Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds up a sign that...

Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds up a sign that reads "Beirut-Precision Guided Missile" during the UN General Assembly meeting in New York. Credit: Bloomberg/Jeenah Moon

UNITED NATIONS – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas exchanged barbs before the UN General Assembly Thursday, with Abbas condemning as “racist” a new law establishing Israel as a Jewish state and Netanyahu declaring that Abbas’ government kills Palestinians who sell land to Jews.

Abbas also leveled sharp criticism at President Donald Trump for recent maneuvers he viewed as siding with Israel as Netanyahu praised Trump and his UN ambassador, Nikki Haley, for their “unwavering support” of Israel at the UN. Both men spoke a day after Trump, in New York for meetings and speeches at the UN himself, expressed a greater willingness to see a two-state solution to the 70-year conflict between Israelis and Palestinians since Israel was founded in 1948. The U.S. administration has said it would unveil a comprehensive peace plan soon, but it has released few details.

Abbas said the United States had all but relinquished its role as a neutral broker of peace between the two parties by moving its embassy to Jerusalem earlier this year, pulling $300 million in funding for the UN Relief and Works Agency, which helps refugees, and ordering the closure of the Washington office of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

“With all of these decisions, the administration has reneged on all previous U.S. commitments and even undermined the two-state solution and revealed its false claims about the humanitarian conditions of the Palestinian people,” he said.

His speech was most fiery when he labeled Israel’s adoption of a law designating the country as a Jewish state a racist act, saying it denies Palestinians their connection to the land. “Israel adopted a racist law that crossed all red lines,” he said. “Israel practices discrimination but actually this law comes as the epicenter of this discrimination.”

Netanyahu countered by saying the UN has long discriminated against Israel, the most striking example of its bias being the General Assembly’s adoption – and subsequent repeal in 1991-- of a 1975 resolution that equated Zionism with racism. Saying the resolution's "foul stench still clings to these halls," he added that the Palestinians are unable to judge.

“Moments ago, President Abbas outrageously said that Israel’s Nation State Law proves that Israel is a racist, apartheid state,” he said. “President Abbas, you should know better. You wrote a dissertation denying the Holocaust. Your Palestinian Authority imposes death sentences on Palestinians for selling land to Jews . . . And you condemn Israel’s morality? You call Israel racist?”

Netanyahu spent the bulk of his speech attacking Iran, saying he is aware of two secret sites where the country’s scientists have been developing nuclear weapons and vowing to stop it. 

As in the past, Netanyahu brought illustrated pictures of what he claimed were the sites Iran had been hiding, urging the UN’s International atomic Energy Agency to inspect the sites immediately.

“Now I also have a message today for the tyrants of Tehran,” he said. “Israel knows what you’re doing and Israel knows where you’re doing it. Israel will never let a regime that calls for our destruction to develop nuclear weapons. Not now, not 10 years from now, not ever.”

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