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His application for full membership in the UN of a Palestinian state on the borders that prevailed before the 1967 Arab-Israeli war is already resetting the terms for negotiation.
The UN Security Council is meeting to discuss the application today, but an actual vote will probably be delayed for weeks. In the interim, frantic lobbying and diplomacy is under way to somehow convince Mr. Abbas – whose move seems wildly popular in the West Bank – to back away and open a new round of talks with Israel instead.
After years of eroding legitimacy (PA elections scheduled for 2009 were canceled because of the rift with Hamas, which controls Gaza) and the failure of negotiations to deliver a state or stop the expansion of settlements, Abbas was seen as weak and tired by his own people. For the moment, at least, his popularity has surged again thanks to his symbolic – but nevertheless powerful – move at the UN.
Abandoning the UN route now would be catastrophic to his own standing – at least without something firm in hand. Abbas held firm in a speech in Ramallah Sunday. "We will not accept [negotiations] until legitimacy is the foundation and they cease settlement completely," he told a flag-waving crowd.
PA negotiator Nabil Shaath was even more stark in comments to Maan news agency, criticizing President Obama's promise to block the Palestinian statehood bid on the Security Council as he ramps up his 2012 reelection campaign.
“Obama prefers to capitulate to pressure from the Zionist lobby but he will lose a lot in the Arab world," said Mr. Shaath. "The Palestinians won’t pay the price for his re-election. No one could force us to backtrack."
Hamas rejects the statehood bid
The attitude of Abbas – who called for "peaceful resistance" and diplomacy in his speech – was strongly contrasted with the behavior of Hamas in Gaza on Friday. (Hamas is opposed to two states and wants the return of everything lost in 1948.)
Hamas banned public gatherings in support of Abbas' move, confiscated Palestinian flags, and issued threats against supporters of Abbas. In at least one instance, they raided a coffee shop in Gaza City showing the speech and arrested the owner.