x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Statehood vote should not die in Security Council

As Mahmoud Abbas takes the PA's statehood bid to the UN, concerns are mounting over the likely diplomatic costs. But the price of backing out would be far greater.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, has spent months promoting a planned statehood recognition vote to be introduced at the United Nations this week. But as his plane sped towards New York yesterday, he warned of "very difficult times" ahead for his people. There have been questions raised: is Mr Abbas getting cold feet?

His message can equally be seen as a dose of realism about the risks of trying to redefine decades of negotiations; the diplomatic fallout with the United States is almost certain to be damaging. But in truth, the only thing more difficult now would be to back off. After two years of fruitless negotiations with the Netanyahu administration, expectations are high - irreversibly so. Moving forward is the only option.

Many will look back over decades of negotiations and point fingers at Israeli intransigence and Washington's uncritical support for it. But the Palestinians' weak and divided leadership is also to blame. Stalled progress on Fatah-Hamas reconciliation means any UN vote will be marked by an asterisk. The PA, after all, does not represent every Palestinian.

But negotiations with Israel were going nowhere. With so few options and so little leverage, the Palestinian Authority rightly chose action at the United Nations as a better way forward.

The question now seems to be how forcefully Mr Abbas will push, and to what end. On Friday, the PA president said he would go to the UN Security Council for full recognition, which will face a US veto if it is not voted down first. Does this force a confrontation with the US, or provide a backdoor exit for the statehood vote to be dropped? If the issue does fail in the Security Council, the General Assembly should vote on non-member observer status - every indication is that the broader international community is much more supportive of Palestinian aspirations.

Any road forward could be costly. Threats from the US Congress to slash funding no doubt worry PA leaders who rely on foreign funds to pay salaries. More troubling, protests among Palestinians in both the West Bank and Gaza could boil over into violence.

Mr Abbas has framed the UN vote as an attempt to force the hand of Israel and the United States. "Our first, second and third priority is negotiations," Mr Abbas told The New York Times before his arrival. "There is no other way to solve this." But there also needs to be an acknowledgement that the diplomatic stalemate of recent negotiations was untenable.