x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

... but limit damage of diplomatic row

A diplmatic confrontation looms and all sides need to limit the fallout in coming weeks

As necessary as this UN vote is, it needs to be acknowledged that there are significant risks involved. The National supports a determined appeal to international opinion - accompanied by all of the precautions that can be taken.

There are some fences that will not be quickly mended. As long as the Netanyahu administration stays in office, we can expect every effort to sabotage progress towards a viable Palestinian state. And the United States is guided by pro-Israeli domestic politics that are blind to Palestinian interests. Expect objections at every step in the road.

There are other sceptics, however, many of whom, including analysts who have appeared in these pages, have valid reasons for their caution.

The PA is clearly vulnerable to economic pressure. The West Bank economy relies on the $500 million (Dh1.8 billion) in annual US aid and $135 million in tax revenues that Israel collects every month on the PA's behalf. If those funds are withheld, development momentum in the West Bank could collapse unless other countries, particularly Arab states, offer and deliver funds to bridge the gap.

If Palestine is recognised by the General Assembly and given status as a non-member observer state, which is the best that can be hoped, it would also have sweeping legal ramifications. The possibility that Israel could be referred to the International Criminal Court, and the consequences, is just one of many open questions.

The right of return for refugees, one of the most intractable issues, could be affected. UN recognition of Palestine has consequences for the diaspora as well as neighbouring countries. A newly recognised status would have to be accompanied by managed expectations.

The Palestinian Authority could have explained this UN bid much better, most importantly to its own people. As Israel arms its security forces and settlers in anticipation of violence, there is a danger that violence during Palestinian protests could undo whatever progress is made at the United Nations.

This UN vote incurs necessary risks in the hope of fundamental change. Getting through the next weeks will go a long way towards that hope.