PA prepares for showdown over statehood bid

PA prepares for showdown over statehood bid

Timing of UN quest is critical with US elections looming

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas (Issam Rimawi/Flash90)

RAMALLAH, West Bank (AP) — The next international showdown over “Palestine” seems inevitable, with President Mahmoud Abbas determined to seek U.N. General Assembly recognition of statehood for his homeland despite U.S. and Israeli objections.

However, the possibility of repercussions abroad has sparked a growing debate in the leader’s inner circle over the timing of such a call, and whether it should be delayed until after the U.S. presidential election.

Abbas leans toward waiting until after the November vote to avoid further strain with the Obama administration, aides have said, while senior figures in the Palestine Liberation Organization and Abbas’ own Fatah movement on Thursday called for quicker action.

An earlier Palestinian U.N. bid could add unwelcome complications to President Barack Obama’s re-election efforts.

Palestinian officials eager to make a move as soon as the General Assembly convenes in September argued that Obama has been a disappointment to the Palestinians and that there is no point in waiting.

“There are some who might want to wait until after November because of American pressure, but the Americans have done nothing but put pressure on the Palestinians, without delivering anything,” Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the PLO Executive Committee, said Thursday. “What we need is to move fast.”

The final decision is up to Abbas, who has said he will seek Arab League backing for the timing of his U.N. move when the organization meets in early September. Late last month, the Arab League decided in principle to back his U.N. bid.

General Assembly recognition of “Palestine” would upgrade the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, territories Israel occupied in 1967, to a non-member observer state.

It would not change realities on the ground — Israel has annexed east Jerusalem, retains control over the West Bank and remains the gatekeeper of Gaza.

However, U.N. recognition would enshrine the 1967 pre-war frontier as the border between Israel and Palestine, countering what the Palestinians view as Israeli attempts to blur the line by expanding settlements on war-won land. Some 500,000 Israeli settlers already live in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, and their numbers are growing.

At the same time, Palestinians will have to brace for a slew of possible punitive measures by Israel and the U.S., according to an internal Palestinian document that outlined expected repercussions.

The U.S. could close the PLO mission in Washington, suspend millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians or withhold contributions to any U.N. agency the Palestinians try to join, said the document obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday. The U.S. already took such a step when the Palestinians joined the U.N. cultural agency UNESCO last year.

Possible Israel reactions could include increasing restrictions on Palestinian trade and movement, the document said.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Israel is aware of the Palestinian intentions, but declined to comment on possible Israeli responses to such a move.

Palestinians should focus on renewing negotiations instead of seeking international support, he said.

“If the Palestinians really wanted to improve the situation here on the ground and try to take the first step toward some reasonable solution of the conflict, they should have invested all their efforts in diplomatic moves in the region,” said Palmor.

The internal document said Palestinian institutions should get ready for any scenario. The paper was presented to the Arab League last month and was discussed Wednesday by senior Fatah members.

“We discussed the different scenarios … and decided to go (to the General Assembly) regardless of the pressure and the threats,” said Mahmoud Aloul, a Fatah official. “The date is up to the Arab League … For us, the sooner the better.”

The Palestinians are confident they can get the required majority at the General Assembly, even though last year’s attempt to win full U.N. membership lacked the necessary U.N. Security Council support.

“I have no doubt that when we go to the General Assembly, we will get a big majority of votes there,” said Nabil Shaath, an Abbas aide.

Palestinian officials say that beyond the expected backing of Arab and Muslim states, as well as members of the Non-Aligned Movement, they hope some European countries will support them. While European backing is not crucial, it would give the Palestinians a diplomatic boost.

Israel and the U.S. are vehemently opposed to the Palestinian campaign for international recognition, saying a Palestinian state can only be established through negotiations with Israel.

The last round of talks broke off in 2008, and efforts to revive them failed because of deep disagreement between Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the terms for negotiations.

Abbas has said his U.N. bid is meant to create additional leverage vis-a-vis Israel and not to bypass negotiations.

Netanyahu says he is willing to resume talks at any time, but refuses to halt settlement expansion or recognize the 1967 lines as the base for future border talks. Abbas says that talks are pointless under such conditions.


Laub reported from Jericho, West Bank

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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