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Palestine Plants Its Flag at the U.N., But Is the U.S. Even Watching?

Palestine pleaded for more international support Wednesday, shortly before it raised its flag at the United Nations.

Palestinians wave their national flags as they watch a live-screening of president Mahmud Abbas' speech followed by the raising of the Palestinian flag at the United Nations headquarters in New York, on September 30, 2015 in the city of Ramallah. Earlier in the week the UN General Assembly, by a two-thirds vote, adopted a resolution allowing the flags of Palestine and the Holy See -- both of which have non-member observer status -- to be hoisted alongside those of member states. AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI        (Photo credit should read ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images)
Palestinians wave their national flags as they watch a live-screening of president Mahmud Abbas' speech followed by the raising of the Palestinian flag at the United Nations headquarters in New York, on September 30, 2015 in the city of Ramallah. Earlier in the week the UN General Assembly, by a two-thirds vote, adopted a resolution allowing the flags of Palestine and the Holy See -- both of which have non-member observer status -- to be hoisted alongside those of member states. AFP PHOTO / ABBAS MOMANI (Photo credit should read ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images)

Palestinian State President Mahmoud Abbas on Wednesday told the United Nations General Assembly that his people are no longer bound by the Oslo Accords — the agreement made in the 1990s that laid the groundwork for a two-state solution and an end to the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. An hour later, Palestine’s flag was raised outside the U.N. for the first time.

In his speech to the world body, Abbas accused Israel of violating not only the initial Oslo Accords but also other follow-up agreements and said that Palestine’s “patience has come to an end.”

We cannot maintain the status quo,” Abbas said, adding that Palestine “cannot be the only party” that remains committed to the agreements.

Abbas previously has described the U.N. flag-raising as a historic step forward for Palestinian statehood. But on Wednesday, he asked the international community to move beyond the flag’s symbolism and instead offer tangible support in Palestine’s fight to take back East Jerusalem, which it considers its rightful capital. “We are being hit from all sides … and we find no protector,” Abbas said. “The current situation is unsustainable.”

In that regard, Abbas’s remarks directly echoed U.S. President Barack Obama’s speech to the U.N. General Assembly last year. The annual meeting in 2014 was convened shortly after the end of an Israeli-led military operation in Gaza that left 2,400 dead. In his address that year, Obama called the state of affairs between Israel and Palestine “unsustainable” and urgently called for a two-state solution to the conflict. “We cannot afford to turn away from this effort — not when rockets are fired at innocent Israelis or the lives of so many Palestinian children are taken from us in Gaza,” Obama said at the time.

That’s a stark contrast to Obama’s approach this year, when, for the first time in his presidency, he failed to mention the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in his U.N. speech.

In his Monday address to the world body, Obama focused instead on the Syrian civil war, the Islamic State, Russia, and Iran.

That drew scrutiny from some of Palestine’s strongest supporters, including Turkey. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters Monday that he was disappointed Obama chose not to focus on Palestine in his public address.

One thing [that] was significantly missing was Palestine,” Davutoglu said, adding that the United States should recognize that “a root cause” for extremism in young Muslims is tied to policies surrounding Israel and Palestine. “Young Muslims have less trust in the international community, and that has a lot to do with what’s going on in Jerusalem.”

Abbas’s remarks and the flag-raising come amid growing frustration by Palestinians that peace negotiations with Israel remain stalled. Earlier this month, 119 U.N. member states voted in favor of the resolution to raise the flag, with another 45 abstaining and eight — including the United States and the United Kingdom, both allies of Israel — voting against it.

Photo credit: ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/Getty Images

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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