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Palestinians' gambit for UN recognition wobbles

Even as the Arab League threw its weight behind the Palestinian Authority's bid for UN recognition of a Palestinian state, officials are having second thoughts.

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"Even if [PA President Mahmoud] Abbas succeeded and got some support from the Arabs and some friendly countries, Israel may reoccupy Gaza and intensify its occupation of the West Bank," says Mr. Ahmed, who worries that Israel would stop providing water and electricity and could withhold the tax revenues it collects on behalf of the PA. "This may be the last nail in the coffin of the already bankrupted PA. This once again proves the legal armed resistance is the best way to get statehood."

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The UN campaign has spooked Israel, which views it a unilateral move that violates past peace treaties between the Palestinians and Israel.

Earlier this month, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman threatened retaliation, saying that his staff has prepared a "basket of unilateral responses."

But Palestinians appear undeterred by the prospect of conflict; three in four expect the PA to follow up the UN vote with moves to enforce Palestinian sovereignty in the West Bank, according to a late June poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research (PCPSR) in Ramallah.

"Obviously, those most worried about this are the [Palestinian] commanders of the security services who are concerned about the increased chances for conflict with demonstrators," says PCPSR director Khalil Shikaki in an e-mail.

Israeli security forces, too, are bracing for mass protests pegged to the UN move and inspired by the spirit of popular demonstration and civil disobedience spreading through the region.

Israel is also concerned that formal UN support for an independent Palestine could play into a broader campaign to delegitimize Israel's democratic credentials, risking a pariah status similar to apartheid South Africa.

US likely to be an obstacle at UN

President Obama and US lawmakers, seeking to protect Israel and viewing the UN move as a challenge to its leadership on the peace process, have strongly opposed the statehood bid. On June 29, the US Senate passed a unanimous resolution urging Palestinian leaders to "cease all efforts at circumventing the negotiation process," specifically calling out the UN campaign. If the PA fails to cease such efforts, the resolution warned, Congress could place restrictions on the roughly half-billion dollars in annual aid it sends to the PA.

Palestinian analyst Hani al-Masri believes that Abbas's aides are looking for an exit strategy. "They are afraid of stopping aid from the US. They are afraid of Palestinian protests," he says.

The UN move coincides with a deadline for a peace deal declared by Obama last year at a peace conference with both Mr. Abbas and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It also marks the conclusion of a two-year Palestinian state-building plan that has won Prime Minister Salam Fayyad international praise.

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