Palestinians Resist Pressure on Statehood Bid

Despite a last minute attempt at negotiation by the United States, the Palestinians pledge to seek recognition at the UN.

Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Paris, France, June 14, 2010
Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in Paris, France, June 14, 2010 (Olivier Pacteau)

The Palestinian Authority defies international pressure in its quest for recognition of statehood at the United Nations General Assembly this month. Even a last-minute attempt by the United States to revive the peace talks failed to persuade the Palestinians to abandon their effort.

If the Palestinians win a majority of votes in the General Assembly for their statehood bid, the United States are expected to veto the motion in the Security Council. The vote itself though could exacerbate tensions between Israel and the Palestinians which most recently erupted in May when the military interim government in Egypt unilaterally lifted its blockade of the Gaza Strip. Protests and disturbances broke out along the border.

Israel has enforced a blockade of Gaza to prevent the smuggling of weapons into the territory. Missiles are routinely launched from there against nearby Israeli cities and settlements.

Washington’s inability to convince the Palestinian Authority to cancel the General Assembly vote reflects the diminished American role in mediating the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

When President Barack Obama publicly demanded a freeze in Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in 2009 but failed to get one, it undermined his and America’s authority. Strengthened by the president’s intransigence, an Israeli compromise on settlement activity was rejected out of hand by the Palestinians at the time.

Now, Obama is in the uncomfortable position of supporting Israel at the United Nations without being able to leverage it for concessions from Jerusalem. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu knows full well that his American friend can’t afford to be perceived as anything but strongly pro-Israel at home or risk the political consequences from a hawkish conservative opposition.

The Palestinians, naturally, will regard the United States as increasingly an ally of Israel’s and less a neutral arbiter in their historic dispute with the Jewish state after it torpedoes their petition in the Security Council. President Mahmoud Abbas said what many Palestinians must be thinking when negotiators rushed to change his mind on the UN vote this week. “They came too late.”