At the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) last week the Israeli Prime Minister succeeded and failed simultaneously. With a cartoonish display, Benjamin Netanyahu managed to become the laughing stock of the internet as parodied images of his bomb chart filled blogs and websites. Iran’s nuclear program, which is something the Israelis have demanded the world take seriously, became a subject of jest. But at the same time something else happened: by the time Netanyahu was done with his classroom antics, no one even remembered that Mahmoud Abbas, the Chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), had spoken just minutes before.
Abbas, for his part, delivered an important speech even though it contained little in terms of a clear strategy for moving forward. There were, however, noticeable shifts in the language he chose to use, including emphasis on “ethnic cleansing,” “apartheid,” and “boycott.” Abbas has long been seen as a moderate Palestinian voice by Washington and his adoption of this language may well be a veiled message that it’s becoming too difficult to maintain cooperation and moderation while there is no progress toward Palestinian self-determination. Most importantly, Abbas took the opportunity to warn the world of the ongoing and impending Nakba the Palestinians are experiencing at the hands of Israeli occupation. Here, in a hall of world leaders, Abbas stood, literally saying that the Palestinian people are being “wiped off the map.”
Enter Netanyahu, and his cartoon. Abbas’s warning was all but forgotten.
What we saw at the UNGA last week was a microcosm of a much larger and ongoing strategy on the part of Netanyahu: to use the Iranian issue to make the Palestinian issue disappear.