WATCH: Palestinian President Abbas demands independence at the U.N.

UNITED NATIONS — In an eloquent and at times emotional address to the General Assembly, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called upon the world to recognize the right of the Palestinian people to an independent state. “I come,” he said, “…to speak on behalf of the Palestinian people in the homeland and in the Diaspora, to say, after 63 years of suffering of the ongoing Nakba: Enough. It is time for the Palestinian people to gain their freedom and independence.”

The Palestinian leader seemed to be evoking the late Yitzhak Rabin’s 1993 speech, in which the assassinated Israeli prime minister said,

“Enough of blood and tears. Enough. We have no desire for revenge. We harbor no hatred towards you. We, like you, are people who want to build a home, to plant a tree, to love, live side by side with you in dignity, in empathy, as human beings, as free men. We are today giving peace a chance and again saying to you in a clear voice: Enough.”

Continuing in this visionary, statesman-like mode, President Abbas quoted the Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish, Mr. Abbas said that his people wanted “to exercise their right to enjoy a normal life like the rest of humanity.” More concretely, the president identified Israel’s settlements in the West Bank as the “primary cause for the failure of the peace process,” adding, “The occupation is racing against time to redraw the borders on our land according to what it wants and to impose a fait accompli on the ground that changes the realities and that is undermining the realistic potential for the existence of the State of Palestine.”

President Abbas assured his listeners that the Palestinians were not in the business of de-legitimizing Israel. “Our efforts,” he said, “Are not aimed at isolating Israel or de-legitimizing it; rather we want to gain legitimacy for the cause of the people of Palestine.” Almost as if he were pleading the justice of his cause, Mr. Abbas detailed the Palestinian Authority’s investment in state building – in creating a civil society, judicial and ministerial accountability, transparency, women’s rights and the rule of law.

On Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, he said:

The time has come for our men, women and children to live normal lives, for them to be able to sleep without waiting for the worst that the next day will bring; for mothers to be assured that their children will return home without fear of suffering killing, arrest or humiliation; for students to be able to go to their schools and universities without checkpoints obstructing them.  The time has come for sick people to be able to reach hospitals normally, and for our farmers to be able to take care of their good land without fear of the occupation seizing the land and its water, which the wall prevents access to, or fear of the settlers, for whom settlements are being built on our land and who are uprooting and burning the olive trees that have existed for hundreds of years.  The time has come for the thousands of prisoners to be released from the prisons to return to their families and their children to become a part of building their homeland, for the freedom of which they have sacrificed.

As Mr. Abbas warmed to his theme of seeking basic and long-denied rights for the Palestinian people, the UN translator’s voice sounded choked with emotion; another translator replaced her in a seamless-but-obvious transition.

WATCH: Palestinian President Abbas demands independence at the U.N.
Mahmoud Abbas submits application for UN membership to Secretary General Ban Ki Moon (photo: UN/Eskinder Debebe)

The president received two standing ovations and many rounds of applause – particularly when he confirmed that he had delivered that morning the letter requesting recognition of Palestinian statehood to Secretary General Ban Ki Moon. Negotiations, the president said, had proved futile. The Palestinians had been negotiating for 18 years, since the Oslo Accords were signed in the Rose Garden of the White House, yet Israel had continued to build its settlements on the land that was supposed to be for a Palestinian state.

Negotiations were pointless as long as settlement building and expansion continued, said Mr. Abbas. Pre-empting Prime Minister Netanyahu’s invitation to ‘start negotiating immediately’, Mr. Abbas said, “It is futile to go into negotiations without clear parameters and in the absence of credibility and a specific timetable.”

“At a time when the Arab peoples affirm their quest for democracy – the Arab Spring – the time is now for the Palestinian Spring, the time for independence,” he said.


Watch the speech here: