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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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In order for a state to gain UN membership, the Security Council must recommend a General Assembly vote. Since the US is one of five veto-wielding members of the Security Council, such a recommendation is almost certain to be withheld. So the Palestinians are now likely to seek confirmation as an observer state or push for a General Assembly resolution on statehood – decisions with symbolic value but little impact in practice. Palestinian officials are already dialing back expectations.

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"How can we be a full member without getting the Israelis out of our territories?" says Mahmoud Labadi, a spokesman for the international relations arm of Abbas's Fatah party. A UN vote on observer status, he says, represents "external pressure against Israel.... It's an important political tool to tell the world that Israel is an occupying state."

Karam Alborno, the owner of a computer shop in Gaza City, agrees. "We know that the resolution will not pass in the UN because of the American veto, but such a step goes in the right direction to tell Israel and the whole world that we want a state and will get it sooner or later," he says. "I think when the efforts to get a state are foiled by Israel, America, and their allies, Abbas should not get back to negotiations. He has to sue Israel in international courts."

Negotiations still on their mind

Abbas still prefers negotiations, he has emphasized in recent weeks, portraying the UN vote as simply the next best option. US envoys have visited Israeli and Palestinian leaders to feel out whether there's flexibility on a return to talks, which stalled last fall over the Palestinian precondition for a freeze in Israeli settlement-building.

Mr. Masri says the Palestinians are probably willing to drop that precondition if Israel accepts Obama's call to negotiate based on the 1967 Green Line with land swaps. Mr. Netanyahu has resisted this so far, calling those borders "indefensible."

A former Palestinian negotiator said the UN bid seems like a tactic aimed at improving the Palestinian position when talks resume, but said that tactic lacks a broader strategy to support it. "So you become a member state of the UN – what more is it going to give you than not being a member state? Israel occupied Lebanon for two decades, and it is still occupying [the Golan Heights in] Syria. The UN hasn't done anything about it," says the negotiator, speaking on condition of anonymity given the sensitivity of his criticism.

But even if the move isn't ultimately fruitful, many Palestinians see it as the PA's effort to be proactive amid a diplomatic impasse with Israel.

"For the time being, this is all they've got," says Amad Otallah, taking a break from shopping at Ramallah's Plaza mall. "It sure beats stomping your feet and crying about it. At this stage, you get what you can get."

Ahmed Aldabba contributed reporting from Gaza City, Gaza.

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