Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas is pressing forward with plans to ask the United Nations to recognize "Palestine" as an independent state this week, leading to a diplomatic flurry in New York the likes of which are rarely seen.
President Obama has promised to veto the Palestinian move in the UN Security Council, which will throw the matter to the General Assembly, which is likely to grant the PA enhanced standing there, though isn't able to deliver the full recognition that Mr. Abbas says he craves.
Israeli officials have descended on New York in a last ditch attempt to head off the vote.
Knesset Member Danny Danon, who belongs to the Likud party, is there, urging US politicians to support his desire that Israel annex the West Bank and push its Palestinian population centers onto Jordan (with Gaza to be given to Egypt in his plan), and Republican presidential hopeful Rick Perry is scheduled to appear with Mr. Danon later today. Fox News reports that Governor Perry's speech is expected to include the following lines: "We are indignant that certain Middle Eastern leaders have discarded the principle of direction negotiations between the sovereign nation of Israel and the Palestinian leadership. And we are equally indignant that the Obama administration's Middle East policy of appeasement has encouraged such an ominous act of bad faith."
In fact, Abbas doesn't feel appeased at all. His aides say he feels backed into a corner by continued Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and the failure of the US in the past 18 years since the Oslo Accords were signed to prevent the inexorable march of new facts on the ground.
Ahead of this weeks fireworks, here is some recent opinion on what's going on.
Avi Shlaim, a University of Oxford scholar of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict argues in a roundup of opinion at Al Jazeera that recognition may be the best way forward for establishing a Palestinian state.
"The bid for statehood is not changing anything on the ground, but in the international arena. It will change the terms of the debate and tilt the balance of power internationally against Israel and in favor of Palestinians. It is mainly a symbolic act. It will change the dynamic in a very symbolic way," he says. "Why are Israel and the US so hysterical about the UN bid if it doesn’t make a difference? They are hysterical about it because until now, for the past 20 years, they have had everything their way. There was the American-sponsored peace process, which was leading nowhere slowly, and Israel was carrying on with its expansionist agenda and pretending to be involved in a peace process. Now this has ended."
Gershon Baskin, writing in the Jerusalem Post, largely agrees that this could be a positive step and says Israel, if it responds well, has little to fear.
"The Palestinians are going to the United Nations because they have lost faith (just as Israel has) in the ability to create their state and reach independence through negotiations with Israel without clear terms of reference for an agreement," Mr. Baskin writes. "The Palestinians are going to the UN because they have learned from Israel’s own experience. Israel’s birth certificate was issued in the United Nations (just as the same resolution issued the Palestinian’s certificate of birth). In May 1948 David Ben Gurion unilaterally declared independence. This was an act of defiance not only against the Arab states that rejected it militarily, but also against many friendly states, including the United States which advised against it... They are going to the United Nations in order to preserve what might be the very last chance to have a two states for two peoples solution to this conflict."
The Wall Street Journal's editorial page, meanwhile, presented likely General Assembly approval (the Obama administration has promised to veto the bid in the Security Council) in apocalyptic terms and urged the US to close the Palestinian representative office in Washington and defund the United Nation's in response.
"A vote at the UN won't create a Palestinian state and will likely retard the creation of one, perhaps for years. It won't remove any Israeli settlements from the West Bank and might well give Jerusalem reason to accelerate the pace of construction. It could also lead Israel to take various punitive measures against the Palestinians, including freezing tax transfers worth about $100 million a month. The US Congress might follow by cutting off the $600 million in annual aid to the Palestinians," the Journal said. "What Palestinians seek out of a U.N. vote isn't an affirmation of their right to a state, but rather another tool in their perpetual campaign to harass, delegitimize and ultimately destroy Israel. "We are going to complain that as Palestinians we have been under occupation for 63 years," (Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud) Abbas said the other day. That's another way of saying that the "occupation," in Mr. Abbas's view, began with the creation of the state of Israel in 1948, and not with Israel's takeover of the West Bank and Gaza after a war that threatened Israel's existence in 1967."
"Most discussions of the UN bid pit Israel and the United States on one side, fiercely opposing it, and Palestinian officials and allied governments on the other. But this simplistic portrayal ignores the fact that among the Palestinian people themselves there is precious little support for the effort," he writes. "The opposition, and there is a great deal of it, stems from three main sources: the vague bid could lead to unintended consequences; pursuing statehood above all else endangers equality and refugee rights; and there is no democratic mandate for the Palestinian Authority to act on behalf of Palestinians or to gamble with their rights and future."
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