ban put the Palestinian bid for acceptance of their bid for members of the world body to the UN Security Council which will start reviewing it Monday, Sept. 26.