If you'd like to read Abbas' speech to the United Nations on Palestinian statehood, it's here. On paper, however, it's a bunch of boilerplate rhetoric and familiar history. And then this happens:
When we bring our plight and our case to this international podium, it is a confirmation of our reliance on the political and diplomatic option and is a confirmation that we do not undertake unilateral steps. Our efforts are not aimed at isolating Israel or de-legitimizing it; rather we want to gain legitimacy for the cause of the people of Palestine. We only aim to de-legitimize the settlement activities, the occupation and apartheid and the logic of ruthless force, and we believe that all the countries of the world stand with us in this regard.
I am here to say on behalf of the Palestinian people and the Palestine Liberation Organization: We extend our hands to the Israeli government and the Israeli people for peacemaking. I say to them: Let us urgently build together a future for our children where they can enjoy freedom, security and prosperity. Let us build the bridges of dialogue instead of checkpoints and walls of separation, and build cooperative relations based on parity and equity between two neighboring States - Palestine and Israel - instead of policies of occupation, settlement, war and eliminating the other.
I didn't read those words. I listened to them, in translation, as Abbas delivered them. And they were electric. Abbas blew the doors off the United Nations, with a clarion call to rectify a perpetual injustice, in the absence of realistic alternatives, and issuing a call that resonated, emotionally, with many in that room.
Imagine what they sound like in Arabic. And imagine what it sounds like in Arabic when the U.S. objects. I actually thought President Obama's U.N. speech made as strong an argument as can be made for why Abbas' move is misguided. But I didn't hear it in Arabic.
Does anyone seriously believe that after Abbas' move comes in spite of Israel and the United States, and after he forces a vote, that the Palestinian leadership that succeeds him will be more quiescent to Israel or the U.S.? More accomodating? More empathetic?
It's difficult to watch that speech -- to see the reaction to it -- and avoid the conclusion that the United States isn't placing itself on the wrong side of a watershed moment in the Arab/Israeli conflict.
Update: My friend Mark Leon Goldberg adds, "This is about as a dramatic as it gets for a General Assembly here at the United Nations."