He complained bitterly of the world letting the Palestinian people down and failing to put an end to the Israeli occupation, refused to resume peace talks with the Israelis unless success was assured, defended his people's cause, warned of an imminent new catastrophe, and gave the Israelis one last chance to avert a new explosion of anger.
President Abbas stressed his determination to press ahead with Palestine's application for non-member status at the UN during the General Assembly's current session (Palestinian and Arab sources say that the application will be voted upon on Solidarity with Palestine Day).
But there were weak points in Abbas' speech. He failed to outline an alternative to the  Oslo agreement and the collapsed 'peace process.' Giving warnings, expressing anger and sadness, threatening to seek non-member status at the UN, and giving Israel one last chance do not constitute an alternative that could give the Palestinians hope for the future.
Before President Abbas flew to New York, the Palestinian leadership discussed two options he proposed: either to go to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and inform him that the Palestinians had decided to abrogate Oslo (with all that entails, including the dissolution of the PA), or hold new elections (which Abbas said he was prepared to call within a week).
These two options completely contradict each other: Holding elections under present circumstances would only reinforce Oslo. How can one threaten to abrogate Oslo on the one hand, and reinforce it on the other? The only explanation is that Abbas has become so pessimistic and dismayed that he made these two proposals as an excuse to leave the political scene altogether. Indeed, Abbas threatened the leadership that he would resign if they did not choose one of his two options within ten days.
Abbas expressed anger at Fateh and other factions, which he described as 'dissenting partners,' for taking part in street demonstrations calling on him and his Prime Minister to go. He pointed out that he had said earlier that if as little as four people, much less thousands, asked him to resign, he would do so.
In other words, what the leadership was really asked to discuss was finding a way out for Abbas, not how to solve the Palestinian impasse. Needless to say, the meeting broke up without reaching a decision. Discussions are due to resume when the President returns from his trip.
The meeting, which was held on the eve of Abbas's departure, was supposed to discuss ways to build on the decision to internationalize the Palestinian cause, and turn it into part of a comprehensive strategy that could supplant the present course, begun at Oslo, which led to such catastrophic consequences.
There are those who say that just going to the UN is an alternative strategy because doing so would drastically alter the rules of the game. This reading could be correct in one case, but is wrong in another. We have to wait to see what the fate of the Palestinian bid is going to be. Will the application be put to a vote? What conditions will the Palestinian leadership agree to in exchange for certain important countries voting for the bid?
The fact that the Palestinian application was referred for consultation before it is put to a vote means that it will be subject to bargaining. This should not be the case, since Israel and the United States oppose the bid, and since the Palestinian leadership already paid its share of the painful historic deal when it agreed to the establishment of a state in 22 percent of the area of historic Palestine. Nevertheless, the Palestinian leadership is confident that the bid would garner enough votes to pass, although it hopes that major European countries would vote for it – or at least abstain.
What the Palestinians fear is that some important European countries could succumb to pressures from the U.S. and Israel and oppose the bid when it is put to a vote. This would lead to further postponement, especially if Barack Obama wins a second term in office, or to the drafting of a weak and conditional new resolution.
Without adopting a comprehensive alternative to Oslo, the Palestinian leadership finds itself in a very difficult position. The present situation is untenable, peace talks with Israel are obstructed, the reconciliation with Hamas is at a dead end, the economic situation is deteriorating, and the Israeli government is forcing the PA to submit to its diktats. This being the case, the Palestinian leadership will think long and hard before deciding to build on its decision to internationalize the issue. The most the Palestinians can hope to achieve is to win non-member status at the UN, which is no alternative to the path of negotiations but is actually a way to restart talks albeit under improved conditions.
It is no secret that a number of European nations, supported by some Arabs, would back the Palestinian bid if restarting peace talks were its objective. Yet nothing would have changed if the Palestinian leadership agrees to resume peace talks after winning non-member status (and being classified as a country under occupation). The resolution would be used as an excuse to restart the futile peace process, on condition that the Palestinians do not seek membership of the ICC and other UN bodies.
What makes this outcome very likely is the fact that there are those who believe – and want us to believe – that there is simply no alternative to Oslo, that the agreement cannot be got rid of only by signing a new one with Israel that would be just as bad-- or even worse. Many began circulating a rumor saying that getting rid of Oslo would mean going back to the situation that pertained before Oslo (including the collapse of the PA and the return of direct Israeli occupation).
This exaggeration is deliberate; those whose interests grow out of Oslo and because of it, those who do not want the present situation to change, have been propagating it.
It is no easy matter to renounce Oslo, yet doing so represents the Palestinians' only hope of reviving their national cause and pushing it forwards to achieve its objectives of freedom, return, and independence. We have no good options, but the real question is: why did we arrive at where we are today? Who led us here? Was it inevitable?
Finding an alternative requires political will, a strategic vision, and readiness to struggle and sacrifice. National unity must be restored on a basis of a single program of action and a unified leadership. The process of finding an alternative to Oslo could begin by convincing people – and ourselves – of the need for one, and that whatever its price, it would be lower than persevering with the current arrangement. Next, we must recognize the present reality with all its limitations and restrictions as well as the opportunities it provides.
And then, we should put in place a strategic plan to deal with the prevailing situation with a view to changing it, neither submitting to it nor taking risks by ignoring it. This can be achieved by giving priority to ending the schism (between Fateh and Hamas) and restoring national unity. Priority should also be given to the process of reforming and revitalizing the PLO, not to elections and the forming a new government. Only after this is carried out should we rethink the structure and political, economic, and security functions of the PA with a view to making it into a tool of the PLO and the Palestinian national program.
Some might say that such a course would lead to a confrontation that would destroy the PA. This is a distinct possibility, but not that likely to happen. For one thing, Israel will think long and hard before deciding to reoccupy the Palestinian territories directly. Also, the return of direct Israeli military occupation in the presence of a revived and rejuvenated PLO would represent a lifeline for the Palestinians.
What Palestinians feared most was the possibility that the PA would collapse without an active PLO to take its place and without the existence of other alternatives. In this case, chaos would reign, and Israel would be able to fill the vacuum as it sees fit.
If history could repeat itself, then the collapse of the PA could mean the end of everything. The PA is not only a fruit of Oslo, but also the result of a long struggle.
Yet it remains a deficient and inadequate embodiment of the Palestinians' historical and natural rights enshrined in international law and UN resolutions.