The Palestinians’ failed UN bid: Good news for Likud MKs

Abbas knew his statehood resolution would not get through the Security Council, but he had a domestic audience to consider. So too do several candidates from Netanyahu’s party, for whom the timing proved a useful coincidence

Raphael Ahren is a former diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after delivering a speech at Cooper Union in New York, September 22, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Jason DeCrow)
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after delivering a speech at Cooper Union in New York, September 22, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Jason DeCrow)

The day after, analysts everywhere are earnestly discussing what Tuesday’s defeat of the Palestinian statehood bid at the United Nations Security Council means for Israeli diplomacy and the future of the peace process.

Despite all the punditry, however, the episode has probably contributed more to the talking points of right-wing Likud politicians on the day of their party’s primary election than to the prospects of an independent Palestine.

The failed resolution, which called for the creation of a Palestinian state within one year and an Israeli withdrawal to the pre-1967 lines by the end of 2017, was as likely to survive a vote in the Security Council as the pro-cannabis Green Leaf party is to pass the Knesset’s electoral threshold.

It was unclear until the last minute whether the draft — which read more like a Palestinian wishlist than a serious proposal to reach an agreement — would garner the requisite nine yes votes. But even if it had, the Palestinians knew that the Americans would, if need be, use their veto.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas sought a showdown at the Security Council regardless. Facing pressure from Hamas and other rivals within Palestinian society, he evidently felt he needed to do something to prove to his nation that he knows how to pressure Israel.

The Palestinians had threatened repeatedly that were their resolution to be thrown out, they would apply for membership in the International Criminal Court and accuse Israel of crimes against humanity. Indeed, as soon as the Security Council vote ended, Palestinian officials started vowing revenge at the ICC, with senior sources saying they would consider signing the Rome Statute by Wednesday evening.

We shall see. Given the months of hesitation and back-and-forth surrounding the Security Council gambit, such speed would be a departure. And there are risks for the Palestinians in the ICC route too.

In the court of public opinion and among diplomats and parliamentarians in Europe and far beyond, the Palestinian narrative finds widespread sympathy — as Palestine’s UN General Assembly upgrade two years ago underlined, and those eight votes in favor of the Security Council resolution reemphasized. But in an actual court of justice, the worst alleged violations by the Israeli army could pale by comparison to the war crimes Hamas and other terror organizations commit as a matter of principle.

Going to the Security Council with a one-sided resolution that looked doomed to fail was a relatively simple process, with a relatively minor downside. And Abbas could afterwards turn to his people and say he had tried. Going to the ICC could be quite a different story. As Abbas knows, the move could backfire: If the Palestinians sue Israel, Israel will sue back with a vengeance.

The Likud fallout

If the Security Council effort did not advance the Palestinian cause, it did enable certain right-wing Israeli lawmakers to show off their anti-Palestinian statehood credentials on the day of the party primaries Wednesday. No one suspects that rival right-wing MKs from the hardline Jewish Home party secretly support a two-state solution. But since the head of the Likud, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has publicly if conditionally endorsed the idea of Palestinian statehood, some MKs in his party apparently felt the need to distance themselves from that notion, in the hope that this would win favor among the 96,000 Likud members choosing the next Knesset slate. Abbas’s UN demarche provided the perfect opportunity.

Yuval Steinitz at a press conference at the UN, September 24, 2013. (photo credit: UN Photo by Amanda Voisard)
Yuval Steinitz at a press conference at the UN, September 24, 2013. (photo credit: UN Photo by Amanda Voisard)

Intelligence Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, for instance, usually focuses his concerns on Iran’s nuclear drive and rarely talks about the Palestinian issue. But to remove any doubt ahead of Wednesday’s Likud primaries, he called the Palestinian UN resolution an “act of war,” warning that Israel would have to consider dismantling the PA if it passed. To make sure the message was well internalized, he also released a campaign video, in which a fake Mahmoud Abbas tells viewers they shouldn’t vote for Steinitz “because he opposes a Palestinian state.”

On Wednesday morning, Steinitz released another statement, recalling that during his term as finance minister he fined the Palestinians “hundreds of millions in response to unilateral steps at the UN — and as a result, the PA refrained from such actions for an extended period of time.”

‎Danny Danon, the only candidate competing against Netanyahu for the chairmanship of the party, while also seeking a high a spot on the Knesset list, went a step further. The world needs to know, he declared Tuesday evening, that recognition of a Palestinian state means that Israel will start applying sovereignty over Judea and Samara, the biblical name for the West Bank.

Of course, nothing of that sort is going to happen any time soon. Israel has no interest in dissolving the PA and it also isn’t about to annex the West Bank.

But it’s election time, and if Abbas can use a UN resolution to try to score political points at home, why shouldn’t Israeli politicians do the same?

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