Al-Ahram Weekly Online   4 - 10 October 2012
Issue No. 1117
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

The PA's desperate UN feat

In New York, Mahmoud Abbas renewed the Palestinian bid for statehood recognition. Whether anything will come of it remains to be seen, writes Khaled Amayreh in occupied Ramallah

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Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas addresses the 67th United Nations General Assembly in New York

There is a broad agreement within the Palestinian political class that the road to obtaining UN recognition for a Palestinian state, even with borders yet to be designated, with or without agreement with Israel, is going to be anything but smooth sailing.

Nonetheless, the Palestinian Authority (PA) seems intent on walking the "extra mile" in order to receive such recognition, irrespective of the risks of failure.

Some PA officials have warned that UN failure to grant the PA full non-member status would send an unmistakable message to the Palestinians that they have to remain under Israel's racist military occupation for eternity, and that it would be better for them to come to terms with this reality.

But the PA seems in no mood to be affronted, once again, with this sort of argument.

Palestinian officials told Al-Ahram Weekly that the PA leadership, which has negotiated with Israel almost nonstop for two decades but to no avail, is feeling that the Palestinian cause has reached the hour of truth and that there is no longer room for procrastination, equivocation or postponement.

In the past, the PA has voiced exasperation with Israeli recalcitrance and US acquiescence on numerous occasions. However, the Ramallah regime is now facing mounting pressure from its own grassroots support base to the extent that many Palestinians are urging the PA to either extricate itself from the US-Israeli stranglehold or dismantle itself once and for all and let Israel cater for millions of restive Palestinians, demanding both freedom and bread.

Last week, a visibly frustrated PA President Mahmoud Abbas warned that the two-state solution, upon which the Middle East peace strategy is based, was collapsing due to unrelenting Israeli settlement expansion. Addressing the UN General Assembly, the Palestinian leader warned that Israel's policies were leading to a new Palestinian Nakba -- a reference to the uprooting of the bulk of Palestine's native inhabitants at the hands of Zionist Jewish invaders from Eastern Europe in 1948.

"We are facing relentless waves of attacks against our people, our mosques, churches and monasteries, and our homes and schools. They are unleashing their venom against our trees, fields, crops and property. And our people have become fixed targets for acts of killing and abuse with the complete collusion of the occupying forces and the Israeli government."

Trying to curry favor with the US and probably EU countries as well, Abbas said that he was still committed to the two-state solution strategy. "Despite all the complexities of the prevailing reality, and all the frustration that abounds, we say before the international community there is still a chance -- may be the last -- to save the two state solution and salvage peace."

It is too early to say whether the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) gambit at the UN will yield the desire fruit. "It is either going to be an extremely rugged and torturous uphill climb, or a dangerously slippery precipice," one Palestinian official described the move at the UN. "But we have to embark on this fateful step because the alternative would be the liquidation and death of the Palestinian cause."

Palestinian caution is justified. The United States is still firmly opposed to the Palestinian move. The Obama administration, braced for fateful elections in November, cannot afford to appear as supporting the Palestinian initiative, lest it infuriate the powerful US Jewish lobby, and hand Mitt Romney -- the Republican presidential candidate -- a PR advantage.

Moreover, according to the British newspaper The Guardian, the United States has called on EU governments to oppose PA bid at the UN. According to the paper, a US government memorandum described the PA bid as "extremely counterproductive" and warned of "significant negative consequences" for the PA, including financial sanctions.

The Guardian claimed that the message was communicated by US diplomats to representatives of European governments during last week's UN General Assembly. The paper said the US State Department declined comment on the matter.

Meanwhile, the PA has started consultations with Arab states over the phrasing of a request for full UN non-member status.

Saeb Ereikat, chief Palestinian negotiator, told European diplomats earlier this week that the Palestinian move at the UN would not harm the deadlocked peace process but would rather complement it. "Israel has always tried -- and is still trying -- to change the rules of the peace process and limit the Palestinian role to security and economic tasks only."

In an earlier interview with China's Xinhua news agency, Ereikat criticised the American stance on the peace process. "The United States' stance towards the resumption of peace negotiations with Israel has not changed. The US wants the unconditioned resumption of talks."

The Palestinians insist on a freeze of Jewish settlement building on the West Bank as a precondition to resuming peace talks. Israel has consistently refused to end settlement building and expansion throughout the occupied territory.

Meanwhile, the legal status of the PA would change from a self-rule authority under occupation to "a state under occupation" in case the UN recognised "Palestine" as a full non-member. In this case, the PA president would become president of the State of Palestine, and the Palestinian Legislative Council, would be upgraded into a full Palestinian parliament.

Such would be the case also if peace were concluded with Israel. It is the absence of any prospect of that which has led to the Palestinians to try the UN path. The two-state solution is all but dead and only needs a death certificate.

Abbas's speech at the UN may have been a diplomatic success, since it received cheers from several quarters. But politically and historically, the speech is unproven, as until now the world of diplomacy seems resistant to Palestinians achieving statehood by any route.

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