x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Palestinians need to rally support of allies at the UN

Palestinians have growing support from the peoples of the world. The challenge now is to use their UN presence and related political assets wisely.

No amount of international opprobrium appears sufficient to persuade Israelis to choose peace and moderation. After an overwhelming majority of countries recognised Palestine at the United Nations last month, Israel's reaction was reflexively punitive: it has withheld more than $100 million (Dh367 million) in taxes from the Palestinian Authority, and threatened to build major new West Bank settlements.

The plans announced on Wednesday for 2,600 new settler units at Givat HaMatos, between Jerusalem and Bethlehem, adds further urgency. The relentless pace of settlements is making a two-state solution almost impossible.

The US State Department marshalled a tepid criticism of the plan, but Palestinians cannot rely on Washington to protect their rights, nor on this Israeli government to negotiate in anything resembling good faith.

Israel has tried to blackmail the Palestinian Authority by withholding funds - capitulation to that pressure would be a disaster. But the tactic also reveals a critical weakness in Israel's occupation and intransigence. The UN recognition shows how isolated Israel is because of its policies.

On Wednesday, the Palestinian Authority's envoy, Mohammed Shtayyeh, warned that the settlements increased the chance that Palestinians would seek redress through the International Criminal Court. That option must be kept on the table, as it was precisely that possibility that spooked Israel's allies ahead of the UN vote; Britain tried to pressure Palestinian envoys to forego the possibility. Fortunately, that effort failed.

And yet, it is important that Palestinian leaders wield their influence in the international arena carefully. There are other avenues that could be explored. First, Palestinians need to capitalise on their standing in the court of world opinion; also on Wednesday, the UN Security Council members (apart from the US) jointly condemned Israel's settlement expansion. The world recognises the Palestinian cause, the inhumanity of the Gaza siege, the illegal incursions into the West Bank and the racist policies applied even to Israel's Arab citizens. All of these are issues ripe for international scrutiny.

The economic blackmail is also a strategic error for Israel. The Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions movement seeks international disengagement from Israel's economy. The justification is the illegal settlements, but Israel's cut-throat tactics should encourage other countries to support the boycott.

The UN vote has been described as a tactical move by Palestinian leaders. But a long-term strategy could change the realities on the ground.