x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Abbas delays Palestine UN statehood move to restart Israel peace talks

Palestinian Authority president suspends bid to upgrade Palestine's status for at least eight weeks but accuses Israel of provoking chaos as troops kill two teenagers. Vita Bekker reports

Armed Palestinians attend the funeral of Maisara Abu Hamdiya, a Palestinian prisoner who died of cancer while in Israeli detention, in the West Bank city of Hebron.
Armed Palestinians attend the funeral of Maisara Abu Hamdiya, a Palestinian prisoner who died of cancer while in Israeli detention, in the West Bank city of Hebron.

TEL AVIV // The Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has suspended moves to upgrade Palestine's status at the UN for at least eight weeks in a bid to restart peace talks with Israel.

But prospects for talks appeared dim yesterday as Mr Abbas accused Israel of trying to "provoke chaos" in the West Bank after the killing of two Palestinian teenagers by troops in the territory.

"The Israeli government is behind this escalation," he said. "The Israeli government is responsible for the impact on US and international efforts to restart negotiations."

Israel said the youths threw firebombs at a military checkpoint in northern West Bank on Wednesday during a wave of protests over the death this week of a Palestinian prisoner, Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh, from throat cancer.

Palestinians have claimed Israel did not provide enough medical care for Abu Hamdiyeh. His funeral and those of the two youths were held yesterday.

Mr Abbas's suspension of moves at the UN, reported by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz yesterday, comes as the US makes fresh attempts to resume negotiations on Palestinian statehood.

John Kerry, US secretary of state, is to meet Mr Abbas in Jordan on Sunday and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Monday, in his second visit to the region in two weeks.

Mr Abbas's decision appears to be a major concession.

He has tried to bolster his plunging popularity at home by advancing moves to gain recognition for Palestine after two decades of a failed peace process.

In November, he led a successful bid to win a status upgrade at the UN to "non-member state" from "observer entity", despite US and Israeli opposition.

Palestinian analysts yesterday said pressure from the US and European countries spurred Mr Abbas to suspend further moves at the UN.

But they said the Palestinian leadership would probably resume the plans if peace talks remained at a stalemate by the summer.

"There is pressure on the Palestinians from the US and European countries and clear threats from Israel to suspend UN moves as a goodwill gesture toward peace talks," said George Giacaman, a professor of democracy and human rights at Birzeit University near Ramallah.

Mr Giacaman said Palestinians were sceptical of US efforts to resume the negotiations, but eventually "the internal pressure from the Palestinian public opinion will force them to resume such steps if there is no credible process".

The Palestinian leader's decision, made at a meeting of his secular Fatah party in Ramallah this week, called for a suspension of unilateral moves at the UN for eight to 12 weeks starting from March 22, Haaretz said.

That was the day when Barack Obama, the US president, made his first presidential visit to Jerusalem and Ramallah.

The suspension also includes efforts to gain membership at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The ICC prosecutes charges of genocide, war crimes and other major human-rights breaches, and Israel has been concerned that the Palestinians would refer it for investigation over its settlement expansion in the West Bank.

Analysts said Mr Abbas could also renew his bid to gain full UN membership by obtaining support from the Security Council, the UN's top body. A similar attempt failed in 2011.

Palestinian officials declined to comment on the Haaretz report yesterday.

Mark Regev, a spokesman for Mr Netanyahu, said the premier's office "was not aware" of Mr Abbas's decisions.

"In the framework of the peace process that is moving forward, Israel is ready for reciprocal confidence-building measures," Mr Regev added.

Some experts expressed scepticism that Mr Abbas would follow on his threat to resume unilateral moves at the UN within months even without a peace process, given the Palestinian Authority's financial and diplomatic reliance on the US and the Israelis' control of the West Bank.

Abdul Satter Kassem, a political science professor at Al Najah University in Nablus, said: "It's not that he is pressured by the Americans - he is owned by them.

"As long as we receive our loaf of bread from the Americans and the Israelis, he can't do anything. That's why Israel will continue building settlements and we will continue condoning its actions."


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