Despite International Pressure, the Palestinians Will Go to the UN / Prof.Pinhas Inbari

05 September 2011
The closer the Palestinians get to their unilateral bid for statehood recognition at the United Nations in late September, the more they begin to feel international pressure to retreat and return to the negotiating table. However, Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas has no alternative but to continue with the bid, no matter the price.

Abbas is under pressure both from within the PLO and without. The external pressures come from the United States, which perceives the need to use its veto against Palestinian statehood as a personal affront to president Obama - who declared the materialization of a Palestinian state as a prime goal in his foreign policy - and, from a number of Arab states motivated by different factors. The Gulf States are primarily concerned about their own survival and worry about adding the Palestinian problem into the mix of regional Arab unrest.

Jordan views the unilateral bid as dangerous as it separates the issue of statehood from the issue of the Palestinian refugees, which may result in Jordan getting 'stuck' with many Palestinian refugees that currently populate its land; they may then go after their rights in Jordan proper and add to the unrest east of river Jordan. As a result, the Arab states have ceased financing the PA, while the United States is threatening to halt its annual US$ 500 million grant transfer to the PA.

Last week, US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton called Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad to warn him against proceeding with the statehood bid at the UN and, according to sources in Ramallah, offered a graceful way out for the Palestinian leadership. Clinton made sweeping promises on behalf of the United States, the EU, and the Quartet that would guarantee Palestinian statehood in a year's time should the Palestinians refrain from going to the UN in September and return to negotiations with Israel.

It is telling that Secretary Clinton called Fayyad instead of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, rightly assuming he would reject her appeal and deepen the crisis. Clinton's intention was not to convince PM Fayyad to agree to her terms, as he is kept out of the loop on the decision-making process on the statehood issue, but to widen the internal Palestinian dispute and strengthen internal opposition to Abbas ahead of September.

The internal dispute in Ramallah revolves around two issues: future relations with the United States and the end of the PLO as the legal representative of the Palestinian people. Critics inside the Fatah movement are claiming that once the Palestinian state replaces the PLO in representing the Palestinians, all authority will move to Ramallah at the expense of the Palestinian refugees who will be left de facto without representation. This argument corresponds with similar Jordanian concerns mentioned above.

Those who support the unilateral statehood bid posit that no Palestinian state will be declared and that the entire project is really about enhancing the struggle against Israel. Accordingly, if no Palestinian state is declared as a result of the actions at the UN, the PLO will continue to represent all Palestinians, including the refugees. The supporters of the September bid also claim that the internationalization of the conflict has been a decades-long PLO policy principle, which took the conflict out of the bilateral framework where a stronger Israel was facing the weaker Palestinians, and placed it in the international domain where Israel continues to be confronted by the framework of international 'egitimacy' represented by the UN.

As for the prospects of a clash with the United States over the unilateral bid for statehood, Abbas' entourage is convinced that the current problem with the Obama administration is rooted in the president's need to win a re-election campaign next fall and will disappear once he is installed in the White House for a second term.

The Palestinians are determined to proceed with the bid because they feel they have invested too much and will lose great political capital should they retreat. Although Obama's formula for a Palestinian state is based on the 4 June 1967 lines, it also defines Israel as a Jewish state, making the promise of a Palestinian state in a year's time less appetizing. This, coupled with the persuasion that President Obama will return to his pro-Palestinian ways post re-election, creates very little incentive for the Palestinians to forgo their September plans.

In the end, it is only the busy couloirs of the UN that may influence the Palestinian leadership and prevent a regional crisis.

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