Yogi Berra would call it déjà vu all over again.
Just as he tried — and failed — last year, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas hopes to secure international support for avoiding negotiations with Israel. When the United Nations General Assembly convenes this month, he will seek its backing for a Palestinian state. Through unilateral action, he aims once again to convince the international body to hand him statehood on a silver platter.
Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi has described the effort as “a test of global consensus and rule of law.” In fact the ploy, even if successful, will change no facts on the ground, raise false hopes among the Palestinian people, confirm Israeli fears that they have no partner for peace, and drastically reduce the chances of resolving the conflict.
In light of last year’s failure, Abbas, who is scheduled to address the United Nations on September 27, will probably switch strategies. Last year, when he sought statehood through the Security Council, he fell short of the nine votes needed, and the United States did not even have to cast a veto. This year, Abbas is targeting the 193-member General Assembly. There is no veto power in that body, and a simple majority is enough to pass resolutions. The many Arab and Muslim states and their allies will provide far more than that. The Arab League, consisting of 22 nations, has already endorsed the initiative, and the Non-Aligned Movement, with its 120 members, did the same at its recent Tehran summit.
Since the General Assembly cannot grant full statehood, a resolution is expected to be proposed that would upgrade the status of Palestine from “permanent observer” to “non-member observer state.” This would put the Assembly on record on the Palestinian side, and also make the Palestinians eligible to join U.N. agencies, including the all-important International Criminal Court, where they could potentially put Israel in the dock for alleged crimes of their own imagining.
Abbas might not call for immediate General Assembly action, since that might embarrass President Obama during the presidential campaign and trigger a cut-off of U.S. aid, as happened to UNESCO after that body accepted Palestine as a member. Holding off on a U.N. resolution until after Election Day may lower the risk of offending the United States, though such action still will have consequences in Washington for the Palestinians.
Israel has consistently sought to resume talks with the Palestinian Authority with the aim of a two-state solution in which Israel and a Palestinian state live side-by-side in peace and security. But Abbas and his followers refuse, since negotiations would require compromise. Last month, President Abbas made clear, as he has so often done, that compromise is not on his agenda, denying any Jewish historical connection to Judaism’s holiest city, Jerusalem. In a public statement, Abbas declared that no Jewish temple ever stood in the city and ranted about an imaginary conspiracy against the Palestinians. He charged Israel with plotting “to rob Muslims and Christians of their holy shrines, destroy the Al Aqsa mosque and build the alleged Jewish temple.”
The Palestinian leadership is clearly caught up in a world of irrationality, and the General Assembly is virtually certain to rubber-stamp upgrading the Palestinians’ status at the United Nations, despite their refusal to negotiate peace with Israel. It might be possible, even at the 11th hour, for the United States to wield its financial muscle to dissuade the Palestinian Authority from its disastrous course.
If not, and the matter does go to the General Assembly, the democratic countries of the world should not let themselves be intimidated by the automatic avalanche of pro-Palestinian votes in that body. A solid, albeit small, democratic phalanx of opposition to Palestinian unilateralism and support for negotiated peace may awaken the international community to its duty.
Mervyn Danker is the Bay Area’s regional director of the American Jewish Committee.