x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

UN recognition is best course for Palestinians

The Palestinian Authority proposes economic negotiations with Israel. It will accomplish little with additional leverage.

The Palestinian Authority is at a crossroads, although many will expect President Mahmoud Abbas to steer along the same deadend track. On Saturday, Mr Abbas repeated a promise to return to the United Nations to press for recognition of Palestinian statehood; and yesterday, the PA proposed renegotiating the Paris Protocols, which govern its economic arrangements with Israel.

There's nothing wrong in principle with revisiting the 1994 protocols, the economic addendum to the Oslo Accords. Israel has consistently manipulated the deal to withhold tax revenue and block the movement of goods. The problem, however, is that the present Israeli government appears congenitally incapable of good-faith negotiations.

On the other hand, returning to the United Nations - after 2011's abortive bid for Security Council recognition - could permanently improve Palestinians' bargaining position.

It is sometimes easy to forget that the Palestinian struggle against the occupation enjoys the support of an overwhelming majority of countries. Admittedly, international support has rarely been effectively mobilised.

There is a chance, at least, that will change this month if the PA follows through with plans for UN General Assembly recognition. Unlike last year's failed effort, this year the PA plans to approach the larger body, where majority approval would be almost guaranteed.

There are many who will call the move symbolic - and, in a way, they would be correct. General Assembly recognition would confer non-member status on Palestine; the United States' unwavering diplomatic support for Israel in the Security Council has always blocked referral to the International Criminal Court or censure for occupation-related crimes.

Even at the General Assembly, a renewed effort by the Palestinian Authority is a direct challenge to US policy, and during an election season no less. Mr Abbas risks US funds (not to mention tax revenue held by Israel) by making the move, but the Palestinian cause will never prevail amid US politicking without radically changed circumstances - which international recognition could help to compel.

It remains to be seen if Mr Abbas will remain true to his word; the last appeal to the UN, initially so popular among Palestinians, foundered under US pressure. Mr Abbas faces serious challenges at home, including the PA's inability to pay salaries for the West Bank's 150,000 civil servants. He will face serious challenges while moving forward at the General Assembly, not least financial, but it would be hopelessly naive to believe that this Israeli government is going to renegotiate a deal that would make it any easier for him.