Abbas to Push Membership Case at General Assembly

For the second year in a row, Mahmoud Abbas urges improved status for the Palestinians.

For most countries, the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly is both a chance to represent their citizens on a global stage and an opportunity to hold discussions about some of the world’s most urgent international security issues. Speeches are made, applause is heard, delegates meet behind the scenes and documents are drawn up. But for the Palestinians, the General Assembly is the best chance they have in a year to press their case for enhanced membership in the organization.

Since an attempt to attain full state status in the Security Council failed last year, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas is reportedly lowering his sights on the General Assembly, where the Palestinians have overwhelming support for their position in their dispute with the Israelis.

For Abbas, whose government has been strapped for cash and is just now recuperating from a series of protests in the West Bank over high prices, a push to improve the Palestinians’ status in the United Nations to “nonmember observer state” is his way of staying relevant.

Will a successful Palestinian bid in the General Assembly do anything to alleviate the problems that have plagued the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for so long? For the most part, probably not.

The roughly 500,000 Israeli settlers who live beyond the pre-1967 borders will still call the West Bank home. Jerusalem will still be a hotly contested city. Israel will remain in control of the Palestinian Authority’s tax revenues. Freedom of movement between the West Bank and Gaza will continue to be restricted.

Yet the move to nonmember state status is not entirely without benefits, the least of which is a clear and majority endorsed statement from the international community in support of the Palestinian Authority’s quest for autonomy.

In ditching the Security Council and relying instead on the General Assembly, Abbas has calculated that he simply cannot count on the support of the United States which has a veto in the former.

Abbas, who has shown more frustration with the peace process as he has aged, was dealt a humiliating blow last year when Washington lobbied the other Security Council members to vote against or abstain from a resolution that would have granted the Palestinians full membership. The Palestinians later abandoned the bid, sensing that they could not attain the necessary votes.

This time around, there is very little that the United States can do to change Abbas’ calculations. There are no vetoes in the General Assembly, a fact that all but guarantees the Palestinians’ success. Absent a real threat to the Palestinian leadership’s pocket book from the Obama Administration, something that would only deepen the West Bank’s financial crisis as it struggles to pay its employees, Abbas will resurrect himself as the paramount statesmen of Palestinian politics.