Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council

PA spin on unsteady path to unilateral statehood

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As reported by Al Jazeera, the US has begun a serious attempt to prevent the Palestinian unilateral statehood bid at the UN later this month. The Palestinian Authority, however, has remained steadfast and continued its refusal to back down.

The New York Times reported on Sunday that the US has launched an attempt to persuade the Palestinians not to seek statehood at the annual UN General Assembly meeting beginning on September 20.

"When it comes to going to the United Nations, I think the train has left the station," Muhammad Shtayyeh, a member of Fatah's central committee who is overseeing the UN bid, said on Sunday.

"We're already on the way to New York. We are very ready for this. All our papers are ready."

Israeli academic Barry Rubin is critical of the US Administration's efforts, arguing that they are too little too late and the US may have missed the opportunity to prevent this dangerous effort before the PA become so publicly committed to it.

A "normal" U.S. policy would have begun pressing the PA to back down from this strategy almost a year ago, when PA leaders began talking about it. Rather than take quick action-or, indeed, punish, pressure, or even criticize the PA for anything it did-the Obama Administration stood by and made disapproving murmurs from time to time.

Meanwhile, Jerusalem Post reporters Khaled Abu Toameh and Tovah Lazaroff interviewed a number of PA leaders, providing some important insights into the way the PA is attempting to portray the policy.

[PA President Mahmoud] Abbas said that the PA application to the UN calls for transforming the Palestinian territories from the status of disputed lands to a state under occupation.

"Going to the UN does not mean ending the occupation," he cautioned the Fatah operatives. "This is a prelude to ending occupation and achieving independence and sovereignty.

The result of such a vote could be highly significant - if successful, the Palestinians believe the vote would alter the status of Gaza and the West Bank under international law from "disputed territories" to territory of one state (Palestine) being occupied by another (Israel), with radical implications for both parties. Of course, the US veto in the Security Council will prevent such an outcome, but there may still be serious implications if the Palestinians get their resolution through the General Assembley. As this blog has repeatedly argued, such unilateral measures will not help the Palestinian statehood aspirations and will inevitably lead to more conflict.

As for the aftermath of the declaration of statehood, the PA supposedly have the following plan:

... According to [former PA cheif negotiator Nabil] Sha'ath, after the vote at the UN, the PA would work toward establishing a national unity government with Hamas and holding presidential and parliamentary elections.

However, the PA-Hamas unity agreement does not look healthy enough to fulfill Sha'ath's claimed hopes for it. As reported by Post reporter Daniel Rubenstein,

... Yet [PA Minster for Information Ghassan] al-Khatib believes that the reconciliation agreement has already failed. "At the beginning, we thought that it was pretty clear that Hamas wants reconciliation. The governments in Iran, Syria and Egypt were pressuring them to reach a compromise, and in Gaza they really wanted Egypt to open up the Rafah crossings. But events over the past few months in the Arab world have shown that Hamas's excitement about the reconciliation has waned."

Rubenstein notes further that the PA has, to its credit, been taking steps to keep the inevitable protests peaceful and avert violent clashes with Israel.

SAYS AL-KHATIB, "WE ARE STILL discussing what we will do, but we are not interested merely in diplomatic maneuvers. We are asking for the support of the masses. And for that reason, we have set September 20 as a day of demonstrations - non-violent demonstrations - throughout the West Bank."

The Bethlehem-based Ma'an news agency has reported on recent meetings in Ramallah between US representatives and heads of the Palestinian security services to discuss how the PA will ensure that these demonstrations do not turn into violent confrontations with the IDF or the settlers. Palestinian newspapers are reporting that the demonstrations are supposed to take place in the city centers, as far as possible from checkpoints and settlements.

However, he notes that preventing violence may be outside of the PA's capibilities.

...Revolutions in the Arab world and the long years of Israeli control over the Palestinian territories have taught us that even quiet demonstrations can spin out of control. Analysis of the demonstrations in Tahrir Square in Cairo, for example, prove that the police did not initially intend to open fire on the demonstrations, yet when the unarmed masses charged the police and army, they felt that their lives were in danger and opened fire.

Fortunately, Western leaders are not buying the PA's attempt to portray the statehood bid as anything other than a rejection of negotiations and an attempt to win concessions from Israel without having to give anything up in return. The latest prominent figure to throw his hat in the ring is Quartet envoy Tony Blair, who is now visiting Israeli and PA officials in an attempt to avert the bid. Hopefully, these kinds of efforts will pay off and the new round of violence that has been ominously over the two peoples will pass overhead.

Daniel Meyerowitz-Katz